Dharma Talk: The Path of Awakening

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Often we have the feeling that there is nothing good, beautiful, or true inside us. We feel incomplete, so we wear cosmetics and other adornments, or even undergo cosmetic surgery in order to compensate. When we do these things, we feel we are somehow being deceptive, but we cannot stop. At the same time, we realize that others are also deceiving us. All of us are victims, trying to make ourselves feel less unworthy. We feel we are half a person, and we wander all over the globe looking for our other half. If we would look more carefully, we would see that this feeling arises from a wrong perception.

Thich Nhat Hanh

We all want something that is good, beautiful, and true, something we can believe in, and yet we look for these qualities in others and not in ourselves. Then, when we think we have found goodness, beauty, and truth in some­one, love arises in us, and we become involved in a relation­ship. It is only after some time that we realize that we have misperceived—that what we thought was good, beautiful, and true was really just superficial—and we feel wronged and go and look for another relationship, another object on which to project the ideals of goodness, beauty, and truth.

For our spirit, we do the same. We look for a perfect teacher, and sit at the feet of this teacher and that teacher as part of our search. We are a “spiritual seeker,” and, as such, we are happy that people see us as good, beautiful, and true. We have the appearance of virtue and of loving others, but these are only more cosmetics. Then we find a teacher we like, and we feel that we have found our missing half. But, like so many teachers, our new teacher turns out not to be in touch with his own truth, beauty, and goodness, and when we discover this, we abandon him and go forth looking for another teacher. We can continue these patterns the whole of our life, always looking for someone to love and someone to guide us.

Then one day, we meet a very special teacher who tells us, “Don’t look outside yourself, Within you are all of the qualities you have been looking for!” She is our root teacher, and she tells us, “All living beings have the pure, clear, complete nature within themselves. You only have to return to yourself to be in touch with the good, the beautiful, and the true that are already within you.” The search that has been going on for many lifetimes finally comes to an end.

Sitting at the foot of the bodhi tree, the Buddha discov­ered that the good, the beautiful, and the true are to be found in everyone, and he said, “How amazing that all living beings have the basic nature of awakening, yet they don’t know it. So they drift on the ocean of great suffering lifetime after lifetime.” The Buddha wants us to see this. He does not want us to be a slave or to lean on him. So he says very clearly, “You are what you have been looking for.” Someone who speaks this way is worthy of being our teacher. He can show us how to take refuge in the teacher in ourselves, and not look outside. When we touch these qualities in ourselves, we have deep faith and confidence in the practice.

The Buddha’s love is so great that we want to be around it all the time. But French author Antoine de Saint Exupery warned us that to love each other does not mean that we just sit and look at each other, but that we both look in the same direction. When we take the hand of the Buddha, we discover that we not only love each other, but we love all species. True love is always collective. We and the Buddha are “associate lovers,” protecting ourselves and each other, being faithful to ourselves and each other, and always bringing transformation to ourselves and to many others.

Sometimes when we fall in love, we forget to look in the same direction; we just sit there and look at each other. In the time of the Buddha, a monk named Vaikali was very attached to the Buddha. Whenever he was near the Buddha, he felt peaceful and happy, and that was all he wanted. He didn’t listen deeply to the Buddha’s Dharma talks. He only wanted to be near the Buddha. Because of that, he was only able to touch the shadow of the Buddha, and not the Buddha’s deepest aspects, great wisdom and great love.

The Buddha observed that Vaikali was not getting stronger in the practice, so he forbade Vaikali from coming near him. When the Buddha walked to the Jeta Monastery, he did not allow Vaikali to join him. And he did not allow Vaikali to be his attendant. Vaikali felt that the Buddha had cast him off, that the Buddha didn’t love him anymore, and he wanted to commit suicide. The Buddha understood what was happening and he went to him and said, “Dear Vaikali, your love is sincere, but it is not the deep love of a monk. It is a superficial attachment. In yourself, deep down, there are good, beautiful. and true qualities. You should be looking for these in yourself and not running after a mere image of them in the Buddha. These qualities are the ground of your being, your basis. I always practice this way myself, and I always teach this to others.” After that, Vaikali practiced properly.

A good teacher is someone who shows us that there is also a teacher in us and a student in him. We have to learn to take refuge in the teacher in us and not just be attached to the external teacher. If our teacher is a true teacher, she will always encourage us to go back to ourselves and be in touch with the true teacher within us. When we learn how to practice this way, we will never be disappointed. We will always be able to see the good, the beautiful, and the true in ourselves and others, and we won’t be deceived by adorn­ments. When we see people deceive each other, we’ll only feel compassion and do our best to help them wake up.

Real beauty is always good and truthful. True goodness contains true beauty and real truth. Truth is always good and beautiful. Truth, beauty, and goodness inter-are. If what we thought was beautiful does not contain goodness and truth in it, it is not real beauty. When we love someone, we have to avoid losing contact with our own goodness, beauty, and truth, and with theirs as well, and then we won’t be deceived by appearances. This is the Great Awakening. When we are awakened, we understand what the Buddha meant when he said, “How amazing that all living beings have the basic nature of awakening, yet they don’t know it. So they drift on the ocean of great suffering lifetime after lifetime.”

Love is a great opportunity. If it happens that you can touch the truth, beauty, and goodness in someone you love, you will be able to go back and touch the same within yourself. A true lover always helps his or her beloved do this. The same is true in the teacher-student relationship.

In the time of the Buddha, a young lady named Matanga fell in love with the monk Ananda and wanted him to disrobe and marry her. She was very sick and said that she would die if she did not have Ananda as her husband. The Buddha asked her what she loved in Ananda, and she said that she loved everything about him: his eyes, his nose, his mouth, his manner of walking, sitting, standing, and so on. The Buddha said, “You have not seen the most beautiful aspects of Ananda such as his compassion, his wisdom, his freedom, and his ideal to relieve the suffering of living beings. If you see these good and beautiful traits, you will not want to keep Ananda all for yourself. Ananda is like the sunshine. You cannot lock the beautiful sunshine in a box. Ananda will not be beautiful if you deprive him of his freedom and compassion. The only way to love Ananda is to be like him, to do the things he does.”

Mantanga was healed and she asked the Buddha to ordain her as a nun. She was able to touch the ideal of freedom and compassion within herself. True love always goes together with the capacity to look deeply and to touch deeply. When your beloved focuses his attention and energy on something that he considers to be truly beautiful and good, don’t try to stop him. Instead of saying, “My beloved, you are not paying enough attention to me. You are neglect­ing me. You have abandoned me. You do not love me,” you can say, “How wonderful what you are experiencing there, my beloved! May I join you? Shall we be associate lovers?” Joining in the search for goodness is the essence of love. It is the only way to nurture and consolidate love.

Teachers and students need to be “associate lovers,” helping each other and all living beings touch the good­ness, beauty, and truth in themselves. This is the Path of Awakening.

m21-dharma2

This talk was given at Plum Village on November 20, 1997. It was translated from the Vietnamese by Sister Annabel Laity and edited for publication by Arnie Kotler. 

Photos:
First photo courtesy of Plum Village.
Second photo by Jessica Tampas.

PDF of this article

To request permission to reprint this article, either online or in print, contact the Mindfulness Bell at editor@mindfulnessbell.org.

From the Editor

We apologize for the delay in publishing this issue of The Mindfulness Bell. We hope you find the extra eight pages worth the wait. So many wonderful and exciting things have happened in the past several months. Thich Nhat Hanh’s visit to North America with the Plum Village Sangha enabled many people to experience his teaching directly and be nourished by practice in the retreat Sanghas. At the end of the tour, Maple Forest Monastery and the Mindfulness Practice Center were founded in Vermont. The first brothers and sisters to participate in the Order of Interbeing mentoring programs were ordained into the Order during Thay’s tour. And, in December, The Mindfulness Bell welcomed Order member Leslie Rawls as new managing editor.

PDF of this article

Mindfulness Practice Centers

By Thich Nhat Hanh

In Plum Village we have meditated for more than a year on how to offer mindfulness as a nonsectarian practice that can be applied in schools, hospitals, prisons, and society at large. According to our experience, it is perfectly possible to practice mindfulness in a nonreligious, nonsectarian way investing 100% of ourselves in the present moment. Instead of saying, “I take refuge in the Buddha,” we can say, “I have confidence in my own capacity of waking up, in understanding and loving.”

This kind of language can be accepted by every religious tradition. That is why I have asked a number of friends in Europe and America to establish an association to be called the Association of Mindfulness Practice Centers. We hope that in the future there will be at least one center like this in each city. I would like to invite you to join us looking deeply to find ways to in realize this program.

A Mindfulness Practice Center is a place anyone can come at any time. You may come when we are having a silent meal and someone will instruct you on how to enjoy a silent meal. If you arrive when we are working in the vegetable garden, one of us will instruct you on how to enjoy silent gardening while breathing in and breathing out. The Mindfulness Practice Center will also, of course, organize days of mindfulness and retreats.

You may like to initiate the effort of establishing an MPC in your own city. In the beginning, you might just rent a place, and after some time you might buy a place that is more fit to your purpose-a place where there are rooms for sitting meditation and total relaxation, a path for walking, space for a garden, and a playground for children. Children have shown that they are very capable of enjoying the practice of mindfulness.

MPCs are now taking shape in North America. The first has opened its doors in Woodstock, Vermont. I think everyone of us can support this project. If you are an architect, a poet, a writer, a legislator, or a journalist, you can all help. We need your intelligence, your good heart, and your energy to realize this project that is very dear to us.

From a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh in Key West, Florida, November 8, 1997.

PDF of this article

Manifesting the Teaching

By Sister Chan Khong

We are very happy to announce that on November 14, 1997, Thich Nhat Hanh officially opened the Maple Forest Monastery in Hartland, Vermont. The first winter retreat is now underway, led by Sister Annabel with ten Buddhist monks and nuns living and practicing at the monastery.

mb21-Mindfulness

Affiliated with the Maple Forest Monastery will be a new Buddhist retreat center also located in Hartland, Vermont, to be named Green Mountain Dharma Center. Green Mountain will hold retreats led by monks, nuns, and lay Dharma teachers throughout the year. It will also be home to the Mindfulness Training Institute, where Dharma teachers and mindfulness practice facilitators will be trained to assist in the establishment of local Dharma Centers and Mindfulness Practice Centers throughout North America.

The first Mindfulness Practice Center, located in Woodstock, Vermont, has already opened its doors. The MPC is led by two lay Dharma teachers, Anh-Huong Nguyen and Anh-Thu Nguyen, and a member of the Order of Interbeing, Pritam Singh. The MPC has been organized in a nonreligious, nonsectarian way so that friends of all traditions will feel at home when they come to experience the art of mindful living. The practice at all three centers will be entirely in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.

With the establishment of the new monastery in Vermont, Thay welcomes his students and friends to participate fully as sponsors of this timely undertaking. Establishing the roots of Buddhism in the soil of a new culture requires the creation of a monastic community in the country of that culture as well as the active support and participation of a broad-based lay community. Thich Nhat Hanh has appointed the Maple Forest Monastery Support Committee to help with the realization and maintenance of this project. The Committee will warmly receive any suggestions you may have.

Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, has been an associate of Thich Nhat Hanh for over 30 years. She lives in Plum Village, France. Her autobiography, Learning True Love, is available from Parallax Press.

PDF of this article

Maple Forest Blooms

By Sister Annabel Laity

The young banana plant has two small leaves. They are the first to arrive, and nourish the plant’s early stages. Then, they wither and fall, giving way to larger leaves which allow the tree to develop and bear fruit. The budding practice in Maple Forest Monastery is like those first small leaves. If we succeed in our practice, Maple Forest will blossom and bear fruit. If we take root, Maple Forest will grow into a monastery where monks and nuns live and a Dharma Center where lay practitioners live.

We first residents are ten monks and nuns, living in two borrowed houses and supported by a local lay Sangha. We are awestruck by the exceptional beauty of the countryside near Woodstock, Vermont. We wish to live happily and in harmony in order to be worthy of the natural beauty, our ancestral teachers, and the laypeople who support us. We know that this is the best foundation we can lay for the Buddhist Sangha here.

As much as possible, Maple Forest follows the schedule of Plum Village. Formal daily training begins at 5:30 a.m. and continues through 10:00 p.m. During the day, we train in sitting meditation, reciting the sutras, discussing and studying the novice and bhiksuni precepts and fine manners, working mindfully (mostly housekeeping at this time of year), eating and drinking with full awareness, walking mindfully in the snow (we hope someone will introduce skiing meditation in the future), listening to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh recorded a week earlier in Plum Village, and organizing weekly Days of Mindfulness for the local people.

As monks and nuns, we are learning to live as free persons in order to help others. We do our best to live simply and devote ourselves to daily training in the practice of mindfulness. Our training nurtures our abilities to live awake and present to the moment as well as to be happy and to develop the Six Harmonies.

Practicing harmony of the body, we live together and act in harmony with those around us. If someone has not tidied up after themselves, rather than say, “Who left that terrible mess?”, we tidy up for them. Practicing harmony of sharing, we share material things as well as experience of the practice. If someone in the community receives clothes and already has enough, she hands the new clothes on to a sister or brother who does not. If someone in the community receives food, he shares it with the whole community.

Practicing harmony of speech, we reflect on the effect of our words before speaking. When correcting a sister or brother, we do not use harsh words. We do not cause division between our sisters and brothers by our speech. Practicing harmony of precepts, we recite our precepts and fine manners regularly. If we see that we have infringed the precepts or fine manners, we repent before the Sangha.

When we see someone else infringe the precepts, we correct them with love and understanding. We know that the precepts and fme manners are a concrete manifestation of mindfulness. We give our whole heart to the practice of mindfulness. Practicing harmony of mind, we think about each other in order to understand each other. When someone is suffering, we think about how we can best help them. Practicing harmony of view, we know that the understanding of one person can never be as complete as the combined understanding of many. We use the collective wisdom of the Sangha, which we call “looking with Sangha eyes.” We reach decisions by consensus rather than by majority vote. Practicing the Six Harmonies, we learn to live together as milk mixes with water. If we are a drop of oil, we will find it difficult to mix with water, but if we are milk, we will become one with the water. It means that your suffering and your happiness are my suffering and my happiness.

Such warmth and joy as this, generated by the practice, bear witness to the fact that the heart of Thay Nhat Hanh’s teaching is beating in North America. For this the monks and nuns have to thank the core and extended Order of Interbeing, whose members come and give wholehearted spiritual support.

Maple Forest is particularly fortunate to have many children participate in the weekend Dharma talks, walking meditation, and mindful meals. The children are practicing well: listening to the bell, being mindful of the words “yes” and “thank you” as they walk, eating in silence for fifteen minutes, and listening to the teachings. They play indoors and also out in the snow, and bring much happiness and freshness to everyone. Many children are interested in the monastic life, and we answer their questions.

The monks and nuns want to be available to lead the Buddhist practice for laypeople several times a week. In the future, we will lead retreats in the Dharma Center. In the nearby town of Woodstock is the Mindfulness Practice Center. The monks and nuns will sometimes give nonsectarian teachings on mindfulness here. Presently we are in touch with the Correction Services to find out how monks, nuns, and laypeople from this Sangha can help in the correction facilities in Vermont.

mb21-MapleWe hope that before too long you can join us for walking meditation in this beautiful part of the world. Whenever we walk in the sunshine on the snow-covered hill near our home, we feel we are in a pure land. The forest in which the nuns’ house is found is very still. Each pine tree stands straight and tall, holding the snow on its branches without complaint. When the snow melts and the sun shines, the air is fragrant with pine. We hope that all practitioners, monastic and lay, who come to Maple Forest will grow strong in the practice of being themselves as these trees practice being trees.

Sister Annabel, True Virtue, has been a nun in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh since 1988 and has translated many of Thay’s books into English.

Illustration by Anneke Brinkerink.

PDF of this article

Mindfulness Practice Center

By Anh-Huong Nguyen

mb21-MindfulnessPractice

Dear Friends, February 14th and 15th, we had an open house for the Mindfulness Practice Center of the Upper Valley, Vermont. About three hundred people joined us in mindful sitting and walking, clementine ceremonies, introductory talks, total relaxation and singing. The Mindfulness Practice Center of the Upper Valley is “a resource center and gathering place supporting the art of mindful living in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.”

I want to share with you more about the unfolding of this first Mindfulness Practice Center. One afternoon Thu and I were having tea with Thay, and he asked us to open a Mindfulness Practice Center in Virginia, where we live, as an experiment. We both were very enthusiastic about the idea of nonsectarian mindfulness practice, so we agreed. However, after Thay’s visit to Vermont, the plan for a Mindfulness Practice Center in Virginia was changed. First, there was a tremendous response to Thay’s public lecture in November in Woodstock, Vermont. Despite having to reschedu le because of a snowstorm, well over 1,000 people attended Thay’s lecture on a Sunday evening.

While Thay was in Vermont, he officially accepted land that had been offered on which to build a monastery (now called Maple Forest Monastery). He was also invited to look at a piece of property for a potential Dhanna Center. Thay found it to be a wonderful setting, and spontaneously said, “Green Mountain Dharma Center.” This Dharma Center will be the home of the Order of Interbeing in North America. When he went back to Plum Village, he left behind six nuns and three monks at the monastery, and soon after that, Sister Annabel came to start the winter retreat. It became obvious to Thu and me that the first Mindfulness Practice Center should start unfolding in Vermont as well, so that we could all support each other. So Thu and I and our four-year-old son Bao-Tich found ourselves in wintry Vermont one week before Christmas to support and help in whatever way we could.

Thay has said, “When conditions are sufficient, things manifest; when conditions are lacking, they are no longer apparent.” The Monastery, the Green Mountain Dharma Center, and the Mindfulness Practice Center of the Upper Valley have begun to manifest in Vermont because the conditions here were sufficient. No one person could make it happen. The newly ordained novice monks and nuns in Key West who were unable to obtain visas to go to Plum Village made up one condition. Thay is another condition. Thay’s and our desire to offer the practice of mindfulness to help relieve the suffering in our society and in the world is another condition. The body of the Order of Interbeing, where each one of us is a cell in that body, and the strength of our local Sanghas and the Community of Mindful Living, are other conditions. The beautiful natural environment of Woodstock, Vermont, and the strong response of the community here to Thay’s teaching are still other conditions. If we continue to look deeply, we will discover the many conditions that have come together to make all this possible. It is just a matter of coming together! Keeping this in mind, we are deeply appreciative of and grateful for what is unfolding.

Thay’s dream of having a fourfold Sangha (monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen) in North America has started to become a reality. Thay sees the important role of Tiep Hien members in developing a mindful culture fostering happy individuals, loving families, and a healthy planet through establishing nonsectarian mindfulness practice centers as well as local Sanghas. As soon as the Dharma Center property is purchased, the Education and Training Committee of the Order of Interbeing will have a home to execute a training program for Order members to be local mindfulness practice center facilitators, to assist at retreats, and at the Green Mountain Dharma Center itself. As an experiment, if this first Mindfulness Practice Center can fulfill its task of creating a more mindful and loving community, nonsectarian Mindfulness Practice Centers will become our offering to the twenty-first century.

The Mindfulness Practice Center of the Upper Valley currently offers a program six days a week, 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m., including mindful sitting and walking, community work, stress reduction/guided relaxation, presentations with questions, tea ceremony, and a children’s program three afternoons a week. We also have introductory talks. In the next two months, we will have three weekend retreats. The Center is also working with the Vermont Department of Corrections to look into the possibility of developing a mindfulness program for inmates in the state’s correctional facilities. We have been asked by several local senior centers to give presentations about our practice, and we look forward to working with area teen centers as well. Several of our members have expressed an interest in offering programs that reach out to families and individuals in the community to help provide skills to enhance their efforts to deal with poverty and abuse. There are nurses, medical doctors, psychotherapists, and hospices who have expressed great interest in working with the center for different outreach programs.

At the MPC of the Upper Valley, we often remind each other of what Thay has said regarding the practice: “We want to offer people a real product, not a fake one.” If we do not practice, we have nothing to offer to people. Although we are quite busy here, we have managed to hold Beginning Anew ceremonies among ourselves at the MPC as a way to resolve conflicts and deepen our practice of working together in harmony. We also take turns joining the nuns in sitting meditation at the Maple Forest Monastery so that we can be nurtured and supported by their loving presence. Every time we come to the Monastery, we feel that we are going home.

We hope to see you here in Vermont very soon so that we can walk and breathe together this fresh mountain air of our new spiritual homeland.

Anh-Huong Nguyen, Chan Y, is a Dharma teacher and a member at the Sangha in Washington, D.C.


Mindfulness Practice Centers Mission Statement

We are dedicated to the creation of a mindful culture fostering happy individuals, loving families, and a healthy planet. We intend to promote mindfulness at all levels of society.

PDF of this article

 

Green Mountain Dharma Center

By Sister Chan Khong

Dear friends, I am writing on behalf of Thay Nhat Hanh and the entire Sangha to ask for your help. In November 1997, Thay visited South Meadow Farm in Hartland, Vermont, and was very pleased with its serenity and seclusion. Located on a high plateau with long views to the east and south, the property has over 120 acres of roIling pasture, ponds, apple orchards, pine forests, and maple groves. Situated on the land are two well-maintained houses and four barns including one with over 10,000 square feet of space.

Thay suggested to the Sangha that South Meadow Farm would make an ideal North American Dharma Center and home for the Tiep Hien Order. After lengthy negotiations, a price reduction from $1,475,000 to $1,000,000 was realized. Members of the Sangha in Vermont were able to raise $500,000 and the Plum Village Sangha was able to borrow another $500,000 from friends to complete the purchase of the property in March of 1998. We have dreamed of such a center for many years and now the Green Mountain Dharma Center is a reality.

We now have in Vermont a solid core of monks, nuns, Dharma teachers, and lay practitioners ready to share and practice together 24 hours a day in a happy community of the four traditional Sanghas. A Sangha of monks, a Sangha of nuns, a Sangha of laywomen practitioners, and a Sangha of laymen practitioners. Thay has always made the establishment of a harmonious four-part Sangha the prerequisite condition for the creation of a Dharma center anywhere.

Combined with the establishment of the four-part Sangha, the gift ofland for a monastery in November 1997, the loan from friends of three houses for monks and nuns, and the rental of space for the Mindfulness Practice Center, we have made a good beginning. Even though we have much to do, we have enough happiness to share with everyone and for the first time in America we can offer a full program of engaged Buddhism as envisioned by Thay. The Vermont Mindfulness Practice Center has already begun training for those who are working with prisoners, those who are helping teenagers in distress, those who are caring for elderly people, and those who are assisting veterans in times of need. These social workers, teachers, therapists, corrections officers, and others have come to ask to be trained in the practice of mindfulness to enable them to engage in the difficult task of transforming our violent society . We believe that if we can transform and heal the war in the hearts of so many in this society we can have less war throughout the world.

We need your help. We must now raise over $1,000,000 to be able to repay our debt incurred in purchasing the Green Mountain Dharma Center and to be able to build the new Maple Forest Monastery. Since January we have received donations from over 1,000 friends totaling more than $48,000. We are very grateful for this generous support. We continue to look to you, our brothers and sisters, to help bring forth the blossoming lotus flower of Buddhism in America. Please, from your heart, contribute whatever you can for this wonderful undertaking.

Let me tell you a story from the life of the Buddha. One day, there was an order given by Queen Malika to buy 10,000 oil lamps on a special occasion to offer to the Noble Sangha of Gautama Buddha. Hearing this news, a very old, poor woman living nearby decided not to eat that day and to use the money saved to buy some oil for one of the lamps as an offering to the Buddha and the Sangha. At the end of the night, all 10,000 lamps of Queen Malika had consumed their oil and were extinguished but for one lamp, shining brightly in all directions. It was the lamp of the poorest woman in the city who had given so generously from her heart.

We treasure your contribution very much because we know that you have offered your very best for this wonderful work we do together. So that here in America there will be less violence, fewer prisons, less young people feeling lost, less war between father and son, mother and daughter, and husband and wife. All contributions to Maple Forest Monastery are tax-deductible. Please send to P.O. Box 60, Woodstock, VT 05091, telephone: (888) 559-9991. Thank you for joining us in this wonderful journey.

PDF of this article

Order of Interbeing Training and Mentoring

“I heard these words of the Buddha one time when he was staying in Savatthi in the Eastern Park with many well-known and accomplished disciples …. The senior bhikkhus in the community were diligently instructing bhikkhus who were new to the practice-some instructing ten students, some twenty, some thirty, and some forty; and in this way the bhikkhus new to the practice gradually made great progress …. “
– The Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing

The Greek hero Odysseus had a loyal friend and advisor named Mentor, who was also the teacher of his son. Thus we have the word “mentor” for a wise and loyal teacher and friend. In Buddhism, the word kalyanamitra (good friend) is used in the same way.

My grandfather was my first mentor. When I was eight, he spent many hours with me in his garden, explaining the ways of compost, gathering rainwater, and mUlching. During family gatherings, he would turn to me with full confidence and ask me to go and harvest the vegetables for our meal. Eventually, he would hand over the care of his whole garden when he went out of town.

mb21-Order1

So happy was I in this loving mentors hip, I worked hard to establish relationships with  all the elderly people in our neighborhood. How wonderful it was to sit in this woman’s parlor and learn the art of conversation; to visit that woman’s cellar and marvel at all her hanging herbs and onions; to laugh at that man’s stories. Such ease with mentoring made it easy for me in Catholic school to engage with the nuns inside and outside of class and to learn from them.

This tendency to engage with my elders has continued. In my 30s, I entered a comprehensive mentoring relationship with author and patroness of Zen in America, Nancy Wilson Ross. During our five years working together, Nancy taught me much about how to take someone into my consciousness and care about their entire being.

After that, I mustered the courage to ask for a closer mentorship with my root teacher, Richard Baker-roshi, when I asked to be his assistant. “Why do you want such a position?” he inquired. “I want to get to know you better,” I replied. I was Roshi’s attendant for a year and learned directly with him an immense amount about myself and life. Most importantly, I discovered how basic are honesty and compassion in the mentoring relationship.

For the past 15 years, I have been very fortunate to learn from two extraordinary mentors: Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong. I have studied “the art of mindful living” with them in so many ways. Seeing how That loved Arnie as a student and friend helped me learn how to love him as a Dharma friend and husband. Watching Thay go back to his “island of self” on many occasions helped me see how I could protect my mindfulness in order to be truly present for myself and others. Sister Chan Khong taught me ways to engage people in an empowering way when I saw how she asked those she helped in Vietnam to tell her of someone who had even less. Being with
Thay and Sister Chan Khong, I have learned new ways of being. At the Lamp Transmission Ceremony at Plum Village in 1994, Thay told us, “Dharma transmission takes place in every moment, ‘notjust in a ceremony. When I walk with you, I am transmitting the Dharma.”

In this section of The Mindfulness Bell, we share working documents from the Order of Interbeing Education and Training Committee, and accounts from many Order members and aspirants on their experiences of mentoring together.
-Therese Fitzgerald, Senior Editor

PDF of this article

Order Aspirant Training

The following two proposals are offered by Minh Tran and Rowan Conrad on behalf of the Order of Interbeing Education and Training Committee.

When approached by an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing, Order members may wonder how to help. What will nourish and support the aspirant? What is expected? The Order Charter, found in Interbeing (third edition, Parallax Press, 1998), outlines the basic requirements for ordination into the Order.

In support of mentors and aspirants, the Education and Training Committee of the Order of Interbeing suggests using the first stage of the four-stage Education and Training Program proposed by Thay and Sister Annabel in 1996, with two basic differences. In this program, mentors need not be senior monastic Dharmacharyas (Dharma teachers), but may be lay Dharmacharyas or other Order members. The Committee suggests that Order mentors be senior Order members (members for at least five years) whenever possible. Secondly, aspirant training does not need to be in a retreat setting, although attending retreats is encouraged and expected.

The mentoring program is a guide for the study and practice of Buddhist teachings in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Its intent is to stimulate individual and collective transformation, increase happiness and stability, develop bodhichitta, and encourage a deepening mindfulness practice. We hope that practice with this program will support aspirants in their efforts to bring happiness to others and relieve suffering, and to build and support Sanghas. These are the real reasons for receiving Order ofInterbeing ordination.

All those involved in training-mentors, aspirants, and local Sanghas-should be aware that the program requires study and practice. Regular practice is essential to realize the depth of the teachings leading to transformation. Mindfulness is at the core of all efforts.

As the Charter explains, an aspirant must have received the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The aspirant then announces his or her desire to train for 01 ordination by written letter or application to the local Order members or to a Dharma teacher. One or more OI core community members then mentor the aspirant for a minimum of one year.

When the aspirant and mentors perceive that the aspirant is ready, the mentors write to Thay or to the ordaining Dharma teacher recommending ordination. The letter of recommendation indicates the aspirant is deeply engaged in active, daily practice that will allow him or her to achieve increasing stability, happiness, and transformation. Academic understanding alone would not support a recommendation. In addition, Order members and aspirants are expected to actively participate in and support their Sangha. As Thay said, “Only when you have the feeling that you have enough time, energy, and interest to take care of a community should you ask for formal ordination.” After careful consideration, Thay or a qualified Order Dharma teacher may issue a formal ordination invitation.

The Education and Training Committee would like to hear from everyone involved in aspirant mentoring. We invite you to tell us the names of mentors and aspirants, the mentoring plan, and the current stage. Please contact Chan Ruy (Minh Tran), 9089 Richmond, Brossard, PQ, Canada J4X-2S1, telephone: 514-591-8726, fax: 514-466-8958; email: chanhuy@prisco.net.

PDF of this article

Order Member Education

This program is offered for the ongoing education of Order of Interbeing core community members. It is suitable for anyone who has begun to practice transformation using mindfulness in daily life and has received the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

The program draws its power from the Dharma Teacher whose insight connects with the student and whose skills create a setting for deepening practice. The specifics of elaborating a Buddhist viewpoint, teaching skillful means for practice, and leading the student to new levels of understanding are not readily spelled out as traditional curricula objectives. “Dharma Curriculum” develops when brought to life by the understanding and skillful means of a Dharma Teacher. Using this program in private study can be beneficial and is encouraged. But, it is principally designed for use in a cohort group with a skilled teacher in a retreat setting. Only in this way can it be assured of attaining the full power envisioned by Thay and Sister Annabel.

Thay originally offered the program with the idea that a practitioner could come to Plum Village and study and practice for four years. We have adapted the course for those who are not able to spend four years in Plum Village.

The basic content may be covered in two ten-day retreats led by Plum Village or Maple Forest Monastery Dharmacharyas and three or four weekend retreats led by local Dharmacharyas each year, plus regular study and practice at home. Over four years, all stages would be covered. All Order members are encouraged to complete the four stages. Ten-day retreats involving the four-stage program will be organized in Plum Village and/or at Maple Forest Monastery under the direction of Plum Village and Maple Forest Monastery Dharmacharyas, if there are enough interested participants. Dharmacharyas may also travel to conduct retreats involving the program.

In May 1998, Thay will lead a 21-day retreat in Burlington, Vermont. The two ten-day retreats of Stage I can be covered by this retreat. Everyone interested in following the four-stage program is encouraged to participate in this retreat with Thay and the monks and nuns from Plum Village and Maple Forest Monastery. Stages I and 2 will be offered in 1999 in Plum Village or Maple Forest Monastery if there is enough demand to warrant it.

Local Sanghas and individuals are invited to communicate their need for study support and guidance to the Order of Interbeing Education and Training Committee. The committee will evaluate the global need and make every effort to arrange for study retreats to be organized accordingly. We also want to know who, in various geographic areas, is able and willing to teach and/or organize weekend study retreats. We encourage all order members, whether or not they can attend the formal trainings and retreats, to use this outline as a study and practice guide. It is keyed to available texts, and there will be tapes of the retreats where Thay or senior Dharmacharyas have taught these topics.

STAGE 1

Texts for study and practiceInterbeing: Fourteen Guidelinesfor Engaged Buddhism (Third Edition); Breathe! You Are Alive; Our Appointment with Life; For a Future To Be Possible; Old Path White Clouds; The Blooming of a Lotus; The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching; The Peace Treaty.

Practice–Walking meditation at all times. Sitting meditation: Shamatha-calming, stopping, and nourishing; Vipashyana-looking deeply. Metta meditation to parents, using selected exercises in The Blooming of a Lotus. Bell inviting for Dharma talks, meditation, tea meditation, and meals. Practice Beginning Anew and the Five and the Three Prostrations. Write letters to parents and or other family members. Basic Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eightfold Path. Chanting: Opening verse, closing verse, Heart of the Prajnaparamita, Refuge Chant, etc. Singing: Breathing in, Breathing out; I Have Arrived; Being an Island; In, Out; and other practice songs. Sixty days of mindfulness each year.

Assignments–Write to a friend who knows nothing about the practice and tell him or her about walking meditation in a way that will help him or her. Write about your experience of metta meditation toward your parents. Write a song describing your practice of walking meditation, working meditation, or watering the seeds of happiness. Ask three family members or others with whom you share a lot of time to comment on your strong and weak points. Report your decision on practices to transform your weaknesses.

STAGE 2
Revise and continue to practice Stage l.

Texts for study and practiceTransformation and Healing; Teachings To Be Given to the Sick; Interbeing; The Heart of Understanding.

Practice–Walking meditation: Deepen your own practice and explain walking meditation to others. Sitting meditation: Deepen the practice. Use all the exercises in The Blooming of a Lotus. Organize a tea ceremony. Invite the bell in ceremonies. Offer incense. Explain the Peace Treaty and Beginning Anew. Facilitate Dharma discussion. Basic Buddhism: The Six Principles of Harmony, The Seven Ways of Resolving Conflicts, The Four Immeasurable Minds. Check with the three family members or others who commented in Stage 1 about your last year’s efforts at transformation, and report on their comments.

Assignments–A song expressing your insight. Write on how you envision the Pure Land in which you wish to be reborn.

STAGE 3
Revise and continue to practice Stages 1 and 2.

TextsA Bhikkhu’s Request; Thundering Silence; Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion; Preface to the Anapananusmrti Sutra by Dhyana Master Tang Hoi; History of Vietnamese Buddhism.

Practice–Sitting meditation: the nine-point metta practice. Report on how you put into practice the nine-point metta meditation practice with those with whom you are in conflict. Ask six people for feedback on your strong and weak points. Report your practices to strengthen the good points and transform the weak points. Organize a Day of Mindfulness. Guide meditations for others. Basic Buddhism: Interdependent Co-Arising, The Seven Factors of Enlightenment.

Assignments--A song expressing your insight. Write on the practice of the Four Noble Truths in your daily life.

mb21-OrderMember

STAGE 4
Revise and continue to practice everything in Stages 1, 2 and 3.

TextsSamiddhi Sutta; Lotus Sutra; Fifty Verses, with reference to the Thirty Verses of Vasubandhu; the 39 Mindful Manners from Stepping Into Freedom.

Practice–Organize a retreat; give a Dharma talk; Sangha-building; Chanting; conducting ceremonies for the sick and the deceased; Basic Buddhism: the chittasamskaras.

Assignments–A song expressing your insight. Write on your experience of practicing Buddhism as someone with non-Buddhist roots. Write on your experience of Sangha-building. Ask three of your co-workers and three family members how you have improved in transforming the weakness they pointed out last year.

Minh Tran, Chan Huy, is a Dharma teacher who practices in Maple Village, Montreal, Canada. Rowan Conrad, True Dharma Strength, is a member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

PDF of this article

Trailside Reflections

By Jack Lawlor

There are times we instinctively offer a hand to a friend, and times we reach for a helping hand. I’ve experienced these instincts hiking with friends through a beautiful, ancient bog, known as a fen. As urban refugees from Chicago, we come simply to enjoy the wetland beauty, hiking the trail to kayaks at a broken down dock.

Like life itself, the trail offers some big surprises! If you aren’t careful, your legs may penetrate the bog and you’ll sink to your hips in primordial ooze! When we reach parts of the trail where I’ve lost legs and footwear, I instinctively help others navigate the boundary. Although my friends are ultimately capable of navigating, I offer the benefit of my experience. The instinct is the same when I help a novice into a floating kayak. The craft seems unstable until you slide in. I offer a hand to bolster my friends’ confidence in their own balance and poise, and they, in tum, reach out to me. Spiritual mentoring is much the same. A true spiritual friend humbly offers the helping hand of experience. A good mentor recognizes and nourishes talents already present. The talents revealed may surprise the student! The teacher demonstrates, usually by example, how to build upon these abilities, transmitting confidence in the process.

mb21-Trailside

Spiritual mentoring relies upon the mentor’s taking time to look deeply into a friend. The mentor’s experience enables him or her to recognize the friend’s aspiration to attain enlightenment and release from greed, anger, and delusion, for the benefit of self and others-in Buddhist terms what is revealed is the student’s bodhichitta.

Bodhichitta is inherent in everyone, and expresses itself daily, though sometimes in timid and clumsy ways. The mentor helps the student develop spiritual practice in mindful and joyfully purposeful ways. With each day of regular sitting and walking meditation, each little success in maintaining conscious breathing, our mentored friend’s confidence grows and his or her bodhichitta blooms into lotus petals of innumerable helping hands. In time, the friend becomes a mentor to others.

Mentoring can be especially challenging for lay Dharma teachers and lay members of the Order of Interbeing. Our daily attention is devoted to the millions of details of running a business or profession thoughtfully, the thousands of concerns of family life, the hundreds of challenges in social service and volunteer work, and the scores of items which must be tended to for a lay Sangha to thrive. Helping a novice kayaker on the dock, I may start daydreaming about these details and find myself in the water! In offering spiritual mentorship to a friend, I must, above all, let go of my projects and relationships and simply be present.

The Seventh Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing, Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment, may be our collective mentor! It instills confidence that we need not lose ourselves in dispersion and that mindful breathing will bring us back to the present, to what is wondrous, refreshing, and healing inside and around us. Practicing this way, every day, in the company of a spiritual friend can lead to deep transformation for both mentor and friend.

The reciprocal nature of mentoring is easily overlooked. In nurturing, the mentor becomes vulnerable. My friend’s problems may be unfamiliar territory to me. A good mentor admits when he or she is in unfamiliar territory. At this point, the mentor and student can learn from each other, using the considerable resources of mindfulness practice!

Mentoring can be a duet where both parties learn and come to understand the needs of the other. If the mentor can be honest enough to reveal his or her needs and limitations, miscommunication and false expectations can be reduced. When I take friends through the fen to go kayaking, I don ‘t guarantee they won’t fall in the bog, capsize, or meet their fair share of ticks. But a little care and attention boosts the confidence of even the most squeamish city person entering the wonderful world of the swamp. My friend emerges more aware of the environment and our place in it. The company of novices, seeing this waterlogged world through beginner’s eyes and mind, refreshes me and leads me, too, to new discoveries.

It is the same with spiritual friendship between teacher and student. Perhaps what the mentor can do best is instill confidence that calmness, clarity, and insight are possible. Sure enough, we’ll tum on the non-Buddha channel now and then! But our daily return to mindfulness practices makes transformation possible. Demonstrating these practices day in, day out, in non-glamorous settings, the teacher ultimately liberates the teacher within the student. Each step of the way, the teacher refreshes his or her own experience, drinking deeply from the well of the Dharma, thanks to the genuine aspiration of the student at his or her side.

Dharma teacher Jack Lawlor, True Direction, is co-director of the Order of Interbeing and author of Sangha Building. He is afounding member of the Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois.

PDF of this article

Strengthening Relationships

By Therese Fitzgerald

At the international gathering of the Order of Interbeing in October 1996 at Plum Village, there was much discussion about mentoring. Thfty proposed that a person not only “wait” a year after receiving the Five Mindfulness Trainings to join the Order, but that there be a training program within the Sangha based on the four-year Dharma teacher training program. Over the years, it has become apparent that preparation for receiving the Trainings and becoming a community leader are essential for strengthening the individual and the Order.

In Interbeing, Thay writes, “If you want to formally receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and enter the core community of the Order of Interbeing, it is because you wish to become a community leader, to organize the practice in a Sangha. Only when you have the feeling that you have enough time, energy, and interest to take care of a community should you ask for formal ordination. Then you will be working together with other brothers and sisters.”

Returning to Berkeley, I encouraged our local Sangha to engage in a program of preparation for three friends who had declared their intentions to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. We met monthly to discuss aspirations, review our understanding and practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Three Refuges, explore the 01 Charter, and learn with Wendy Johnson about practicing mindfulness with children. The aspirants also engaged in a program of “meditation hall caretaking”-practicing inviting the bell, hosting evenings of practice, and leading Trainings Recitation Ceremonies. Last August we met for a weekend of practice and training. When the three aspirants received the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings from Thay at the Santa Barbara retreat, it was a wonderful occasion for celebration by the whole Sangha of their careful efforts.

In the past few months, I have engaged in mentoring by correspondence and in person with more than a dozen aspirants nationwide who do not have ordained members nearby. I developed an outline, drawn from materials presented in this issue, as a base of exploration in the mentoring relationship. We correspond each month, and arrange for individual meetings and group training days whenever possible, along with at least two retreats a year together.

Working within this framework, we are developing relationships to help inform and sustain the practice of mindfulness in our lives. My individual relationships with Dharma brothers and sisters are crucial for my own growth and deepening of understanding. It is wonderful to be part of a process that nurtures these kinds of relationships among people with shared aspirations.

Dharma teacher Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, is a Co-Director of the Order of Interbeing.

PDF of this article

Manzanita Village Practice

By Caitriona Reed

Last December 7, three members of the Ordinary Dharma Sangha received the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing: Jeff King, Joe Lewis, and Tony Pitchley. Despite torrential rain, about 35 members of the community made the long drive to Manzanita Village for the morning ceremony, including Ven. Benton Pandito, the abbot of the San Diego Lao Temple, with whom we enjoy an ongoing collaboration in the training of ex-gang member novice monks.

Currently there is a lot of discussion about training curricula for the core community of the Order. In addition to weekly Sangha gatherings and retreats of up to 12 days, we have enjoyed an ongoing weekly study group for a number of years. It seems to be the grounding for the core of our community, involving study and discussion of practice and, more recently, an exploration of writing and creativity within a Dharma context. As the group continues into the new year, we have decided to use tea meditation as the container for the weekly study group.

Dharma teacher Caitriona Reed, True Jewel, practices in Manzanita Village in southern California.

PDF of this article

Aspirant Mentoring in Seattle

By Eileen Kiera

Mentoring in Seattle is very informal. It has developed naturally from the needs of the Sangha. Once a person declares interest in becoming an Order member, they are asked to do the formal practice of the Order: a weekly Day of Mindfulness, an annual one-week retreat, and Mindfulness Trainings recitations at least twice a month. To support their practice, aspirants are invited to join practicing Tiep Hien members for weekly half-days of Mindfulness and Mindfulness Trainings recitation. So far, this has been a successful way for aspirants to grow into solid Order members. Practicing together, people have gotten to know each other well, and learned to appreciate each other and work well together.

As a Dharma Teacher, I like to have a personal relationship with an aspirant. Each relationship is of course unique, but includes practicing together on retreat as well as regular correspondence. I like Therese’s suggestion of a once-amonth check-in. People wishing to join the Tiep Hien order should have a basis for living a life of mindfulness and have a practice that is alive and transformative. The guidance of Sangha friends or a teacher helps an aspirant develop the ability to heal their own suffering and support others in their practice. I feel these are the qualities that an aspirant needs to develop during the year of mentoring.

Dharma teacher Eileen Kiera, True Lamp, is the guiding teacher for several Sanghas in the Pacific Northwest.

PDF of this article

Inviting Reflection

The following opening statement and questions were developed by the Community of Mindfulness, New York Metro. 

Congratulations on your decision to make a statement of aspiration to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in a formal ceremony. As you begin/continue the preparation phase, you may want to keep a Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings journal. It is also hoped that you will be able to arrange for regular meetings by phone or in person with your Dharma teacher(s) and other members of your Aspirant Support Team.

1. Why do I want to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings?

2. Why have I decided to state my aspiration to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in a formal ceremony at this time?

3. How has my practice of mindfulness (understanding, love, and compassion) helped me to transform my suffering (anger, fear, depression, craving/neediness, despair, distractions; specific relationships and past and current experiences of suffering)?

4. What time and energy can I offer at this time and over the next few years to take responsibility for the well-being of the Sangha with whom I am involved?

5. Where am I with my relationships with: (a) my family, (b) OI and other Sangha members? Is there anyone with whom I feel in conflict or would like to be in better harmony? How am I practicing to transform these relationships in a beneficial direction? Is there anyone I would like to practice with and get to know better? How can I initiate this?

6. Where am I in relation to mindful consumption: (a) alcohol (as it is interpreted in Thay’s tradition), (b) other consumption (intoxicants, food, TV, etc.)?

7. How long and in what contexts have I been practicing within Thay’s tradition (local Sangha, Plum Village, retreats with Thay, retreats with students of Thay, reading Thay’s books)?

8. What is my relationship with my “root” tradition(s)? Describe the connections in my life between my root tradition and Thay’s practice and teachings.

9. How long and in what contexts have I been practicing with other meditation traditions? Describe how I integrate these experiences with Thay’s practice and teachings.

10. How do I use the practice of mindfulness in the context of my workplace and livelihood? How would I like to do this even more?

11. What are my questions and concerns about joining the Order of Interbeing?

12. Other questions I have.

PDF of this article

Practice Partners

By Lyn Fine

The New York Sangha is slowly evolving a process for Order of Interbeing aspirants that feels good to us basically sending Jack Lawlor’s “Letter to Aspirants,” our twelve questions, and inviting people to write a dated letter of intention after further reflection and conversations, when they are ready.

We then encourage aspirants to choose three “practice partners,” Order members, or, if there are no Order members nearby, people in their Sangha. These three people, plus me as the Dharmacharya, constitute the Aspirant Support Team.

Working with the team (as individuals or together), the aspirant devises what will be most useful for the aspirant for at least a year of practice with a home Sangha in the light of their aspiration to receive the 14 Mindfulness Trainings. They may use various resources we’re developing, resources from other Sanghas, and of course, their own reflection.

mb21-PracticeThe rest (i.e., the “decision-making process” at the time of formal application) is still in discussion-the aim, of course, is to devise a practice that is clear enough and open enough that trust can be developed and sustained, and unnecessary suffering in the application process can be avoided. In the past, we’ve tried to have consensus among all Order members, but now that there are 17 of us, that is really unwieldy. So we’re experimenting with the “team” idea. The thought is that more than one practice partner means more resources and perspectives to draw on. The “team” practice is also good for Sangha-bonding and building, and for creativity in co-creating this process and tailoring it well for individual needs-and also, it allows for the fundamental impennanence of all of our lives! There is a possible “down side” of confusion, too, in the team practice-too much difference of views, etc., but we thought we’d try it out, as a next step.

Dharma teacher Lyn Fine highly recommends the book Mentoring: The Tao of Giving and Receiving Wisdom, by Chung liang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch (Harper SanFrancisco, 1995), which greatly influenced her views and approach.

PDF of this article

Ready When Ripe

By Mitchell Ratner

In the spring of 1997, the Washington Mindfulness Community Order of Interbeing aspirants initiated mentoring by writing a letter of aspiration to our local Dharmacharyas, Anh-Huong and Thu Nguyen, and to the other four local Order members. Each aspirant was asked to choose a mentor from the current Order members.

Four women asked to be considered for Order membership. Each was already attending the bimonthly Mindfulness Trainings recitations that bring together Order members and others interested in learning more about the Order. The meetings provided an opportunity to formally recite the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, and also to eat and walk mindfully together and share our lives and concerns.

We all understood that the mentors hip period was open-ended–it would continue until the aspirant and mentor felt the aspirant was ready for ordination. The nature and goals of the mentoring were also open-to be worked out by the aspirant and mentor. What generally occurred was that mentor and aspirant met several times, mainly to talk about the aspirant’s practice and motivation for seeking ordination, to answer questions about Order membership, and to explain responsibilities of and expectations for Order members. Other central focuses were the aspirant’s ability to embody the practice in family and Sangha relationships; whether they could share from their hearts, receive and give emotional support, and resolve conflicts. Because the aspirants all had been actively involved with the Washington Mindfulness Community for one to four years and had attended many retreats with Thay and senior teachers, there was little need for mentors to assign readings or teach specific mindfulness practices.

A month before the Omega retreat, the Order members, including Anh-Huong and Thu, met to discuss the aspirants. At the very beginning of the meeting, the criteria for ordination came up–on what basis should we decide? A few minutes into the discussion, Anh-Huong picked up a nearby tomato, smelled it, and asked, “Is it ripe?” What made the question particularly interesting was that the tomato in question was a variety that was yellow with streaks of green when ripe. The tomato question ended the discussion of criteria.

We then considered each candidate. The mentor spoke of her history with the community, strengths, and in some cases, hesitations of the mentor or aspirant. Others asked questions and offered thoughts. Being ripe meant different things for different aspirants. In some cases, we focused on what they were already doing-some had for a long time already done everything expected of an Order member. In other cases, we focused on what support the Order of Interbeing community might offer the aspirant, how membership might strengthen their practice. Much of the discussion had to do with the ways the practice had entered the aspirants’ lives and hearts. Was the aspirant really able to live the practice? What difficulties were they having?

After an hour of heartfelt, focused, and caring conversation, each of the four aspirants was either recommended for ordination or conditionally recommended, contingent on the clarification of some remaining issues. In general, we all felt that the process from beginning to end (especially the tomato) was very organic. It grew out of an intimate and harmonious Order of Interbeing community, the procedures were flexible enough to bend easily to changing conditions, and the focus stayed throughout on nurturing joy and equanimity in Order members and aspirants alike.

Mitchell Ratner, True Mirror of Wisdom, is an applied anthropologist, and conducts workshops on mindfulness and meaningful work.

PDF of this article

Training in Switzerland

By Marcel and Beatrice Geisser

mb21-Training

Since 1995 House Tao has offered a three-year course in Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and meditation. Thich Nhat Hanh instructed Marcel to develop this program along the lines of the four-year cycle of winter retreats at Plum Village. To address the conditions of daily life and professional activity, the course is divided each year into two ten-day blocks plus four weekends. The daily schedule includes sitting and walking meditation, meditative movement, rituals, lectures, sutra studies, Dharma discussions, and individual conversations with the teachers.

We stress incorporating the teachings into daily activities through working meditation, including gardening, renovating the house, daily cleaning, and preparing meals. Participants find that living, practicing, and learning with 18 people supports them at House Tao and also later in daily life.

Continual study and practice of meditation touches people deeply. Gradually uncovering and dissolving deep-seated illusions may trigger the temporary emergence of anxieties, insecurities, or even strongly neurotic reactions. Thus, considerable care and attention must be applied when working with group dynamic processes and conflicts. Marcel and Beatrice Geisser both have years of experience as licensed psychotherapists.

During the past three years, five participants formally received the Five Mindfulness Trainings from Marcel. This spring, a new group will begin. At the request of participants from the first cycle, House Tao is offering an extension of the training in the form of additional retreats. Special retreats will also be offered to program graduates to meet the need for deeper examination within a Sangha of experienced practitioners.

Dharma teacher Marcel Geisser, True Realisation, and Order member Beatrice Geisser, True Mindfulness of Love, live and practice in House Tao, Wo(fhalden, Switzerland.

PDF of this article

Learning Together

By Candace Cassin

Last fall, the Hopping Tree Sangha completed a year-long Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings Study Group. Our group was not limited to Order aspirants. We asked that participants be members in the western Massachusetts Sangha, have received the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and commit to attend all sessions. To foster continuity, safety, and depth of discussion, the group was “closed” after forming.

Several considerations led us to invite all Sangha members, not only Order aspirants. Our primary focus was on living the practice, not on the goal of ordination. The Trainings are a relevant and rich guide for life, whether one is formally ordained or not. Clarity about the desire for ordination evolved as we studied. In addition, we did not want to create an “in-group” and an “out-group” based on ordination. Finally, we recognized that ordination is not guaranteed, and the final decision is not made locally. Eight people participated in the first group. All were involved in the practice and the Sangha for at least five years. Most had been on retreats with Thay. One was an Order member and one was ordained shortly after we began. We structured the meetings as shared learning, reflecting our confidence (and experience) that the collective wisdom of the group will express itself and grow if all have equal opportunity to share. Most of all, we wanted our study to be practice, not simply be about practice.

We met two hours every three weeks. The intervening weeks allowed us to integrate new insights and understandings about the mindfulness training discussed and to prepare through reading and practice of the upcoming training. We met in homes, and began and ended on time. No one was designated facilitator. One person invited the bell and one person kept time. The format was: 1) Brief check-in; 2) Reading the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings; 3) Reading the designated mindfulness training and commentary in Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelinesfor Engaged Buddhism; 4) Discussion of the Mindfulness Training; and 5) Final checkin and closing meditation.

We agreed that sharing should be grounded in experience rather than intellectual abstractions or theoretical reflections. Each person joined their palms in a lotus and bowed before and after speaking. This practice and the use of the mindfulness bell slowed the pace of discussion and helped us practice deep listening and mindful speaking. Three members of our study group were ordained into the Order at the Omega retreat with Thay in October 1997. Three chose not to pursue ordination. Two of the three who did not feel drawn to ordination created a ceremony “to commit to the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in their hearts.” All members of the study group feel deeply committed to the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Each chose the vehicle to express that commitment that felt most true.

The support and wisdom of the Sangha on this path of practice has been a true joy. In all aspects of practice, our shared struggles, clarity, and deep listening have strengthened us in making the practice real in daily life.

Candace Cassin, True Precious Land, wrote this article with input from members of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings Study Group.

PDF of this article

A Happy Guinea Pig

By Beverly Alexander

I have had the pleasure both of owning a guinea pig and of being one. Greg Ascue, Jim Needles, and I were among the first to participate in a formal, year-long Order of Interbeing aspirant training program.

As part of our commitment, we all trained and acted as Doans (meditation hall caretakers). We set up the meditation hall, greeted guests, and tidied up afterwards. We were also part of the Mindfulness Trainings recitation ceremony team-Sangha Karman, Assistant, Head of Ceremony (reader), or Bellmaster.

Therese Fitzgerald and Arnie Kotler set aside time to have a series of meetings with us. We wrote about why we wanted to join the Order of Interbeing. We prepared and presented talks on the Three Jewels. The practice of giving talks on Buddhist subjects was very valuable. It helped us to examine these ideas deeply. We received the advice and encouragement of Arnie and Therese.

I think an aspirant training program is wonderful. So wonderful that there should be more of it! I know this is difficult to pull off with everyone’s busy schedules. If possible, aspirants should have occasional day retreats together, or even a weekend! Our group shared a weekend together which, sadly, I missed.

Perhaps aspirants could write essays on practicing with the essential teachings of Buddhism, such as the Four Noble Truths, and some of the sutras. A practice journal would help reinforce our practice and help us see where we have come from and how we are growing.

We could have a community service component too. It could be very flexible, taking into account the fact that some practitioners might have young families or other responsibilities. Other skills to be learned might be those useful for facilitating meetings and general skills for establishing and/or maintaining a Sangha.

This was a nourishing experience and I recommend it to
all who love Thay’s teachings enough to make a deep commitment to nourish the teachings not only in ourselves, but others.

New Order member Beverly Alexander, True Holy Insight, practices with the Community of Mindful Living in Berkeley, California.

PDF of this article

The Wisdom of Waiting

By Rick Kuntz

I n September 1996, I attended The Heart of the Buddha retreat at Plum Village. I had received the Five Mindfulness Trainings the year before at Omega and arrived in France with my letter to Thay and with the happy anticipation of joining the Order of Interbeing during the retreat. No one spoke to me about my letter until a few days before the ceremony. Since I did not have a sponsor or contact with Order members as required, it was suggested that I wait a year and practice with an established Sangha before taking the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Although I quietly agreed to this suggestion, which was offered gently and with compassion, I was devastated.

During the next three days, much of the pain from childhood came roaring back into my heart. I felt hurt, lost, and very alone. As I fought back tears at the start of the ceremony, I suddenly began to question the intensity of these emotions. I realized that being asked to wait had touched past scars of rejection that had nothing to do with taking the Trainings or the Order of Interbeing. Sitting there, holding these feelings, helped me know that my practice would have to grow much stronger if these old wounds were ever to be transformed. I closed my eyes, listened carefully, and invited each word of the Trainings into my opened heart.

Two weeks after returning home from Plum Village, I traveled to New York City for a Day of Mindfulness and began to practice regularly with the Sangha. I was warmly welcomed and immediately felt connected and at home. Sangha, the Jewel that had been missing, was now very real and wonderful, energizing my practice in ways I never thought possible! My appreciation for the wisdom of waiting was growing. My gratitude gradually became patience and understanding. With the insight, love, and support of a Sangha, I was more capable of making the subtle changes in my life that would help me fully embrace the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings.

The October 1997 retreat at Omega was a vibrant and happy experience. Many of my brothers and sisters from the New York Sangha were there. I gladly helped with meditation hall care and a Dharma discussion group. Unlike the year before, all three Jewels were alive in my practice, along with a better understanding of what it meant to join the Order ofInterbeing. At the formal ceremony, I knelt before Thay with a dear Dharma sister from the Washington Sangha on my left and a dear Dharma brother from the New York Sangha on my right. I smiled when I heard my true name, thankful that the wisdom of waiting had nourished and prepared me so well to receive the 14 Mindfulness Trainings with solidity, peace, and much joy.

Rick Kuntz, True Way of Peace, lives in Nazareth, Pennsylvania and practices with the Community of Mindfulness/New York Metro.

PDF of this article

Supporting the Aspirant

By Mike Bell

A couple of summers ago in Plum Village, I asked Sister Annabel about the process of joining the Order of Interbeing. Over several meetings, she dictated guidelines to me. My understanding from those meetings was that the emphasis was on self-assessment and we answer an aspirant “yes” in the absence of flagrant disregard of the precepts or clear inability to meet the guidelines. Thay has also made it clear that one joins the Order as a statement of intention to build Sangha, not simply as a personal statement of connection with the teachings and Plum Village.

I was among the first to join the Order using the training method, but it did not work well. I have spoken with other aspirants who share my sense of being judged by people who were not our spiritual teachers. I felt judged by people not in a position to judge. Some local Sangha members felt they were asked to judge when not in a position to do so. I have communicated with current aspirants who feel uneasy–not knowing what they are expected to do in order to be “approved.” This is clearly not what the mentors intend, but may happen automatically unless prevented.

I feel uneasy about proposed mentoring programs, based on a similar process in another lay Buddhist Order. Fifteen years ago, people drawn to join this particular Order who were known by the teacher, simply expressed their desire to join and were generally welcomed. Since then, a program has developed, and only those who complete a training course and are “approved” may join. As a result, nearly all dissident voices and variety are excluded, and the later Order members seem to me grey and mechanical.

For these reasons I feel a sense of foreboding that we may be embarking on a path which will not lead to the goal we desire. I am concerned that we may create an organisation where only those who conform are judged suitable for membership and only those with the time to complete the course are ordained. Looking at those who inspired and helped me, I wonder how many would be there if they had had to pass through this training and assessment.

I do feel there should be training within the Order, but not as a precondition of ordination. Something along the lines of Sister Annabel’s guidelines, perhaps phrased as questions to the aspirant plus a clear commitment to Sangha-building should, in my view, be sufficient. The role of the mentor should be limited to helping the aspirant with self-assessment.

Though not a bed of roses, my life is better as a practicing Order member. I want to share this experience with others and give them access.

Mike Bell, True Sword of Understanding, is a member of Cambridge Interbeing Sangha in the UK and is editor of the UK newsletter, Here & Now. This contribution is an edited version of two longer submissions.

PDF of this article

Dharma Siblings

By Paul Williams

I n late February, John Balaam, Caleb Cushing, Terry Helbick, and I met with our mentor Therese Fitzgerald for a few days of Order of Interbeing aspirant training and a retreat with the larger Sangha in northern California. My training time began with a visit to CML/Parallax Press’ modest headquarters which resulted in my writing letters to prisoners who had requested books or correspondence. I suspect most 01 aspirants, like me, want to be of service in a meaningful way, however clumsily.

That evening, we attended Arnie Kotler’s talk on the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and the Trainings recitation at the weekly Community of Mindful Living Sangha meeting. The discussion afterward helped me get in touch with my feelings about the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings as a vision Thay had in the midst of war, of a set of simple, universal values people might reasonably agree to live by to help relieve suffering .. .if a handful of us start living this way, the whole world could shift.

The next morning I picked up Caleb, and we drove to Saratoga, talking happily all the way, new friends discovering common interests and experiences. That drive, getting to know Caleb and starting to experience the solidity and immediacy of this new community in which I’m taking refuge, is one of my treasured memories of these OI Aspirant Training Days. Indeed, one of my breakthroughs the next two days-letting go of hard feelings I’d had towards a Sangha member-began with Caleb’s sympathetic listening as we drove south on Highway 880.

At Camp Swig, we gathered in a cabin called The Lodge, sharing our aspirations to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and become Order members. Somewhere along the line, John, Caleb, and I discovered we each had just had or were about to have our 50th birthdays. Because we were all born in 1948, year of the rat or mouse, it seemed to me that our theme song should be “Three Mindful Mice. See how they stop!”

The great value of the OI aspirant training days was the resulting sense of connectedness and stability. What is “bonding” after all but a tangible experience of interbeing? As I met and spent time with other aspirants, it became clear that being a member of the Order of Interbeing is about Sangha-building and -supporting. The Mindfulness Trainings do not include a vow to build communities; that interest seems to arise naturally from being part of a Sangha and wanting this kind of nourishing refuge to continue for ourselves and others. In the course of the gathering and the retreat, I found a wonderfully renewed energy for my practice and an ever-increasing respect for the value of Sangha. “When two or more are gathered in My name”which is to say, in mindfulness-stuff happens. Wow.

This “Dharma brother,” “Dharma-sister” talk isn’t just romanticization. Three or more of my experiences fall into this category. John was cheerful and stoic about being a novice bellmaster and making inevitable mistakes in front of a Sangha of 60 mostly-strangers. My heart was with him the whole time, because “there but for the grace of God go I,” and because I know it’s my nature to be nervous in such situations and feel compelled to redeem myself with (impossible) perfection. Just exchanging glances with John all weekend made it easy for me to imagine myself in his socks. It was like he let me experience the training through him, without risking humiliation or whatever other suffering my mind might create. Thanks, John. You did a great job. And even my low-key responsibilities for bells at three morning meals were a real assistance to me. Thanks, Therese, for your particularly gentle way of letting me know, near the end of my first breakfast duty, that I needed to wake the bell before inviting it. So, that’s one “Dharmasibling” experience, John and me being bell cadets at the same retreat.

Another was when the three mindful mice met with Terry in the Lodge to touch base with her as a fellowaspirant, after she arrived. Therese had suggested we ask her to share her aspirations with us per the “Opening Statements and Questions” in our mentorship outline, as we had done earlier with each other. Terry had written her comments. We had all engaged in such writing tasks through our monthly aspirant letters to our mentor. I was particularly affected by this opportunity to hear Terry read from her spiritual journal.

One more Dharma-sibling incident occurred after a Dharma discussion session where three separate extraordinarily un-victim-y bodhisattvas shared with us their experiences: one woman recently helped her husband prepare for his death from AIDS, and had to learn to stop seeing their daughter as “a child who will have lost her father”; another guy told how only the practice had allowed him to survive since his young wife died; and a seemingly very young Sangha member spoke of his relief in being able to see his dying daughter as a bodhisattva after he read about Thay calling a flower in his garden a bodhisattva. As Bob Dylan once said, “It’s all right, Ma, it’s life and life only.” What an extraordinary lesson we all had in impermanence and the Four Noble Truths (especially the path which leads to cessation of suffering) that afternoon! A few minutes after the session ended, I encountered John Balaam as I came out of a men’s room, and told him I’d burst into tears sitting in the bathroom. He gave me a big hug. We understood each other. And that’s how it felt all week, without words, amongst all of us aspirants and most of us fellowretreatants. A lot of positive seeds were planted in our collective store consciousness in these OI aspirant training sessions at Camp Swig.

Order aspirant Paul Williams, Joyful Peace of the Source, is the author of 25 books including Das Energi and Bob Dylan Performing Artist He and his wife practice in San Diego, California.

PDF of this article

Aspiring to Deeper Practice

By Cliff Heegel

I cannot find a better way to spend my life than practicing the path of understanding and love. I have practiced forgetfulness for much of my life, and experienced, both personally and professionally, the consequences of a self-centered life of ignorance. There is such suffering. To help relieve suffering, I must be present. To do what needs to be done, I need the support of an understanding and loving Sangha.

mb21-Aspiring

Aspiring to the Order is a commitment to my own care. The structure that the Order provides will help me water the seeds of love and harmony in myself and in others. My practice will deepen. That is what I want.

Both my parents suffered from addiction and depression. These are my roots. My own addictions were also a mask for depression. I suffered from spiritual pride for many years, struggling with the notion that psychiatric medication and meditation were incompatible. I thought depression was a sign of my inherent weakness and indicated my practice wasn’t good enough. For years, I felt guilty because I wasn’t. happy even though I practiced. After I quit drinking and USIng drugs, I had to accept my biological condition of depression. There was no longer anything to mask it. Finally, I swallowed my pride and got medication that helped.

Now, I do not have to take medication all the time. Still, I periodically crash into a low-grade depression. It is biological and has very little to do with practice or lifestyle. I can be living well and practicing well and still descend into a blue funk. I simply accept this as a biological illness and take my medication when I have to. This acceptance has helped me realize the non-duality of depression and non-depression.

I cannot help teaching what works to whoever I know. In my case, that means my local Sangha as well as psychotherapy clients. I teach mindfulness whenever it seems appropriate. I am getting great results, too. In one case, I taught mindful breathing and walking to a client who had been in therapy for many years with many therapists. For the fIrst time, she could talk about traumatic memories without going into a catatonic state. This woman suffered severe abuse as a child, has been a drug addict, and is bulimic and suicidal. I have several boxes of razor blades that she used to cut herself when she was in pain. Now, she simply breathes and sometimes, smiles. Of course, the best teaching is the one that I give with my presence.

Order aspirant Cliff Heegel, Determination of the Source, practices with the Memphis, Tennessee Sangha.

PDF of this article

Nurturing the Teachers

By Lyn Fine and Wendy Johnson

Thay has taught us the most wonderful gift you can make to the person you love is your presence. For one nurturing weekend in late January, seven Dharma teachers of the Order of Interbeing gathered in northern California: Arnie Kotler, Therese Fitzgerald, and Wendy Johnson from northern California; Jack Lawlor from Chicago; Eileen Kiera from Washington State; Cynthia Jurs from New Mexico; and Lyn Fine from New York City. Together we shared our experience as Dharma teachers, deepened our connection with each other, and enjoyed mindfulness practice. We were sorry that the other North American Dharma Teachers were unable to join us this time. This was not a meeting for decision-making, but for getting to know each other better and deepening the relationships which are the foundation of our Sangha. The weekend was deeply restorative and inspiring. It was a special, rare opportunity to be in each other’s presence, to sit together, walk in mindfulness, stand in the ocean, eat together in silence, and share our joys.

Knowing that when we take good care of ourselves, we take good care of everyone, we created a schedule for our retreat. Each day began and ended with sitting and walking meditation. The rest of the time we enjoyed outdoor walking meditation by the Pacific Ocean and beneath the redwoods in Muir Woods; discussed ongoing education and training; explored how to support the newly established centers in Vermont; and shared our experiences and the deepest issues we face as we practice and teach the Dharma. With the energy of mindfulness, we nourished humor and joy, compassion and healing.

Weekend gatherings like this give us new courage, faith, and inspiration in our daily work and practice. We would like to gather again with as many Dharma teachers as possible to continue deepening our dialogue as teachers whom Thliy entrusted to share our love for the Dharma. It is wonderful to continue to investigate together fresh and sustaining ways in which lay teachers can support each other as we communicate and deepen our love for the teachings. In these troubled and remarkable times, we see clearly the relevance of engaged Buddhism and lively, loving mindfulness.

Our deep thanks for the wonderful home that was donated for our use on this special weekend, for the anonymous donation that assisted in meeting the expenses, and for the delicious food arranged by the Community of Mindful Living. We were nurtured and refreshed by our time together.

Dharma teacher Lyn Fine practices with the New York Community of Mindfulness. Dharma teacher Wendy Johnson practices at Green Gulch Farm and with the Community of Mindful Living in Berkeley, California.

PDF of this article

Dharma Teachers’ Retreat

By Jack Lawlor

Shortly after dawn on January 25,1998, seven of Thay’s Dharma children serving as lay Dharmacharya in North America concluded their first Dharma teachers’ weekend retreat by enjoying outdoor walking meditation among the silent grove of coastal redwoods known as Muir Woods.

We don’t understand why it took so long for us to come together in this way, but it was worth the wait! In our time together, we learned how helpful it is to share one another’s presence, experience, and perspectives in a retreat format which provides time for sitting meditation, walking meditation, and silent meals. Sharing and listening deeply, we also learned:

-how vibrant local Sanghas are throughout this continent; how they are meeting regularly and evolving to address local needs;

-how members help Sanghas grow by inviting friends and relatives to join Sangha events in the long intervals between retreats;

-how Sanghas are helping transform suffering through the practice-by helping transform the loneliness and alienation of individuals into greater openness and tolerance, by helping an individual become a more loving member of his or her blood family, or by collective work in hospices or prisons;

-how interest in the historic roots of Buddhism is growing, in efforts to better understand its flowering in the West;

-how the nascent programs for Order of Interbeing aspirants are helping both potential and current Order members understand the value of local Sangha practice and of mentoring friendships.

Lay North Americans aspire to deepen our engaged practice in ways which help others. Many Sangha members were attracted to Thay’s teaching because he acknowledged these aspirations.

We look forward to continuing these explorations with the Sangha, “practicing wholeheartedly so that understanding and compassion will flower … practicing all aspects of the path with energy, so that our practice will bear fruit.”

We look forward to working with the Sangha to enhance the success of recent efforts in Vermont, and the other efforts of the Order and local Sanghas to deepen our collective practice in ways intended to help all beings. We are sustained by Thliy’s wonderful teachings, which have the capacity to keep us all peaceful and happy, fresh and resourceful throughout these efforts and throughout our lives.

It was suggested that Dharma teacher Jack Lawlor, True Direction, try to summarize the three-day retreat in a few short paragraphs. With the support of those in attendance, Jack offers this effort to describe the ineffable.

PDF of this article

Astrid Myreng, Source of Courageous Engagement

Jan. 5, 1926 – Oct. 27, 1997

by Svein Myreng

The greatest loss of my life has happened: Mother died. She taught me so much about lIfe and death, helped me through many times of painful or life-threatening illness. A fiercely engaged person, she worked against social injustices and environmental destruction. She left me a valuable heritage: her love of literature and nature; a fearless openness in expressing views and feelings and dealing with difficulties; and genuine care for other people-so many have been touched by her life.

She had little interest in possessions. Once, by accident, she threw a diamond ring in the garbage and was unable to retrieve it. Before long, she relished this incident as a good story. She was so alive!

We had no “unfinished business”-the last thing we said to each other was that we love each other. She died suddenly and painlessly at four in the morning. Her last words were: “I know I am dying, and I wish to die.” She had seen her two great hopes come true: I had married Eevi a year and a half earlier and my recent surgery in Boston had given me the strength she always hoped for. Her greatest desire was for my happiness.

In her later years, she became very fond of Buddhism, through Thay’s books which I read for her, and through meeting and housing monks, nuns, and lay teachers who visited Norway. She was amused by imagining what the neighbours might think when exotic-looking people came to our flat.

Brother Doji transmitted the Refuges to her during her funeral and gave her the Dharma name “Source of Courageous Engagement.” We created a traditional Norwegian ceremony but with Buddhist elements, and received many positive, even grateful, comments. This was a worthy conclusion for a life of great engagement. She was a bodhisattva. What efforts I make in the Dharma, to a great extent, stem from her. I miss her so much!

mb21-Astrid

Dharma teacher Svein Myreng, True Door, practices with the Sangha of Floating Clouds in Oslo, Norway.

PDF of this article

My Latest Bell of Mindfulness

By Bethany Freshnock

As I drove home one day, the Missouri River Valley was particularly beautiful. A perfect day for a bike ride! I looked forward to taking one, but first, I had to stop at my sister’s house.

As always, the house was bustling with activity. Brittani, sti ll dressed in her school uniform, was practicing her spelling words at the kitchen table. Stanton was watching a video, and nine-month-old McKenzi was playing at my sister’s feet. The house smelled of the bread my sister was warming for dinner. I scooped up McKenzi as I checked out the speller extraordinaire. She was working on the word “breakfast.”

Stanton asked me to help him put on his roller skates. After putting the elbow pads on his knees and the knee pads on his elbows, I helped him fasten his skates. “Why are you doing that so fast?” he asked.

Bong! The mindfulness bell sounded in the form of my four-year-old nephew. I took a mindful breath. “You know,” I said, “I’ve been looking forward to taking a bike ride. I was thinking that I may not have time to take one if I stay here too long. But, I should have plenty of time.” Then, I mindfully put his elbow pads on his elbows, and his knee pads on his knees.

Bethany Freshnock practices with the Heartland Community of Mindful Living in Kansas City, Missouri.

PDF of this article

The River Koan

By Mark Vette

mb21-TheRiverOne evening I invited my eight-year-old son, Koan, for a river walk under the near full moon. He lit up, reminding me of my promise to show him the wild duck nest. The dogs joined us. In the joyous fracas we passed Mother Kaihikatea, a huge native tree of great spiritual significance to the Maori people. My mother’s ashes are buried there, along with many animal friends. Koan and I bowed. He spoke of burying a pukeko chick he had tried to save. We talked about Pip, a friend we worked with as she died. I realized how maturely he understood death and how fortunate we were to have direct experience of impermanence.

We climbed the fence into the meadow, where I normally begin formal walking. My breath hugged me in the quiet night. The silver river reflected the moonlight filtering through the leaves. Flap-flap-swoosh!! Koan started as the mother duck flew from her nest in a small bush. He rushed to pull back the branches and looked in as if he’d found the king’s jewels. In the moonlight, the eggs looked like huge pearls as they were reflected in his joyful face. Koan felt the eggs to see if the mother was sitting, then lectured me not to disturb her nesting.

A short time later, I left him watching a possum and walked quietly on to sit under a tanekaha tree at the water’s edge. I slipped into the silver flow of the river and the image of Thay’s teaching came back vividly: allow your mind to become as immense as the great river and the muddiness of life is washed clean. Within minutes, I felt fresh and clear.

Koan’s muttering to the dogs edged nearer. He spoke to them as if they were human, looking down a rabbit hole with Polly-his blonde hair and muddy pants, and her we€d-ridden coat and wagging, excited tail. Koan rushed over and asked how big I thought the underground rabbit town was and what might they be doing? He asked why I was sitting, not walking. I explained I wanted to sit with the river for a while. He understood, dropped between my legs, and snuggled up.

We sat meditating on sticks and weeds. Bubbles. “Could that be an eel?” We sat. He enjoyed my warm presence and stability. I enjoyed his freshness and energy.

Walking back slowly, we held hands. When I hold Koan’s hand as we walk, he quiets and seems to know I just want to walk and be with him by touch. The walk ended with one tired boy falling asleep on my lap. I watched the beauty and peace of my child’s sleep. Practice with children is wonderful when it is natural and unnamed.

Mark Vette, True Great Root, is the father of three children and practices with Long White Cloud Sangha in Auckland, New Zealand.

PDF of this article

Pain, Love, and Happiness

By Khanh Le Van

The University of California at Santa Barbara campus was huge. “Wait till you see the gym,” said my Dharma brother Arnie. Indeed, for the next five days we 1,300 retreatants would sit together in that gym for meditation and Dharma talks. A team beaded by Wendy Johnson was busy arranging the gym into sitting meditation squares. Some people set up the altar and stage, others carefully prepared Thay’s suite and the rooms of the 34 monks and nuns accompanying him. The atmosphere was very warm. I was so happy for the wonderful opportunity to meet my teacher again.

The next afternoon people poured in to register-young and not so young, businessmen and women, artists, teachers, students, Buddhists, and non-Buddhists. The wide variety of people gave me more hope for the work of building peace. Retreatants stayed in dormitories around the campus and could practice walking meditation from one place to another.

mb21-Pain

As we queued up for supper the first night, the level of mindfulness practice was high for such a large gathering. The vegetarian food was so good that it influenced many to change their diet. Most people chose to eat in the outdoor dining hall under a white tent and enjoyed the beautiful, sunny weather. The Five Contemplations were read after fifteen minutes, giving time for some of us to settle first, and read one more time for later comers. I thought of the millions of hungry children around the world and was very mindful of each morsel that I put into my mouth. I vowed to do my best to alleviate this hunger by deepening my practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

As the days passed, the quality of the noble silence deepened. Since the campus was right beside the ocean, Thay changed the morning sitting into outdoor walking meditation. Streams of people started at three different locations and met at the beach. There, we walked along the ocean as one big group headed by Thay-what a wonderful way to be! Our suffering, despair, anger, and fear, were still there-we recognized them. But, the capacity to be happy, light, and at ease was also there. We touched these positive seeds. Thay invited us to touch and taste what is available in the present moment-walking and sitting on the beach with the Sangha, the fresh morning air, the sound of the waves, and the soft sand under our feet. Throughout the retreat, this early morning walking meditation contributed much to the healing process for each of us.

Thay’s Dharma talks were deep and well-presented, answering many core questions about fear of death, fear of the crowd, loss of beloved ones, improving family relationships, pain, and happiness. We also had many special interest presentations on topics including caring for the dying and their family members, and Sangha-building.

We had 57 Dharma discussion groups. The group I facilitated met quite a distance from my dormitory, so I had plenty of opportunity to enjoy my breathing while walking. I enjoyed seeing the campus come alive with retreatants practicing mindfulness with each step. I clearly remember the moment everybody stopped as the university bell chimed. I was standing still on the footpath, returning from a Dharma discussion. After three deep breaths, I noticed the stillness in front of me. I thought that I was walking in the Pure Land or in the Kingdom of God. An immense feeling of lightness arose in me.

Another beautiful scene was the presence of the monks and nuns, the flaps of their brown robes flying with the gentle breeze. They were so fresh, joyful, and peaceful. How fortunate we were to have the monastic order practicing with us. The energy produced by the Sangha was very powerful.

The retreat ended with the transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, received by many retreatants. More and more people are searching for something true, beautiful, wholesome. Practicing the Five Mindfulness Trainings leads in that direction.

May we be diligent in our practice for the future to be possible.

Dharma teacher Khanh Le Van, True Transmission, practices with the Lotus Buds Sangha in Sydney, Australia.

PDF of this article

Veterans of War and Peace

By Ted Sexauer

How did we get into this? For the four-plus years that we of the Veteran Writers’ Workshop have been meeting, our mentor, the noted writer Maxine Hong Kingston, has gently insisted that she has not only been instructing us in writing, and in listening, but also, ultimately, in how to lead such a workshop ourselves. “No, no, no, Maxine,” we said, “we are veterans. We have learned too well that we must never volunteer.”

But this past September, necessity finally forced our hands. Because the retreat at Santa Barbara took place during the first week of classes at DC Berkeley, where she teaches, Maxine would be able to attend only the last day of the retreat. Feeling the need to continue the program that has been so important to us, two brave souls stepped forward: my friend Dan Thompson of the East Coast group, and myself, of the West. We were assisted by Fred Allendorf from the Montana Sangha, a veteran who hadn’t previously been part of a writers’ group. (It’s a well-kept secret, but this always happens in the military, too. Someone always volunteers, or at least is volunteered.)

Our first task was to define ourselves. Because there had been little advance publicity, we didn’t start with an established group of participants. We wanted to be inclusive; we opened the group not only to war veterans, but essentially to anyone who wanted to participate-anyone who felt that they had been affected by war or by military experience. As a result, we wound up with the most wonderfully diverse blend of voices: Vietnam combat veterans; protestors against the war, male and female; a World War II veteran; veterans of non-combat service; wives and widows who had lost their husbands in combat, lost them to Agent Orange-induced disease long after the war, lost them to divorce.

Also because of the lack of advance notice, only a few of us had come prepared to write. And only a small number had prior training in writing. Writing our stories has been a central focus of the veterans’ group practice because we have seen that it is the formal telling of our stories-writing them down and reading them, not just oral recitation-that brings about catharsis and change. Writing one’s personal experience and reading it to a mindful, accepting audience retrieves the story from the nebulous nature of memory and validates it, validates the writer/reader. Makes it real.

Authenticates it. Prepares one to move on. So we pressed the group to write. We gave instruction on basic memoir writing; my contribution was to relate how I had taught myself to feel by writing poems about each incident in the war when I could remember going a little more numb. We guided the group in the spiritual practice of compassionate listening, which is fully half the work we do.

The results were remarkable. The writing that was produced on such short notice was striking in its power, depth, individuality, and honesty. These were not rote exercises. Because of the spiritual quality and intention of the gathering, members of the group were able to go to the heart of some of their deepest experience.

On Friday afternoon, the next-to-last day of the retreat, we graduated. We were given a five-hundred-seat lecture theater, which was filled to capacity with retreatants. Maxine Hong Kingston graciously moderated, and for two hours we read our stories to the most wonderfully attentive audience imaginable.

At the beginning of the retreat, I was very much afraid of failing in this undertaking. I was afraid of the organizational difficulties we had to face-the leaders of this unprecedentedly large I,200-person retreat had their hands full; they could not give us much attention. I was afraid that in our inexperience as teachers, Dan and I wouldn’t be able to hold our diverse group together; that some would want more spiritual training than we had to offer, that others would find the writing instruction inadequate; that they would rise up in mutiny, or defect in large numbers. I found that the combination of old military discipline enhanced by the spiritUal ability to remain emotionally present, together with the soundness of Maxine’s approach to writing instruction, carried us through. Not only carried us through, but made it a great success. I think we made a difference, not only to the twenty-two of us in our group, but to the entire Sangha.

The success of the group was also secured by the mindfulness of the participants, and by the practices we followed together. We sat in meditation together at each session, and observed the guidance of the bell in remembering to be present. With the help of an able tea master discovered within our ranks, Roger Voight, we enjoyed a lovely, grounding tea ceremony. And we were charmed and refreshed by a visit from the Children’s Sangha, who persuaded us to sing wonderful songs with them, and who made us laugh.

mb21-Veterans

(On September 29,1997, Maxine Hong Kingston received the National Medal for the Humanities from President Clinton for her contribution to the nation’s culture.)

Ted Sexauer lives in Sonoma, California, and practices with the Community of Mindful Living. He is a member of the Veteran Writers’ Workshop, West Coast Group, which meets quarterly at Sebastopol, California.

PDF of this article

Honor

By John Philip Baca

I n June 1971, in a White House ceremony, President Richard Nixon presented me with the Congressional Medal of Honor. In September 1997, during the Santa Barbara retreat, I offered the medal to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Community of Mindful Living. Thay had told us the story of the farmer who panicked when he lost his cows. “Aren’t you glad you don’t have any cows?” said Buddha to the young monks. I knew at this moment I no longer needed to keep this medal of honor.

I’d had the medal over half my life, worn it to military gatherings, shared its story with my peers. Experienced envy, thankfulness, pride. It was my most prized possession, my coat of armor, my ego-that cow I can with effortless effort let go of.

When I eat in mindfulness, I see and enjoy not only the food, but the seed that was planted, the farmer who planted it, his labor, the earth, the rain, clouds, and sun.

When I look at this medal mindfully, I see pain, blood, a damaged body full of hot burning steel, a mistake of the grenade leaving my hand, that had to be covered with my helmet and body. I see Art James, his family. I see our return trip to Vietnam in the fall of 1990 working alongside North Vietnamese building a friendship clinic. I see good times and bad times.

I see my first Mindfulness Retreat-1989 in Santa Barbara. I wanted to leave the medal in the basket then, rather than the Mickey Mouse figurine with a tear of sadness. A symbol to embrace the pain and suffering experienced in war, and transform both into “being peace” and that light at the tip of the candle. With the offering of this medal, I feel richer. I’ve rolled away that heavy stone and let light and peace enter.

John Baca lives in San Diego, California.

PDF of this article

New Growth

By Judith Toy

Here at Old Path Zendo, the winter wheat is sprouting, reminding us of spring! Just home from the wonderful gathering of over a thousand at Thay’s Omega retreat, I feel fresh as the new wheat sprouts surrounding our farm. A shining light of the retreat was the Veterans’ reading. About 200 of us bore witness to the intensely personal pain and horror-filled details of war. Supported by Lyn Fine’s peaceful presence, the men and women shared from the depth of their suffering what they had been writing all week. Using conscious breathing as our anchor, we listeners felt no separation from the readers.

The first story was read by a nurse in the Vietnam War who described an incident soon after her assignment to the field. That day, before she had even learned triage, a man’s brains fell out in her hands. Veteran after veteran shared their stories in bloody detail and intense sorrow. Aware that Thay’s own countrymen could not take advantage of such a cleansing retreat, we listened on their behalf.

Midway through the readings, a young monk from Plum Village walked across the room, holding two brilliant red maple leaves. He offered them to the man at the microphone. The Veteran said, “I invited this young monk to sit beside me as I read for two reasons. One, he looks much like a young man whose life I cut short. And, two, he is only the second Vietnamese I have ever touched whom I’ve not wanted to kill.”

Both my brothers fought and killed in Vietnam; I tried to listen faithfully on their behalf. I knew that as the young monk and the older veteran embraced, the boy and the man were one … and that I, my two brothers, the boy, and the man were one. I thank the veterans who were brave enough to bring forth their pain and show their fragility. Mayall beings achieve true peace.

Judith Toy, True Door of Peace, practices in Old Path Zendo in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

PDF of this article

Taking Refuge

By Mike DeMaio

At the age of 17, I enlisted in the marines. In 1967, at 18, I was in Vietnam. I went willingly, eager to prove myself. During my time incountry, I experienced and witnessed a lot of death and suffering. The war changed me as it did all of us who were touched by it. I lost something deep inside-that part of self necessary for relationship was gone. In its place was depression, anger. I felt estranged and disconnected.

Thirty years later the war is still with me, but ever so slowly I’ve been healing. In October 1997 I came to Omega seeking healing from the trauma of the Vietnam war. Six years earlier, I had attended the Omega retreat with Thay. I came back to be with other veterans. I’ve learned I can be safe with them. But, Thay also taught that we veterans need non-veterans to heal. I am still in awe at all that happened during our retreat. As we practiced breathing in and breathing out, listening to the bell, sharing deeply from our hearts, a bond grew between us. As we struggled with schedules and worked through conflict, our bond deepened. In the circle and in our writing and reading together, I witnessed how love overcame fear. I felt connected and for this, I thank you my brothers and sisters, veterans and nonveterans, because I learned anew that healing does not happen alone. Our refuge is in the Sangha!

Mike DeMaio, M.S. W., is counselor at the Salem, Oregon Veterans’ Outreach Center and served with the U.S.M.C. in Vietnam from 1967-1968.

PDF of this article

Healing

By Patrecia Lenore

Last October, at the Omega retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, a four-year-old dream came true. In 1993 at my first retreat with Thay at Omega I was in the midst of memories of incest and deep suffering. The Dharma discussion leaders were unable to answer my questions because of their inexperience with these issues. Luckily, I met other survivors of childhood abuse. We shared with each other and more or less got each other through the retreat. After watching the Vietnam veterans share their stories, I promised myself I would ftnd a way to provide support at retreats for survivors of physical and sexual abuse.

During the following months and years, I had so many questions about meditation. What do I do when memories of abuse arise during meditation? How do I forgive my father when I had only just gotten in touch with the memories and was understandably feeling a lot of anger? Smiling at the anger then seemed out of reach. I didn’t want the anger, but it arose anyway. I felt a lot of shame. I wondered if the dissociation that often happened during meditation would ever cease.

mb21-Healing

Since then, I have found answers to many of these questions, some from teachers in other traditions, some from our wonderful, compassionate Dharmacharya, Lyn Fine, and some just from my own experience. In 1994, my friend Meg Dellenbaugh and I spoke about the need for Dharma discussion groups for survivors at retreats, because inevitably, the kinds of questions we asked ourselves would come up for other survivors. Finally, in 1996, I overcame my shyness and fear and asked Therese Fitzgerald about Dharma discussion groups for survivors. Through her encouragement and the help of Leslie Rawls, Meg and I offered these discussion groups at the 1997 retreat.

The number of people in our group at Omega varied each day from 30 to 125. We were not surprised. Statistics for sex abuse alone indicate one in four women has been abused. Add physical and emotional abuse, and the statistics are much worse for women and men. This is a very big problem in our society.

Meg and I opened the discussions by acknowledging that retreats are often difficult for survivors because meditation sometimes brings up memories of the abuse, strong feelings, and shame which might prevent us from speaking. We wanted to provide a space in which people could share difficulties-and triumphs-in the practice that are specific to survivors. There was much deep sharing, both about the pain of childhood abuse and the hope of living in in the joy of the present moment. Many people wept. Some said they were sharing things they had never spoken of to anyone. Meg and I spoke about particular practices which can be helpful in the midst of memories or strong feelings. For instance, one of my favorite practices is the five steps of transforming feelings that Thay offers in Peace Is Every Step (p. 53). Another one that my teacher, Lyn Fine, often reminds me of is making gratitude lists (100 joys). I also offered loving kindness meditation and Meg offered a beautiful mindful movement exercise. One woman shared that each day she looks deeply and writes one gratitude on a list by her bedside. If she is having a bad day, she has the list to look at. Some people shared about how the Touching the Earth practice was helpful.

There were many perceptive questions. The dedication and sincerity of practice was strongly evident, as was the desire of everyone there to help each other. As I write this, tears of joy about the closeness and sharing in these groups come to my eyes. Several people came every day despite conflicts with other special interest groups, and there was a strong interest in continuing to have these groups at each retreat. Some people said they would not have been able to stay through the whole retreat if the survivors group hadn’t been available. Meg and I thank everyone who helped make this possible and hope that this important practice will be able to continue.

In a similar vein, Lyn Fine and I offered a small retreat in June (12 people) for survivors of abuse at our Sangha in New York. In addition to sitting and walking meditation, we offered drawing and writing practice. Again, there was much deep sharing. One woman shared with me that she had felt peace for the first time in her 50 years. A week later, some of us offered what we had written to the CMNY, much as the veterans do at the Omega retreats. For me this was very healing. Most of the survivors I know are able to tell their stories only in therapy or special groups composed only of survivors of abuse. I think it is very important to be able to tell our stories to larger communities. As Judith Herman points out in Trauma and Recovery, it is important to tell our stories so that both the survivors and the community may heal. Sharing breaks the isolation, allowing us to see ourselves in each other. In the words of a song: “May we love, may we heal, may we open to the universe.”

Patrecia Lenore, Flower of True Virtue, practices with the Community of Mindfulness/New York Metro.

PDF of this article

Unlearning Racism

By Pamela Overeynder

For several years, I have worked with white people who want to acknowledge their racism. The work grew from my desire to develop deeper relationships with people from other races and cultures. In some areas, I have been successful. However, the spiritual groups I have been involved in have been almost exclusively white.

Several people of color have passed through Plum Blossom Sangha, but most don’t come back. From friends of color who meditate and follow Thay’s teachings, I know that safety and trust issues go very deep. Some of us who are white may believe that because we are “spiritual,” we aren’t racist, but racism is embedded in us. Denial sets up barriers to ending racism and to safety for everyone as we work to that end.

This past year, Thay has reached out to non-Asian communities of color. At the Santa Barbara retreat, there were two meetings for people of color and friends. Many people spoke bravely and eloquently about their desire to have their experiences of racism validated by the Sangha while choosing not to feel victimized. As a group, we decided to bring up the issue of race in our Dharma discussion groups. That afternoon, I did.

I made the huge assumption that everyone in my group was Euro-American. (Everyone looked white to me.) I asked the group to reflect on why our Sanghas are mostly white, to think about safety issues, and to be willing to continue this deep looking in our home Sanghas. After speaking, I realized I had no right to assume everyone was white. I stopped and asked if anyone identified as a person of color. After a long silence, a woman spoke. Sobbing, she told us that she was Mexican and had not shared her last name out of shame. She described her experiences growing up in a raci st culture. It was humbling for me and deeply touching for us all.

This courageous woman didn’t feel safe as a Mexican, even in our small and loving discussion group. She passed for white, because being there was so important and the only way she could feel safe was to pass. Of course, most people of color couldn’t pass. This need to camouflage themselves for safety is a common experience for people of color, but largely unknown to white people.

As Sanghas and individuals, we must acknowledge our racist patterns without judgment and with great kindness. We must use the tool of mindfulness to see racism in ourselves and the world around us. Right Understanding leads to Right Action. Through awareness, we can water seeds of unity while celebrating diversity.

mb21-Unlearning

Pamela Overeynder, True Sun of Understanding, practices with Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas and the San Marcos River Sangha in San Marcos, Texas. She is a writer and poet.

PDF of this article

Diversity and Unity

By Rosa Alegria

During the Santa Barbara retreat, we had two meetings for People of Color and friends. Many shared the need for a Sangha open to all, focused on the connection between mindfulness practice, diversity, and social change. Since the retreat, several of us have continued to meet, working to give form to the open Sangha. We enjoy meditation and Dharma discussions, getting to know each other better, and working to create skillful ways to respond to suffering. We want to look deeply at all forms of suffering, from global threats to the everyday, habitual forms of racism, classism, sexism, and other “isms” so often ignored, yet which cause painful separation. Anyone who shares this vision is welcome.

Another gift of the retreat was the “Mindful Celebration of Our Diversity.” Our invitation read, in part, “By learning to see and recognize each other more deeply, we come to know ourselves better as well…. Each group that we belong to has a gift to offer the larger whole. Let us all come together as a community, to mindfully embrace and see deeply into the wonder of who we are, in all of our diversity and unity. If this message awakens seeds of hope and beauty in you, please join us.”

The ritual was simple. Each of us bowed when we wished to speak, and then shared one or more of our identities which we wanted to celebrate with the group. The group bowed to the speaker, and paused silently to breathe and acknowledge the gift shared. As we listened deeply, people spoke of ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, hidden physical disabilities, religions of origin, childhood traumas. All were welcomed in the silence and bowed to. My heart is full of gratefulness to everyone who participated in this mindful celebration and shared their tears, fears, joy, truth, pain, beauty, shyness, and strength.

Rosa Alegria is a member of the Mindfulness and Social Change Sangha in Oakland, California.

PDF of this article

Pain and Reconciliation

Anonymous

Last month I had a big gift. I realized that as a child under massively abusive and insane circumstances, I often “mistook the assignment.” Did you ever get the homework wrong, do the wrong page in grade school? Well, I realized the same thing happened. For years I agonized over my own “cowardice and powerlessness” when at eight years old, I stood by watching my three-year-old brother be beaten almost to death and did nothing but walk away quietly into this 40-acre mango grove. I could hear his screams-but just sat at the center of the grove on a tree stump. So all these 30 some years, I tried to forget it, because to look at myself as a coward was just too terrifying. In meditation I was able to see that my “assignment” as an eight-year-old was not to be heroic, but probably to allow some force of the universe to lead me away from the scene-so that I could survive physically and emotionally intact enough to someday be able to “be the light at the tip of the candle,” as Th~y has so kindly expressed it. So the real work of that event-protecting an eight-year-old-did take place. And my brother was not killed, which was very lucky.

I really identified with the story in Teachings on Love by Thay about the Vietnam vet who couldn’t let go of the hammock. As I read it, I thought, he may have misunderstood his assignment, he may have done exactly what was required of him by the universe. Maybe his assignment was to just be with her when she died.

I was a perfectionist in school. I always got the assignment right. But, my realization through the practice is that in reality, in life, I often was blinded by fear and misperception. I was almost killed innumerable times before the age of 17. Many of these experiences can also be viewed as times my life had been saved. Seeing this perspective is a big change for me, very much thanks to the safety of mindfulness and the Buddha’s protection. Without mindfulness practice and the Five Mindfulness Trainings, I would have no sense of what to cultivate in the safe container of my consciousness.

In terms of reconciliation with my mother, I’m very lucky to have remembered the wall in my Grandma’s apartment in Brooklyn. There was a photo of my mother at about age 5 or 6. She looks pretty disgruntled! But in my meditation, I can place myself in the safety of my grandmother’s house and focus on that photo on the wall. I try to send loving-kindness to that little girl in the picture. In “real time,” my Grandma’s apartment, the wall, the photo are long gone-but I’m glad to be able to retrieve them. This practice allows compassion for me too.

PDF of this article

In Memoriam: Mary Lenker

By Bob Schaibly

We gather on the occasion of death to honor the spirit of life. We gather to honor the work Mary Lenker did and the love she showed us. We do not know one another in totality. Mary kept her depression from most of us. She coped with it all her life. It led her to previous suicide attempts. Those of us who knew how Mary struggled, encouraged her and were present for her. But, she had a particularly virulent form of depression that came on quickly. It wasn’t Mary talking when depression seized her mind and heart. There was no reasoning with her then. She said things she did not say and did not believe when she was herself. She loved her family and her friends. Her love for life motivated her to fight the depression courageously all her life.

Mary lived life well when she practiced the meditation that brought her serenity. She studied Zen for many years at the Southwest Zen Academy. She practiced with the Houston Zen Community in First Church. An important Zen teaching is that each person persists even after the body is gone. Barbara Holleroth writes, “It is sometimes said that we are born as strangers into the world and that we leave when we die. But in all probability we do not come into the world at all. Rather we come out of it, in the same way a leaf comes out of a tree or a baby from its mother’s body. We emerge from deep within its range of possibilities, and when we die, we do not so much stop living as our living takes a different form. So the leaf does not fallout of the world when it leaves the tree. It has a different way and place to be within it.”

Every life has many different meanings. Because each one of us has a different perception of Mary, her life will hold a different meaning for each of us. I remember her overall as a person thrilled to be finding her own fulfillment. She smiled and was excited and strong and happy.

Mary was a Registered Nurse. Connecting with the AIDS Care Team was a very good meeting of her skills and attributes. She loved visiting clients in the Care Team’s program, and became very knowledgeable about AIDS medications and complications.

Let us remember that even when things are beyond our human understanding, love is greater than sorrow and endures through pain and grief. That love can bind all hearts in companionship and bring courage. So, we say farewell, dear friend. We loved you living and we love you now. Rest now in peace and in the love we bear you. Amen.

Dharma teacher Bob Schaibly, True Deliverance, is the minister of First Unitarian Church in Houston, Texas.

PDF of this article

Counting the Ways

By Therese Fitzgerald

How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
-“Sonnets from the Portuguese” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

For the past 12 years, it has been the joy and challenge of the Community of Mindful Living to organize Thay’s gatherings in the U.S. During these years, much has unfo lded marvelously. Those who attended Thay’s 1987 retreat in New York City can remember doing walking meditation in the subway station and in Central Park with only 47 participants. Practicing meditation with children was a first ever for many of us. Bringing environmentalists, helping professional s, and veterans together with meditators widened our perspective on engaged Buddhism in vivid, transformative ways. The call by Thay to see the “face of the American Buddha” in 1988 has been answered, in part. How fortunate we have been to learn from direct contact with Thay and Sister Chan Khong, and the “interdenominational floating Sangha.”

I would like to acknowledge many of the individuals who have been instrumental in helping cultivate the ground of mindfulness practice in the U.S. Carole Melkonian, Wendy Johnson, Ellen Peskin, Andrew Weiss, Richard Brady, Mjtchell Ratner, Michel Colville, Lyn Fine, Rowan Conrad, Marylee Revels, Leslie Rawls, Jerry Braza, and Monica Hoyt have been present for people, taking care of tea meditations, Dharma di scussions, and evening sessions, ananging flowers, and preparing meditation halls-all clear efforts to practice mindfulness as a supportive Sangha of coworkers. These friends and others, such as Anh-Huong Nguyen, Joan Halifax, Caitriona Reed, Michele Benzamin, Eileen Kiera, and Jack Lawlor have been our Sangha builders and caretakers. Retreat regi strars everywhere have shined the Sangha jewel. Sister Annabel in 1991 and Sister Jina in 1993 and 1995 won our affection, and many of us now have special places in our hearts for the monks and nuns who have accompanied Thay and beautifully modelled mindfulness. David Dimmack, Wendy, Betsy Rose, Mobi Phillips, Mark Vette, and Wavy Gravy have shown us how to mindfully, heartily engage with our children. Claude Thomas, Maxine Hong Kingston, Dan Thompson, Ted Sexauer, and Lyn Fine have made the space safe for the veterans to “shine the light at the tip of the candle.” And I wish to acknowledge our debt of gratitude for Thay Tinh Tu and Kim Son Monastery and the many other Vietnamese friends who have hosted and nourished Thay so well over these past twelve years-My Hanh Pham, Kim Chi Nguyen, Bich and Chi Nguyen, Anh-Huong and Thu Nguyen, Quan Trung Nguyen, and Mai, Khai, and Lin from La Boi Press.

mb21-Counting

I would also like to extend gratitude and appreciation for my beloved husband and coworker, Arnie Kotler, who has always been completely available and enthusiastic about every aspect of each event every single time–whether making initial and continuing contact with the sponsoring organizations, arranging for venues and publicity, providing the text of fliers, helping organize Dharma discussions or taking care of the meditation hall, being a resource about the books, or being attentive to the thousands of individuals who needed assistance along the way. Arnie’s joy and expertise at “being there” are what make communities sing with soulful delight and shared understanding.

Sounds True, Back Country Productions, and Conference Recording Service have lovingly provided tapes for people to “unpack” the retreats over time with others. It has also been a great pleasure to work closely with Omega Institute, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the New York, D.C., Los Angeles, and Boston Mindfulness Communities, and all of the other hosts and cosponsors. We have come to know and love each other in the process of developing increasingly complex programs for more and more people. At the retreats in Santa Barbara and Omega this past Fall and at the lectures and days of practice in southern California and on the East Coast, I felt immense joy being part of the great teams assembled to do the invisible work of supporting the gatherings with Thay.

The experience of seeing 1,200 people move as a family of practice in the dining areas or in the meditation hall in Santa Barbara, watching the team at Omega accommodate hundreds of people for private practice instruction, seeing the Omega staff provide a service before we even knew we needed it, walking through the book table area at events and feeling the presence of the Parallax Press staff and other Sangha members there answering questions and providing direction for people’s continuation of practice, and so on, has solidified my sense of the maturation of the wide Sangha as a vehicle for mindful living in American society.

Now Thay has asked the monks and nuns of Plum Village and Maple Forest Monastery to take more responsibility for the practice and for retreat organization in this country, and we look forward to working closely with them.

Therese Fitzgerald, True Light, is a Dharma teacher in Berkeley, California.

PDF of this article

Coming Out, Returning Home

By Caitriona Reed

Storms roll over the mountains, filling the winter sky. When they have gone, the days are bright and cold, and the sky astonishingly blue. It’s hard to imagine the stillness of summer, the uncompromising midday heat in August. Winter is beginning, but my spring has arrived.

This year I came out of the closet as transsexual. All my life I wanted to express myself as a woman, live as a woman, speak, move, celebrate life, as a woman, but I was born a boy-child. Shame and fear held me in a kind of perpetual hibernation.

If I made any choice last April, it was to let go of fear. My Buddhist practice was always an attempt to discover what is simple, real, and nourishing. As a teacher, I havealways insisted that we be authentic, that we simply be ourselves. My own advice caught up with me! And, to my amazement, my practice has found its fulfillment.. .. My shame, my fear, and pretense which deadened me have dissolved. Miraculously, I inhabit my own body, my own life-as a teacher, a friend, a human being. I feel whole. For years I thought that if I spent more time meditating, if I was sincere, dedicated, and truly selfless, this “problem” would go away. I was certain that if I expressed myself openly as a transgendered person, I would lose my credibility, my friends, everything. As a Dharma teacher I was pretty certain I would also be out of a job. Strangely, none of this has happened.

I live as a woman. My driver’s license says Caitriona Reed, “F.” To my surprise, people do not shun me. Though I am a “big-boned gal,” strangers call me maam. If I have come out as transsexual, I have also come out as someone capable of being whole, free, and open. I am reclaiming my body, and my life. May we all find the means to do the same!

The support of friends in the Ordinary Dharma community, the broader community of the Order of Interbeing, my peers and fellow teachers, and even of my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has been unexpected, generous, and deeply touching. “Thank you. Now I feel free to be just as I am,” was one response. My friend and teacher Joanna Macy, speaking on the telephone, with tears in her voice, exclaimed, “Now we all have to come out!” Thay simply asked, “Shall we call you Caitriona now?”

I am happy in ways I never knew before, not because my desires have been fulfilled, but because, mysteriously, I seem better able to embrace both my own suffering and yours without a rigid distinction between the two. The drama that oppresses us has become a little less solid and the beauty that nourishes us a little more palpable.

After the winter rain, the spring promises abundant wildflowers. Larkspur and wiid lupines are vivid in my mind’s eye. The towering yucca; the clamor of birdsongs in the morning. In the evening, those same songs, slightly different, echo in the canyon. The songs help me feel safe, part of the world, part of this landscape. Last summer’s dried grasses will disappear under new growth, yet without them there would be no new growth. Just as the seasons come and go, the person I was, am, and will be are not different nor entirely the same. In the end, my notions of gender and identity di sappear like mist and I am left standing, simply as I am.

Caitriona is pronounced Katrina. It is the Celtic/Irish name my mother was to have given me.

mb21-Coming

Dharma teacher Caitriona Reed, True Jewel, lived the first part of her life as Christopher Reed. With Michele Benzamin-Masuda, she founded Manzanita Village retreat center and leads the Ordinary Dharma Sangha in Santa Monica, California.

PDF of this article

Helping People Help Themselves

By Sister Chan Khong

Hieu va Thuong (“Understanding and Loving”) is the name of the Plum Village project that supports 86 villages in the remote areas of the Truong Son Mountains, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam. The presence of nuns, monks, and students of Thich Nhat Hanh in this countryside has drastically improved the situation there.

The first task in these villages is to simply inspire the communities to work together and offer materials to renovate the local schools. In most of the countryside, schools are very poor and teacher salaries are much lower than in the cities where they are already very low. Our social workers have witnessed schools that were set up by local authorities abandoned because there were no teachers. The Understanding and Loving Project first sponsors schoolteachers, and then one or two daycare centers in each village to provide children with proper food to prevent malnutrition, blindness, and other handicaps.

After many meetings by our social workers with parents and local authorities, school classes in these villages have resumed. The authorities pay teachers $5 per month and Plum Village adds another $20. The parents are invited to discuss ways to improve the school, including building new classrooms and bridges to allow the children to walk safely to schoo!. If the parents offer to donate their work, Plum Village provides money to pay for materials. Thanks to this method of support, villagers feel that the school, bridge, and daycare center are theirs and they take good care of them. In many areas, we also provide interest-free loans so that the poorest people can plant fruit trees, sugar cane, and other crops for reselling.

mb21-Helping1

Many teenagers in these villages who, in the past, did not know how to use their time well, are now able to play soccer and ping-pong as healthy entertainment. With our assistance, vocational training programs in tailoring, embroidery, and carpentry for teenagers have also been set up. After six months, a number of the older teens have started to earn more than their parents. An atmosphere of concern for the good care of the whole village is spreading gently and slowly with the presence of our friends. That is the miracle of the Understanding and Loving program.

mb21-Helping2

We have classes in 86 villages, but could only realize real development work in 22 villages. Let us try to visit a developing village. For instance, in Loc Hoa Village, we

  • support 12 teachers and 520 children in six schools
  • started two daycare centers, for over 120 children
  • provided scholarships to 60 children from the poorest families
  • set up classes in carpentry, tailoring, and embroidery
  • built bridges and planted 27 fruit groves

In Quang Ngai, we

  • offer education to 265 children with six teachers
  • provide scholarships and other aid to 75 pupils, and 57 elderly and handicapped persons
  • help run two daycare centers for 30 children each
  • help plant 7,000 trees in the Pure Mountain Da Son

In Thua Thien, we

  • support 218 teachers and help to educate 9,556 children
  • offer 987 scholarships of $5 per month for elementary school, high school, and university students
  • helped set up 15 daycare centers in seven villages with lunch for 535 toddlers
  • helped set up one big daycare center in Hue City
  • built seven bridges
  • regularly help 336 elderly people
  • set up eight vocational training centers

In Quang Tri, we

  • support 128 teachers and help to educate 7,156 children
  • set up eight daycare centers with lunch for 310 children
  • gave no-interest loans to the 55 poorest families
  • offer scholarships to the 445 poorest pupils
  • helped 446 elderly and handicapped
  • built five bridges
  • set up a large vocational training center in the city

In Quang Binh, we

  • support 27 teachers and help educate 1,516 students
  • set up five daycare centers with lunch for 240 children
  • planted 4,500 trees with the aid of Vietnamese veterans

In Nha Trang, we

  • support seven teachers and help educate 316 children
  • set up two daycare centers with lunch for 60 children
  • offer scholarships to the 105 poorest pupils

In Hanoi, we

  • support 30 handicapped children in Sai Dong and 100 undernourished children in Soc Son
  • provide food for 100 children in Trung Na and Thach Coc
    support seven teachers
  • provide 50 scholarships to high school and university students

In the Mekong Delta area, including the Saigon suburban areas, we

  • support fourteen schoolteachers, 234 children, and 25 handicapped children
  • provide 436 scholarships for orphans and undernourished children, with Partage in Compiegne

Some Christian friends visited Vietnam and saw a great number of these wonderful projects realized in many difficult situations by a very devoted group of students of Thay. They told us that they had the impression they were with the apostles of Jesus. If we are able to realize these wonderful projects, it is thanks to these humble bodhisattvas in Vietnam, students of Thich Nhat Hanh.

mb21-Helping3

We also send our deep thanks to all of you who generously support our work: Therese Fitzgerald of the Community of Mindful Living; Anh-Huong Nguyen of the Committee for the Relief of Poor Children in Vietnam; Nu Hong Funds, Karl Schmied and Nara of Maitreya Funds in Germany; Children Funds in Holland via lFOR; Committee to help Vietnamese Children in Italy; Haus Tao in Switzerland’ Aktion Lotus in Switzerland; Partage avec les Enfants in France; La Feuille de Riz in St. Etienne, France; Interhelp in London; Maple Village friends in Montreal and Toronto, and many more silent bodhisattva donors.

Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, has been Thich Nhat Hanh’s main colleague for over 30 years. She is a nun living in Plum Village, France and the author of Learning True Love.


How You Can Help

  • $5 per month buys rice for a poor or orphaned child, a handicapped or elderly person, or a young college or university student with ability but in economic difficulty.
  • $10 per month helps a young adult to get vocational training for up to two years.
  • $20 per month helps pay a monthly salary for a schoolteacher or daycare worker in remote, undeveloped areas destroyed by war.
  • $300 per month supports a team of medical professionals (physicians, nurses, and dentists, who work free of charge) to buy medicine and offer one weekend visit per month to two villages and provide medical care for about 600 people.
  • $700 per month helps a developing village support five schoolteachers, a daycare center with two helpers and two permanent workers, and inspires local farmers to help themselves together with local authorities.

In the U.S., please send donations to the Community of Mindful Living, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707, marked for WTRV (Working Together for Rejuvenation in Vietnam); or to the Committee for Relief of Poor Children in Vietnam (CRPCV), 10413 Adel Road, Oakton, VA 22126. Donations to CRPCV may also be made by direct deposit to First Virginia Bank, account number 05600-1118-09185569. Contributions are tax-deductible.

PDF of this article

Letters from Vietnam

By Anh-Huong Nguyen

Last February, I was able to return to Vietnam to visit the children, schools, and teachers helped by the Committee for the Relief of Poor Children in Vietnam. I traveled in a rented van with three nuns, two social workers, and five medical doctors. We brought food, clothing, school supplies, and medicine to poor families in remote areas. The big flood in October had caused a lot of damage. The roads were very narrow and bumpy. At times, we had to get out of the van and walk. In some areas near the ocean, we had to roll up our pants and wade across the water.

Driving into a village one morning, we met an elderly woman walking on the side of the road. We got out of the van and bowed to greet her. She smiled beautifully. “I am eighty-two,” she said. All her relatives died in the war. I looked down and saw that her feet were bleeding. We offered her one mini-baguette, some money in an envelope, some vitamins, a sweater, and a pair of sandal s. She said she didn’t know what to buy because there was nothing there to buy. Having walked on a lot of rocks and stones, her feet were unusually wide. Even the widest sandals in our bag could not fit her. I turned away as I felt the tears coming. I held her hand in mine and breathed with you all. In one second, as I looked at her smiling, wrinkled face, I discovered a true sense of harmony and peace. Suffering and happiness are singing the song of compassion. I would like to share some of the letters we receive about the work of the Committee for the Relief of Poor Children.

mb21-Letters1

From a kindergarten teacher in Kim Duc:
“Last semester, thanks to thoughtful education and tender loving care, the children’s development has greatly improved. Having enough to eat, they slept better and gained weight. One child in particular has made very clear progress. When school first started, he could not even tell the difference between his own name and that of his friends he did not get up when his teacher called on him. Now, he can distinguish his name from that of his peers. He listens to his teacher and obeys his parents. He raises his hand to give a comment and participates in more activities. He tells stories and sings …. ”

mb21-Letters2

From a nun in Hae:
” … Tomorrow we will visit some kindergarten classes in the new economic zone of Phong My. We will bring used clothing we received as gifts to poor kindergarten children. We will bring your love to the children. We will also bring tables and chairs, some rice, instant noodles, candies, and cookies. We have put together three kindergarten classes. One class still has neither chairs nor tables; the children sit on plain wooden boards. Most people in this area try to make a living by cutting wood and burning charcoal in the forests. Agriculture is very difficult in this barren wilderness. Living in such a difficult environment and lacking nutrition, the children often get skin rashes and other skin diseases. They are so happy that their faces radiate like angels every time we come for a visit. . .. ”

From Le Thi Thu in Huong Thy, Central Vietnam
“My father died young. My mother has to work extremely hard to raise and support us. She slaves all day long at the marketplace, trying to sell a bunch of vegetables here, a hot pepper there .. .. A good day can bring in between 10,000 to 20,000 dong [$1-$2], just barely enough to buy rice for the whole family. She does not earn enough to buy kerosene for the lamps [there is no electricity in the remote villages], salt, and pay for my tuition. She said I should quit school after this semester and help her at the market to bring more income to the family. As she spoke, I felt much sadness in my heart, in her eyes and her voice. I love school. Yet, being the oldest child, I have no other choice. Fortunately, on the last day of school, I received notice that I was given a scholarship. I was so happy. I am deeply grateful for your help. Your gift helps me pay for my tuition and buy some rice for my younger sisters.”

Dharma teacher Anh-Huong Nguyen lives in Woodstock, Vermont and Oakton, Virginia. She is the founder of The Committee for Relief of Poor Children in Vietnam.

PDF of this article

Announcements

Passages
Born: Anna Tarata Meredith, born October 2, 1997 to Liana Meredith and Kees Lodder, True Great Gathering, of  Auckland, New Zealand.
Married: Patrick Frize and Bang Lang, Chan Dieu Am, were married at Maple Village, Quebec on August 24,1997.
Engaged: Bach Thai Hao, Chan Bao Canh, and Hermann Luckhoff celebrated their engagement in Paris on November 1, 1997.
Died: Mary Lenker of the Charlotte Community of Mindfulness, North Carolina, formerly of Houston, Texas, on October 26, 1997.

Dharma Talks by Email
The Plum Village Dharma Talk project has begun distributing Thay’s Plum Village talks by email. The project will operate from dana, and needs everyone’s support to cover costs, including connection fees, phone bills, and transcriptions. Those who receive the talks are encouraged to donate IOFF (approx. $2) per talk to Plum Village Transcription Project, Meyrac, 47120 Loubes-Bernac, France. You may subscribe by sending your email address to plumvill@clubinternet fr. This email address is just for use concerning this project. Please continue to use standard mail or fax for general inquiries to Plum Village.

Being Peace Centre, UK
At Thich Nhat Hanh’s invitation, the Community of Interbeing UK has been searching for property to establish a Dharma Centre where mindfulness practice can be learned and strengthened. The centre will be open to people from all walks of life, religious belief, and levels of meditation experience. For more information or to contribute to the centre, please contact Dave Tester, 18a Hove Park Villas, Hove, BN3 6HG, UK. Dave_Tester@compuserve.com.

Survivors of Childhood Abuse Sangha
An interest group is being formed in the Boston area by people who experienced abuse in childhood (physical, sexual, or psychological). Possibility of weekend retreats in the Northeast. Please write to D.R., Boston Sangha, 38 Temple Street, Boston, MA 02114.

A Time for Peace
The United Nations has declared the year 2000 the “Year of Education for Nonviolence.” Fran~oise Pottier, co-director of the Order of Interbeing, and Order member Pierre Marchand continue the work to petition the UN to declare 2000-2010 the “Decade for a Culture of Non-Violence.” Please send postcards and letters supporting the project, as well as financial contributions, to Appeal of the Nobel Peace Laureates, c/o International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), Spoorstraat 38, 1815 BK Alkmaar, Netherlands.

North American Order Meeting
Members of the core community of the Order of Interbeing are invited to a national gathering at Green Mountain Dharma Center, Hartland, Vermont, Saturday, October 10 through Monday, October 12, 1998. Registration forms and full details will be mailed by early summer.

Peace Is Every Step
More than 1,000 people attended a February benefit screening in Berkeley, California, of the new film “Peace Is Every Step,” presented along with a panel discussion with filmmaker Gaetano Maida, author Maxine Hong Kingston, and Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman. The one-hour documentary, narrated by Ben Kingsley, is a profile of Thich Nhat Hanh, and explores his efforts to help heal a world in conflict and provide tools for mindful living. The filmmaker is available to participate in benefit presentations of the film in areas with enough support and resources to produce a successful public event. VHS copies of the film are available through Parallax Press. For more information, please contact Gaetano Kazuo Maida, Legacy Media, Inc., 510.525.7594, fax: 510.524.9739, email: legacy@well.com.

Chapter on Sister Chan Khong
China Galland’s new book, The Bond Between Women: A Journey to Fierce Compassion (Riverhead Books, 1998), includes a wonderful chapter about the teachings and work of Sr. Chan Khong entitled “I Do Not Rehearse My Anger.”

PDF of this article