#21 Spring 1998

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.


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.

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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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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

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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.

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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.


Texts for study and practice--Interbeing: 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 practice--Transformation 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.

Texts--A 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.


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

Texts--Samiddhi 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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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