Order of Interbeing Aspirants

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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Ask the Dharmacarya

Shining the Light Ceremony: Order of Interbeing Aspirant Process By Lyn Fine

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What is the Shining the Light practice, and how can we use it in our Sangha?

In northern California, we have been experimenting with in­cluding a formal Shining the Light practice as part of the process of laypeople applying to join the core community of the Order of Interbeing and receive the Fourteen Mindfulness trainings in a formal ceremony. Including this practice as part of regular Sangha activity is also being encouraged, as we have come to realize how precious is the connection and open communication that is fostered through this form. The form of the ceremony we use is inspired by and adapted from the monastic practice at Plum Village and is grounded in the description in Friends on the Path, by Thich Nhat Hanh, compiled by Jack Lawlor. However, the form which follows has evolved from our experience, and differs from the written de­scriptions mentioned. The form continues to change, as we adapt the ceremony to the particular people and needs of the situation.

Aspirant Shining The Light Ceremony

When an aspirant wishes to organize a Shining the Light ceremony, she invites six to eight friends to be present. If the as­pirant is applying to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and join the Order of Interbeing at a particular time, the aspirant is encouraged to organize the ceremony several months before, and to invite people from her or his family and workplace as well as Sangha friends. In this way, people who know the aspirant well in various areas of her life can be included in the circle of support as she or he contemplates taking this next step of commitment. If practitioners who are not aspirants would enjoy receiving guidance in a Shining the Light ceremony, the participants are generally only Sangha friends. Allow two hours or so for the ceremony. The facilitator is usually a Dharma teacher or an Order of Interbeing member.

The Ceremony

Bell: Sound the bell three times.

Welcome: Facilitator welcomes everyone and gives a brief state­ment of the purpose of the gathering. A copy of the description in Friends on the Path can be made available to all participants. Everyone is invited to share their name and their connection with the aspirant.

Sitting Meditation: Five to twenty minutes. Participants may enjoy silently offering lovingkindness meditation and flower-wa­tering to the aspirant during the sitting, noticing where they have seen wholesome seeds arising. Begin and end the sitting by sounding the bell.

Aspirant Sharing: Facilitator invites everyone to follow their breathing and enjoy deep listening, then invites the aspirant to share for about ten minutes. Topics for sharing could include: the joys and aspirations of her practice, how she sees wholesome seeds manifesting, what suffering has been transformed, and one or two current growing edges or challenges in relationship to practice with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. After the aspirant has finished speaking and the bell is invited, participants sit in silence, following their breathing for two or three minutes, to receive with full awareness the aspirant’s sharing.

Participants’ Sharing: The facilitator invites the participants to shine light on the aspirant’s practice. Practices which encourage deep listening and loving speech are explained, such as: bowing in and out to signal the desire to start and finish speaking; enjoying the sound of the bell at the end of each sharing; and conscious breathing throughout.

To encourage and support the aspirant, the participants share any nourishing and beneficial impact the aspirant has had on them. In addition, they can mention several growing edges they see in the aspirant, one or two seeds they would like to water and encourage to grow even more. The aspirant receives what is said with an open heart, in silence.

Sit: After everyone who wants to has spoken, there are a few minutes of sitting meditation.

Dialogue: The facilitator may then invite the aspirant and par­ticipants to share with each other questions that have arisen or responses to something that has been said.

Seek Consensus: If the practitioner is an aspirant applying to receive the trainings, and support of the participants by consen­sus is requested, the facilitator states: ________has requested to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and join the core community of the Order of Interbeing at ____________on ______date________.

Are there any questions, concerns, or doubts that anyone would like to put into the circle at this time? If someone speaks, discussion of the concern or question follows, after which the fa­cilitator again poses the statement. If no one speaks, the facilitator makes the statement again. After the facilitator has repeated the statement three times with no one choosing to speak, the facilitator acknowledges with joy that the group has reached consensus to support the aspirant’s application. If there is not yet consensus, it is acknowledged that more reflection would be appropriate and this is scheduled.

If the practitioner is not an aspirant, the group may enjoy a few minutes of sitting meditation, and offer gratitude to each other.

Bell: Followed by informal conversation, hugging meditation, and tea.

Lyn Fine, True Goodness, is a Dharma teacher guiding several Sanghas in the San Francisco bay area.

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Love in Our Generation

By Jenny Hamp mb60-Love1In April 2011, I asked a Brooklyn Sangha friend how to get in touch with New York Wake Up. The next week I found out I was organizing it. My friend had volunteered me to help a young adult from the Manhattan Sangha who wanted to start a group. Our incentive was an email from Thay’s monastics, a mission like the start of a treasure map: you will have four days with eight monastics for part of a Wake Up tour in New York City, and “it is up to you folks to decide what to do.” Eventually four of us (two men and two women; two people of color and two Caucasians) got together to create a Wake Up group… and somehow plan for our part of the tour.

We decided to focus on the upcoming monastics’ visit and to use weekly Wake Up meetings, open to anyone, for practice and planning. We would have a short sit, drink tea, eat a meal, or walk together in the park. Then we would look at many exciting questions: Should we have a retreat in one place, or different places? Should we have people bring lunch? How were we going to advertise? Understanding often came in conversation when we weren’t looking for answers. I soon caught on to a new energy I hadn’t experienced before. After each meeting I felt lighter, inspired, and optimistic, whether or not we had made any headway. It took me a while to notice this wasn’t a chance occurrence.

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We cast wide nets for schools and contemplative groups who might want to help share the practice with young adults. Every time we had a good insight, or successfully connected with a student group, it felt like sharing a good meal that was never finished. Every time we miscommunicated with someone or an opportunity fell through, we supported each other and held the disappointment without blame or judgment.

Many people quickly swung out to help. The monastics planning the tour brought their experience and clear vision to pull all the threads together. Our lay Dharma teachers offered their full support and also their contacts at universities for us to meet. The Gershwin Hotel provided housing, event planning, food, and a free event space. A young business consultant joined us in planning the tour and launched a Facebook campaign. When we pulled the nets in, we found we would have a full Day of Mindfulness in the city, a concert, a flash mob, two visits to private schools, a visit to a public school, and two sessions at a juvenile detention center. Additionally, over 300 people were planning to attend.

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The Fruit of Our Efforts

On the first day of the Wake Up Tour in New York, I got to see the fruit of these efforts. After a mindful meal, the monastics asked the group of about 100 young adults what they had experienced. One person was aware of each ingredient in her sandwich, much more now than when she made it. Someone else discovered he actually did not enjoy peanut butter and jelly very much. I was hearing calm accounts of people becoming aware of their food—not as an exotic experiment that was outside of themselves, but as a simple witnessing and perceiving through their own senses. I felt so happy to see that with half a day of practice in the city it was possible to stop. I felt like I had gained many sisters and brothers in an instant. Here were so many other young adults with the same open interest and hopefulness.

Another highlight for me was the ice cream machine at Lehman College. After a session with students, we had dinner there with the monastics and some young adults traveling on the tour. The vending machine was a contraption, and we were so excited to put money in it and see gears and claws and hinges whirring around just to deliver an ice cream sandwich! We laughed with total abandon, and got a second sandwich so we could watch it again, crying with laughter. The sisters cut the sandwiches up carefully so everyone could have a bite, and it seemed totally satisfying. To me this was joy we completely shared, this silliness and amazement generated as a group, just to take in this moment and make each other happy.

The Power to Embrace

Today our Wake Up organizing team of four has grown into eight and has become the caretaking council for Wake Up New York. A yoga center owner who follows Thay offered his space so we could meet. Instead of going to bars on Friday nights, people can come for an hour of practice and then hang out with us. Two of us are pre-aspirants and two are aspirants to the Order of Interbeing, and we feel our teachers right there with us. We have about fifteen people each week. The group has been very joyful and supportive. It is a place where I feel comfortable sharing and can let the group carry me when I feel less able.

At first I thought Wake Up was a space for young adults to relax with our peers and practice a little. However, after practicing with this group and seeing such a strong response in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, I think it’s more than that. Many of us are noticing how affected we are after each gathering; we feel stronger, more confident, and more optimistic. I think it has something to do with meeting people who have similar suffering, and who will be with us for the rest of our lives. Perhaps we realize that many other young adults also feel capable of living in a more humane and compassionate society. We look across the room and see motivation and love in our generation.

We try to deal with the economy, the climate, the suffering of our parents in us, discrimination and greed in our culture, all alone, and maybe we feel sad about the future. I think Wake Up has changed our perspective. From feeling helpless, we’ve moved to feeling we have the power to embrace what lies ahead. It feels very simple: we can accomplish this just by being there for ourselves and each other. In this space we can actively create the acceptance and freedom we want everyone to have, and we feel empowered.

The mission statement developed by Wake Up New York:

Wake Up New York is a group of young meditation practitioners who get together to create a joyful space of refuge for young adults. We are inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. We do the fun things that New York City dwellers do, but actively maintain the best elements of our culture: inclusiveness, healthy consumption, hope, joy, great energy, activism, and community. By being wonderfully together we create support for each other. We find we are not alone with the suffering of our generation. We seek out our true selves amid the dynamics of our new relationships, new jobs, struggling minds, dynamic bodies, busy cities, and big life changes. We share our success in practicing mindfulness and finding happiness. We practice with our local Sanghas, at practice centers, and with the teachings, so as to nurture our hearts and minds and create real hope for our generation and our future.

mb60-Love4Jenny Hamp, Peaceful Refuge of the Heart, practices with the Rock Blossom Sangha in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner Tim. She works as a mechanical engineer, tries to help reduce energy consumption in buildings, and practices not starting interesting new projects.

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