Sangha support

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:

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Offering a New Year's Day of Mindfulness

By Brandy Sacks

Every year, at the end of December, Spirit Point Sangha offers a Day of Mindfulness. It is a very special day and different from all the others. We begin with a walking meditation in the garden. Our path passes by the sculptures, the rosemary and lavender, around the labyrinth, and past the Peace Pole.

We discuss what we were mindful and appreciative of on our walk. For me this meditation is an opportunity to slow down. No matter how many times I walk in the garden I am always amazed at what I see. I notice the plants that I am sure were not there a week ago l I also hear bird song. When I go about my daily life in the city I never hear birds. I am sure they are singing, but I am not listening.

The Day of Mindfulness is a time of Sabbath, or a Sabbath time. A time to smell the flowers, walk, breathe, and enjoy eating with friends. It is a sacred practice - sacred in all traditions. Thay has given us the gatha, "I have arrived, I am home, in the here and in the now." The Day of Mindfulness helps me to get in touch with the here and the now. I am also in touch with myself and the Sangha.

The Sangha feels like family to me. It is my spiritual, nurturing fancily. Simply by being in the presence of the Sangha I am strengthened. If I waver, the Sangha is there to support me. It is not something spoken, it is just there - like breathing.

Following walking we have a period of sitting meditation, by the fire. After practicing eating meditation (in silence) we gather outside on the lawn. We all circle up and join hands around a small tree. I begin by reading the story about the Elm Dance. Joanna Macy taught me this dance of intention and peace. During the first half of the dance we step around moving to the music. We pause in the center, with our linked hands raised and sway like elm trees. During the second half of the dance we call out names of people, places and situations in the world that we want to include in our healing.

We return to the fire in the living room to practice a meditation offering peace and happiness for ourselves and others. I tell the Sangha, "Before we learn to practice loving-kindness meditation on behalf of others, we will learn to do it for ourselves." The first step is to open our hears so that we have something good to give. So begin by bringing back the memory of a holy moment, a time that your heart was open to nature, to a child, to a pet, to beauty. Now imagine that your are sitting, facing yourself. Look into your eyes and see the beauty of who you are, and the pain that keeps you out of touch with that beauty. Since your can only experience love and joy by giving it away, this meditation is a form of wise selfishness. It will make you happy.

Next, bring a loved one to mind and imagine any pain, confusion, illness or unhappiness they might be experiencing. Continue to do this for a few minutes until you feel a sense of completion and also see the happiness they are capable of experiencing. After this we chant "Offering incense and praising the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara," which can be found in the Plum Village Chanting Book available from Parallax Press. We spend some time contemplating and writing about our purpose in life and our dreams and goals for the year. We each take a sheet of paper, write at the top, "my purpose in life," and then create areas to write in our dreams and goals for body, mind, spirituality, service, family, work, vacations, play, etc. We spend some time filling these out and in Sangha meetings throughout the New Year we will talk about what we have envisioned. After reciting the five Mindfulness Trainings the Sangha closes with a sitting meditation. Our Day of Mindfulness is a wonderful way to finish the year and prepare to begin anew!

Point Sangha in Escondido, California. Brandy is responsible for updating the website for the Community of Mindful Living, including the worldwide Sangha directory.

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In Memoriam

Don UberSeptember 3, 1939 – November 4, 2002

Don first came to the Potluck Sangha four years ago, and soon this shy, sweet man rarely missed a chance to be with us.  Hosting a study group one time, he confessed, “We tend to develop isolation as a coping mechanism early in life. Sangha models openness, acceptance, peace, joy, and inclusiveness.”

Once, on a Sangha nature walk, a flock of swallows descended, flew in a circle around Don’s head, rose, descended again, and one bird sat on his shoulder. It rose, came back, and sat again, this time chirping in Don’s ear. Don listened, and when there was a pause, he whispered back, and the wild bird listened.

When Don told our Sangha about the cancer growing inside him, many of us offered support. Joanne offered to accompany Don to his appointment with the surgeon where he would learn the details of his planned surgery. At first he said it was not necessary, but then paused for a minute and softy said yes, he would like the support. Don was discovering how to let people be there for him. Don asked his surgeon if it would be all right to travel to a meditation retreat in San Diego with Thay. The surgeon said yes, that spiritual practice is the best preparation for surgery. At the retreat, though a little hesitant, Don talked about his cancer with his Dharma discussion group, and received much support and compassion.

Near the end of October Don was in chemotherapy and radiation and having a very rough time. Though we had been doing what we could to help out, we felt that he needed more support, and planned to ask him how we could help him full time. But we never got to ask him, as he was suddenly back in the hospital, having suffered a heart attack and then a stroke. Late one Saturday night we heard the news, and many Sangha members gathered around his bedside, telling him of our love and appreciation for him, and singing songs. Though the hospital staff said he was in a coma, his hand lifted as we said our names and spoke of our good times with him. When we sang, his eyes became moist, like ours.

The evening following Don’s death, the Sangha gathered with his sisters, who had traveled from New York, to sit, recite the Heart Sutra, share stories, songs, and a meal. We talked of what Don would want in a memorial service. Several of the Sangha members created a beautiful ceremony, attended by about 60 people. We lit candles, had a short silent meditation, read some poems, sang songs, and shared stories about Don. Being able to be with Don during his illness, his dying and his memorial gave the Potluck Sangha members a deepening love and appreciation for all our moments together. Let us be joyful, let us be kind.

What to say of a man so gentle A wild bird lights on his shoulder To speak into his ear? Let his kindness go ahead of me.

Offered by members of the Potluck Sangha in Oakland, California: Caleb Cushing, Joanne Connelly, Lennis Lyon, Sarah Lumpkin, Denise Bergez.

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Letter from the Editor

mb65-Editor1Dear Thay, dear Sangha, While this issue was coming together, I spent an evening reading our teacher’s poetry on his experiences in war. Afterward, I dreamt that people in my community were drafted into military service and a war was going to break out within a few days. I was very conscious of the peaceful conditions of our lives. The sky was clear and quiet with-out bombers. No grenades were hidden in the fields. The children’s faces were innocent and happy. If war came to our community, I thought, we would look back on this day as a blissfully peaceful time, a day in heaven.

In our world, moments of peace are priceless. Too many people are living in the chaos and terror of war. Even when there’s no external violence, we can have a war going on inside us if the seeds of anger and hatred have been watered. War is never far away. My dream reminded me to cherish peace wherever I find it, and also to cultivate inner peace and use it to nurture harmony in my community.

Thay shows us the way of a bodhisattva, one who continually embodies and generates peace within the crucible of war. He showed us by his example in Vietnam. He shows us by embracing all of our suffering, by meeting one wound after another with the healing balm of compassionate presence. He shows us how places of conflict and suffering are the very places to birth peace.

This issue’s question-and-answer session is an example of Thay’s fearless welcoming of any kind of suffering in order to transform it. The volunteer who transcribed the Q&A shared: “This particular session was so moving that I had to take many breaks to soothe the emotions. I cried so often when listening to some of the deep suffering. Imagine being Thay, sitting there listening deeply to peoples’ struggles and then responding to each individual with such compassion and wisdom! May we all be a source of healing compassion and understanding to ourselves and others.”

Anh-Huong Nguyen, in this issue’s interview, encourages us to embrace our pain and to lean into the Sangha for support, because “sometimes our mindfulness is not strong enough to hold the pain that arises in us. We need to lay this pain inside the Sangha’s cradle, so that it can be held by the collective mindfulness and concentration.” Resting in the Sangha’s arms can give us the strength to practice the art of suffering—to engage with our difficulties and transmute them into gifts.

Also in this issue, young practitioners in the Wake Up movement share what it’s like for them to rely on the Sangha and to be transformed by the collective energy of awakening. Their exuberance, deep questions, playfulness, and freshness are inspirations to continue opening new doors in our practice. And practitioners of all ages share stories of their ever-deepening gratitude and compassion.

May these offerings nourish compassion and loving-kindness in us. May we nurture and share our inner peace to help transform war and amplify peace in the world.

With love and gratitude,

mb65-Editor2Natascha Bruckner True Ocean of Jewels

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