Thailand

Renewing Buddhism

By Sister Annabel Laity Sister Tue Nghiem and I visited Thailand in March, the hottest month of the year there. Apart from enjoying a wonderful selection of tropical fruits and mango with sticky rice, we led retreats and gave Dharma talks.

The young people were those most interested in the teachings of Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It is wonderful for us from the West to be in a country whose roots are Buddhist and to learn from that tradition. On the other hand, traditional Buddhism can be molded in forms which are no longer suitable. Buddhism, like everything else, needs constant renewal: building on the old but giving it new, appropriate forms. We were very happy to see the commitment to renewing Buddhism in some monks. They were willing to sing Dharma songs with us and participate in a meditation guided by a Thai artist. Whenever either of the sisters gave teachings, they listened most attentively.

We stayed with Thai nuns, who are called mae chi (reverend mothers). These nuns are not allowed by the government to receive the ten novice precepts or the bhikshuni precepts. Instead, they practice the eight precepts which include celibacy, not eating after noon, and not having luxury items. Officially however, they are seen as laypeople. There is a movement to have the novice-precept ordination for women made legal, and it is supported by many young people, especially young men. Some mae chi organize themselves in communities and do social work especially with prostitutes, those who have been raped, and single mothers.

Parts of Thailand have become devastated by deforestation and over-cultivation. Monks, nuns, and committed lay practitioners are trying to reforest these barren lands. We visited one center being created by city architects to renew the old Thai traditions. They have many baby plants and trees prepared to make green, fresh, and cool again a place which feels like a desert.

The laypeople are devoted to serving the monks and, in some cases, the nuns. They rise early in the morning to cook and offer food to monks, who make the almsround before six o'clock. The laypeople, as in any culture where Western habits are starting to take root, are subject to much stress and need a practice they can incorporate into their daily lives. Those who work in the field of social action often suffer from burnout. We know that the teachings of Master Thich Nhat Hanh are a wonderful remedy for them. So we hope you will all support a renewal of Buddhism in Thailand and that in a few years, we shall see real shramanerika (novice nuns) practicing in all parts of Thailand. The time seems ripe.

Sister Annabel Laity, True Virtue, is a Dharma teacher and the Head of Practice at Plum Village.


Excerpt from interview in The Bangkok Post

BP: In Thailand, we believe that the bhikshuni lineage is long broken. How, then, were you ordained?

Sr. A: The bhikshuni lineage was never broken. The daughter of King Asoka was ordained a bhikshuni in India and then established the lineage in Sri Lanka. In the 5th century, 12 bhikshunis from Sri Lanka went to China and established the bhikshuni order there. Some nuns from Vietnam were ordained in China very soon after, and took the lineage back to Vietnam. I was ordained in Vietnam, into the same bhikshuni that dates back to Buddha's times. China, Vietnam, Korea, and Taiwan still observe the bhikshuni tradition.... If society realizes the value of bhikshuni, they will make an effort to bring them back one way or the other. There are also old feelings that women are obstacles to monks' spiritual liberation. But if monks are strong, then women are no problem for them. Like anger, sexual desire comes from the seeds within you. Sexual desire comes from monks, not from women. To make the bhikshuni possible, it is necessary for society to realize first that women are equally capable of meditation and teaching Dharma.... Lay women need bhikshuni because women need women role models. They did in Buddha's time.... Why not in Thailand?

BP: How do you feel being relegated to a lower status than monks while here in Thailand?

Sr. A: Buddha teaches us to be aware of how society works. In Asia, women are in second place. While here, I'm happy to conform, to prostrate to the monks. It is only an outer form. If we don't conform, people will be shocked and they won't come to listen and learn from Dharma talks. If monks want me to bow, I can accept that. The people bowing and bowed to are the same in nature. Both are empty. While bowing, I meditate: I'm empty and you're empty too. Empty means being made up of everything else but not you. But if they say women cannot meditate or be Dharma teachers, that I cannot accept. Monks here respect me as a Dharma teacher, and I'm happy with that....

BP: What have you learned from Buddhism in Thailand?

Sr. A: The monks' simplicity of life and their freedom. This learning is very important, especially for Buddhists in the West. We have no Buddhist roots, and then have to take the best from each school to build our own Western Buddhism. We must take what is most applicable to our situations while remaining true to the spirit of simplicity. Buddhism adapts to the countries it goes to.... The important thing is to keep the essence, which is what we need so much in Western society.

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New Sangha in Thailand!

Members of the Sangha of Mindfulness at the Suan Pai Vegetarian Restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand. Clockwise, from the left: Warunee Dejsakulrit, Pongsathorn Tantiritthisak, David Percival, Sandra Brantley, Kittiya Pholkerd, and Piangporn Lapeloima.

Members of the Sangha of Mindfulness at the Suan Pai Vegetarian Restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand. Clockwise, from the left: Warunee Dejsakulrit, Pongsathorn Tantiritthisak, David Percival, Sandra Brantley, Kittiya Pholkerd, and Piangporn Lapeloima.

By David Percival

There is an oasis of mindfulness amidst the congestion and noise of Bangkok. It is the new community of friends who, with the assistance of Sister Linh Nghiem, formed a Sangha in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition. This group of sincere, committed practitioners is dedicated to making Thay’s teachings available—a noble effort in this country where Buddhist practice traditionally follows the Theravada school of practice.

My partner and I were fortunate to meet with some of the members in early January 2004 for a delicious lunch, followed by discussion and sharing. We could feel the collective energy of mindfulness at our small table; we experienced joy, openness, and acceptance. We were at home.

The Sangha of Mindfulness welcomes everyone from Thailand or visitors from elsewhere. They also anticipate forming another Sangha soon in the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Please contact for additional information and directions:

Ms. Kittiya Pholkerd p_oay@hotmail.com Cell: 01-929-9396 Home: 02-977-0426

Mr. Pongsathorn Tantiritthisak pongsathorn_t@clickta.com Home: 06-668-5866

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Sangha News

mb55-SanghaNews1 mb55-SanghaNews2No Worries Report from the European Institute of Applied Buddhism

By Sister Annabel

The European Institute of Applied Buddhism, also known as the Ashoka Institute, will celebrate its second anniversary on September 10, 2010. We are enjoying ourselves very much in Germany, where we have favorable conditions for the practice: the support of the local people, the teachings of Thay, fresh air, and a daily practice timetable.

mb55-SanghaNews3The Ashoka Institute and neighboring Great Compassion Monastery have the taste and fragrance of the practice since monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen have been practicing there for at least eighteen months. When guests arrive, they are welcomed into the ambience of mindfulness practice. There is a feeling of being at home when we help with cutting vegetables or cleaning toilets during a retreat or course. It is possible to apply what we study straightaway when we live with others who are practicing. Thay was with us in June for German and Dutch retreats. Every day we did walking meditation in the park that lies directly in front of the Ashoka Institute. Our campus became very alive with six to seven hundred people. Almost the whole of the Plum Village monastic community, 120 monks and nuns, came by bus and van from France. The monks and nuns did all the cooking in a temporary kitchen set up in the garden of the Great Compassion Monastery (formerly Zivildienstschule, or civil service school).

mb55-SanghaNews4During these two retreats many of our guests camped in the orchard, and some stayed in pensions and hotels. The fact is that we have received permission to live in only one fifth of our large building and in the monastery. We have held courses and conducted all other activities in the monastery over the past year, since most of the Ashoka Institute is still a building site. This year, Great Compassion Monastery is being looked after by a group of six nuns, while the monks and the remaining nine nuns live in one fifth of the Ashoka Institute building. The monastery has enough space for eighty people to stay, and the habitable part of the Ashoka Institute enough space for about one hundred. Now we really want to make the rest of the building habitable so we can host as many people as want to come.

The courses offered this year have had a wide range of topics, such as bereavement, terminal illness, fear, love, and parent-child relationships. While most courses are led by resident monks and nuns, some are taught by visiting lay Dharma teachers, such as a course for business people and a course for mothers on child-raising. If you are a lay Dharma teacher and would like to lead a course here, please let us know.

In spite of ups and downs with construction regulations and financial difficulties, we enjoy the practice with our friends who stay with us. Most of our visitors are German, but many come from other European countries, especially Holland. We also have a few guests from the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

We are confident that the Ashoka Institute will grow and survive. The initial stages may be difficult, but we do not need to worry. After all, the name of the Institute, Ashoka, means “no worries.” If you live in the U.S. and would like to help financially, please send donations to EIAB Fundraising Committee, c/o Deer Park Monastery, 2499 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026. Checks should be made payable to “Unified Buddhist Church” with a memo: “Funding for EIAB.” If ever you are in Europe, please do not forget to visit us for a week-long course, a weekend course, or a longer stay. Our website is www.eiab.eu and next year’s prospectus will be available online in November.

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mb55-SanghaNews5Historic Visit to Southeast Asia

Thich Nhat Hanh and the brothers and sisters of Plum Village will make a historic visit to Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Hong Kong, from September 8 to November 14, 2010. Due to recent events at Bat Nha Monastery, our brothers and sisters in Vietnam who were ordained with Thay are now dispersed. The majority of the young monastics found refuge in a small, simple center in Thailand. During this trip to Southeast Asia, Thay will inaugurate this center in order to support the young monastics who went through traumatic experiences in Vietnam. Thay and the Plum Village monastics will also lead retreats, days of mindfulness, and public talks for the local people. In Indonesia, Thay will offer two retreats as well as public talks and days of mindfulness in Jakarta, Bogor, and Yogjakarta. The community will visit the historical site of Borobudur, one of the wonders of the world.

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mb55-SanghaNews6True Freedom: Prison Dharma Pen Pal Practice

The Community of Mindful Living receives many letters from incarcerated friends, asking for complementary subscriptions to the Mindfulness Bell, books, and other resources in their life of practice. In response to the needs of incarcerated practitioners, a group of monastic and lay friends has formed a pen pal program, True Freedom: Prison Dharma Sharing. Peter Kuhn, a member of the World Beat Sangha in San Diego and the Still Ripening Sangha at Deer Park Monastery, has volunteered to help coordinate the pen pal program.

Peter writes: “There is a reason Buddhists frequently do prison and hospice work. These are the shunned, neglected, hidden, locked up members of our society. Most of us have fear about encountering them and aversion to dealing with these challenging dynamics. What I love about this work is that by opening my heart to the disenfranchised people in our world, I also open my heart to the disenfranchised parts of myself. As I learn to truly show up and care for these populations I learn to be present and attend to the parts of myself that are scorned, shunned, feared, and silenced.”

True Freedom: Prison Dharma Sharing needs writers for pen pal correspondence with inmates looking to nourish their practice in the Plum Village tradition. The program especially needs male writers, since most letters come from male inmates. Writer privacy is protected as all mail is routed through the CML address.

Contact Peter at peterkuhnxx@gmail.com or (619) 890-1832 for more information on how you can be of service.

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mb55-SanghaNews7Dharma Teachers Caretaking Council

In March 2010, a Sangha of North American Dharma Teachers gathered at Deer Park Monastery to consider ways we might support each other, the North American Order of Interbeing, and the North American Sangha. During the retreat, we manifested a Dharma Teachers Caretaking Council to nourish and support our practice. Before sharing news of this endeavor,

we offered it to our teacher, so that he might provide guidance and insight. Thay has now reviewed and embraced the fruit of our gathering. Therefore, we joyfully share this news with the larger Sangha. Here is the document from the Dharma Teachers Sangha, manifesting the caretaking council and calling certain Dharma teachers to form the first council. The DT Caretaking Council can be reached by email at dtc@tiephien.org.

Deer Park Monastery — 20 March 2010

We recognize and embrace one another as a North American fourfold Order of Interbeing Dharma Teachers Sangha. Participation in the Dharma Teachers Sangha is voluntary and open to all North American Dharma Teachers who have received Lamp Transmission in the lineage of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh and who actively practice in the Plum Village tradition.

As a Dharma Teachers Sangha, we manifest a Caretaking Council representing the fourfold Sangha and grounded in the practice of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. We encourage the Council to receive input from the Dharma Teachers Sangha. With gratitude, the Sangha calls the following Dharma Teachers to serve as the initial Council:

Sister Huong Nghiem Brother Phap Tri Brother Phap Hai Brother Phap Dung Sister Dang Nghiem Anh-Huong Nguyen Eileen Kiera Jack Lawlor Joanne Friday Lyn Fine Mitchell Ratner Peggy Rowe Ward

We entrust and empower the Council to develop ways for its continuation and inclusive representation. The Council may create committees from the wider Dharma Teachers Sangha. We commit to support the Council wholeheartedly and energetically.

We expect the Council to communicate regularly with the Dharma Teachers Sangha and our Root Teacher. We trust this Caretaking Council to function harmoniously and manifest the spirit and practice of the Order of Interbeing.

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Right in the Middle of It

Travel and Practice in Southeast Asia  By David Percival

Travel is a part of us. From the poorest Southeast Asian villagers who travel their countries by boat, minivan, and battered bus, to Western jetsetters, travel is in our blood. Yet, these last few years I have experienced a lot of apprehension around traveling: it brings up awareness of global warming, terrorism, poverty, the great divide between the haves and the have-nots. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We arrive in each moment. Our true home is in the present moment.” Travel is not attaching or clinging, but taking peaceful steps in mindfulness, nourishing peace and happiness, and being at home wherever we are. I realize that I already have everything I will ever need. I don’t need to travel out of want or need.

So, in April 2013, in the spirit of “I have arrived, I am home,” and holding close the realization that we always carry with us our mindfulness, I quietly slipped out the door, carry-on bag in hand, and departed. I took refuge in the words of Thai meditation teacher Ajahn Chah: “Seeing that everything is unreliable, we will take all situations of lack or plenty as uncertain and not have attachment to them. We pay attention to the present moment, wherever this body happens to be dwelling. Then staying will be okay. Traveling will be okay. Everything will be okay, because we are focused on the practice of recognizing the way things really are.”

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This time, my first destination was Vientiane, the capital of Laos. I lived in Laos in what now seems like an ancient time, during the secret war, when the U.S. left a legacy of suffering—in particular from massive amounts of unexploded ordinance which kill and maim people to this day. Americans didn’t know that Laos was the most heavily bombed country in the world at that time, and we have done little to help clean up our mess. Even today, it is common to see people who have lost a limb from bombs exploding in the fields. Yet there is much beauty, and life continues to thrive in Laos.

On my last morning, after a few days of wandering in Vientiane, I sat with the monks of beautiful Wat In Peng while they chanted before their morning meal. Then I did walking meditation around the Wat grounds. On one side of the temple, next to a solid wall of banana trees, I stopped for a moment surrounded by the industrial roar of motors. On a five-story building rising above me, I counted fifty-eight air conditioning units mounted on the wall. Hundreds of motorcycles roared by, people were arguing loudly, and a loud dog battle was in progress. This temple was right in the middle of life in a noisy city that doesn’t stop.

Our practice is exactly the same—right in the middle of it—in a world that hasn’t learned to stop, that runs endlessly, searching for riches, glory, and power. At that moment I was grateful for my breathing, my steps, my stopping, and in the midst of this cacophony, I saw the beauty of our practice. The miracle is that we can return instantly to our mindfulness. If we wait for the noise and arguing to stop, we may wait forever. But we can return to our inner calm, freshness, solidity, and freedom in the midst of chaos. Our island of peace and calm is within us.

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Touching Seeds of Joy

From Laos I traveled to Thailand, where the Applied Ethics Retreat was held in Ayutthaya. Thay’s visit to Thailand started beautifully when he urged practitioners to generate the energy of mindfulness and compassion and to embrace our suffering and look deeply into it. We were urged to learn to deal with our suffering NOW and not to run away from it.

Again, we were right in the middle of it, in an incredible city, Bangkok: a generator of much suffering or a place of great beauty—it was our choice. It could be place for breathing, smiling, stopping. There was little we could control, as always, and there might be crowds, pollution, terrible traffic, heat, humidity—or we could smile at all of this, let our attachments go, and enjoy the wonderful people, food, places to visit, temples, culture, the little islands of beauty, and be at home in the here and now.

The Calligraphic Meditation Exhibit at the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center was held on April 3. Thay explained that when he begins his calligraphy, he first has a cup of tea and then mixes some tea with the ink in order to generate the energy of mindfulness and compassion. Drinking tea is meditation; calligraphy is meditation. Thay said the best way to look at calligraphy is to breathe in mindfully and to be fully present in the here and now. To allow the calligraphy to touch our seeds of joy, compassion, love, and happiness, so we can obtain understanding and realization.

Happy in this Moment 

The Applied Ethics Retreat was held at the Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, just outside of Ayutthaya. The theme was “Happy Teachers Will Change the World.”*

In his Dharma talk on April 5, Thay focused on teachers and teaching. He said the Buddha was a happy teacher, a good teacher. He mentioned two aspects of the practice of Buddhism: first, we learn how to suffer. If we know how, we can make good use of our suffering so we can suffer much less. Instead of running away, we learn how to handle suffering. Secondly, we learn how to create happiness. For a good practitioner, it is possible to create moments of happiness whenever we want, wherever we are traveling.

Thay illustrated that a good teacher needs to know the art of relaxation and restoring peace in our bodies. A good teacher needs to know how to handle feelings—not to suppress or cover them up and pretend they aren’t there, but to embrace the feelings as a mother embraces her baby. Finally, when a good teacher learns how to do this, he or she can help students, other teachers, and anyone else to do the same thing. The practice of compassionate listening connects the teacher to the student.

On April 6, Thay’s Dharma talk gave detailed instructions on inviting the bell, showing how this practice can be used in the classroom to transform the class into a family while building sisterhood and brotherhood. We don’t need to use Buddhist terms; mindfulness is not tied to a religion.

A beautiful Order of Interbeing transmission ceremony was held in the early morning of April 7. Sixteen aspirants (thirteen Thai, three Western) received the transmission from senior Plum Village monastics and became the “True Spring” family. Later that day I enjoyed the happy and joyful Sister Chan Khong as she taught us the fountain of youth exercises. It was wonderful to see her pirouetting, turning, laughing, and moving her body in this healing practice.

At a question-and-answer session that day, Thay suggested that you can enjoy the moment after someone makes you really angry, and you can stop, catch yourself, breathe, and not do anything.You don’t usually think it is possible to enjoy such a moment. You don’t have to get hooked into saying something you don’t want to say or doing something you don’t want to do. You can learn and grow in such a moment of suffering. You are secure in your beautiful space of mindfulness. You can be happy in this moment, no matter how angry you seem to be. You can immediately restore your happiness. You see the other person with eyes of compassion… you smile…let go and move on.

A Beautiful Continuation 

On April 8, the last day of the retreat, Thay talked on the subject of applied ethics. He encouraged us to use secular language so we can help everyone. He placed great emphasis on the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a concrete way to bring ethics, the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path into our lives. He suggested that “difficult relationship” is a new name for illbeing. He said we must recognize our suffering and we must do something about it.

In conclusion, Thay said, “We can be the hand of the Buddha helping others suffer less.” He continued, “When I look around, I see myself not in my direction. Rather, I have been reborn in my disciples, my teachings, my friends. If you look at me and think I am this, you have not seen me.” We are much more than our body. We have produced many words and actions, and these continue us everywhere. We can ensure a beautiful continuation.

After the Dharma talk, I sat a while in the great meditation hall as people were leaving, returning home. I watched as the young Thai organizers moved around, cleaning up, gathering their equipment. There were so many young people—it was beautiful to see them, eager and enthusiastic, dedicated to the practice. They were well organized and should be commended for the wonderful job they did. This retreat brought me great hope for the Sangha, for our future. The Sangha in Thailand is alive and growing. Sangha members are developing and building a new monastery near Pak Chong, a few hours from Bangkok. It is endearingly called Ban Plum, “Ban” meaning “village” in Thai.**

Then it was time to leave my home in Thailand and return to my home in the United States. With our peaceful breath and steps, our smile, our deep listening and loving speech, we can be at home anywhere. We can be happy and free wherever we walk. Traveling, we move from one home to another. Let your practice be wherever you are, right in the middle of it.

* The talks from the Applied Ethics Retreat are available on www.tnhaudio.org.

** For additional information, go to: www.thaiplumvillage.org.

mb64-Right3David Percival, True Wonderful Roots,  practices with the Rainbow Sangha in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and coordinates subscriptions for the Mindfulness Bell.

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