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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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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