commitment

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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Building a Sangha Is a Team Effort

By Nguyen Duy Vinh

When we receive the Mindfulness Trainings and vow to take refuge in the Three Jewels, we commit to take care of ourselves and bring joy and happiness to others. The precepts constitute our ideals and the basis of our mindfulness practice. Taking refuge in the Three Jewels-the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha-we know that these commitments cannot be accomplished without a good teacher, a true teaching, and supportive friends-a Sangha. The Sangha is essential, for without it, our practice will slowly fade away. Thay has compared nuns and monks who leave their Sangha to tigers that abandon the forest and are soon caught by hunters. Without a Sangha, lay practitioners too will be caught by the traps of our environment and our habit energy. But, building and maintaining a Sangha can be challenging. To succeed, you need committed people and, in the long run, companionship, camaraderie, and solidarity.

Throughout the years, I have had many memorable encounters with the members of our Sangha, which strengthened our relationships. In November 1997, several brothers and sisters from Ottawa and Montreal traveled to Vermont to meet Thay and attend the inauguration ceremony of Green Mountain Dharma Center. Before we left Ottawa, we listened carefully to weather forecasts of snow and wind, but it didn't sound too bad. By the time we were out of Montreal, however, a blizzard had started and driving became very difficult. It took a tiring five-and-a-half hours to reach Woodstock, Vermont, normally a two hour trip. When we arrived, we discovered that Thay's talk had been canceled due to the storm. Fortunately, we had a cellular phone and called for directions to Green Mountain Dharma Center. But, driving up the steep, slippery road, we were forced to abandon our cars and walk. After 45 minutes, we were lost and exhausted. We phoned again, and learned we were almost there. Ten minutes later, we saw a huge barn with light inside. We arrived very late and tired, but joyful. We also found that through our hardship, our solidarity and friendship was strengthened.

Small things can serve to bind us together as well. I recall when our sister Brenda Carr invited the Sangha to a formal recitation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings at her home. After a very difficult childbirth, Brenda had been ill for some time. That evening, I was particularly moved to see Brenda put on her brown Order of Interbeing coat for the first time. (The coat was a kind gift from the Toronto Vietnamese Sangha.) The recitation that night was vibrant with sincerity and commitment. And we eleven practitioners were honored by Andre and Brenda's beautiful six-month-old daughter, Karuna.

I recall also the sorrow our Sangha experienced late last December, when our sister Annette Pypops passed away after two years of fierce struggle against breast cancer. Strengthened by Montreal's Maple Village Sangha, we organized a chanting and prayer ceremony for Annette, answering the wish she expressed before she died.

All these moments of joy, hardship, and sadness bring us together, allow us to know each other a bit more, and enhance the solidarity and friendship within the Sangha. The Buddha himself taught that such friendship and solidarity is very important. Once, the Buddha found a sick monk, who was left alone while the other monks went on almsrounds. After caring for the unwell monk, the Buddha instructed the returning monks: "Friends, if we do not look after each other, who will look after us? When you look after each other, you are looking after the Tathagata."

In applying the Buddha's teaching to Sangha building, we often find our primary difficulty in enhancing Sangha relationships is tied to how each of us organizes his or her own life. We are busy with professional and family life. Most of us spend eight to ten hours a day working to earn our bread and butter. In current Western society, it is not easy to work part-time, unless we have a liberal profession or our needs allow us to live simply. The struggle is even more difficult when we have a family to support, especially with young adults of university age. But, we must find time to take care of our Sangha friends who are in difficult moments- illness, accident, lost of beloved ones, job loss, etc. A Sangha's success depends on its members sharing time, energy, and material resources with each other. The well-being of our Sangha affects our own well-being and vice-versa.

Dharma teacher Nguyen Duy Vinh, True Awakening (Chan Ngo), practices with the Ottawa Sangha in Ottawa, Ontario and with Maple Village in Quebec.

Coming Together to Realize Our True Home

By Karl and Helga Riedl

Sangha is some times defined as "the community that lives in harmony and awareness." Community is one important aspect of a Sangha. Sangha can be a beautiful way to live with like-minded people, to share our responsibilities, happiness, and pains with friends in the Dharma. A Sangha supports our endeavor to live in awareness. We feel at home. We are nourished, and given the space and help to heal our wounds and transform our suffering.

But when we look deeper into Sangha, when we are living in it for a longer time, we realize that the real aim of a Sangha is much more. It is the process-at times, quite demanding and challenging-of transforming our whole being. What looks like a lifestyle is actually the expression of a spiritual life. True Sangha offers an environment for spiritual growth-relaxed and gentle, but deep and thorough!

To build such a Sangha-and not just a community one needs to understand which "building blocks" are needed, look deeply into the ways a Sangha works, and be very aware which motivations the members ought to have. Out of our experience of living in the Plum Village Sangha for six years, we would like to share what we have found to be the main principles of a residential Sangha.

Commitment

True commitment reflects our deep aspiration to walk on the path of transformation and liberation, and to question the life we have led-with all our ideas, concepts, and desires- and the ways we secure our ego through wealth, fame, knowledge, and position. It is the heartfelt desire to submit ourselves to a life where "being" is more important than "having," where the loneliness of egoism and its restrictive ways of seeing and experiencing are opened up to others and to life as it presents itself. Commitment is the joyful willingness to let go of our concepts, to expose ourselves in the process of dissolving our existential ignorance and coming back to our true home.

Commitment means to being involved, not holding back anything. This is often seen as "giving up oneself' and accompanied with hesitation and fear. So it is safer, more familiar to us, to be a participant only, to basically keep our concepts and ideas and just add to that whatever feels "good" to us. Living in a Sangha is then seen as an opportunity to acquire new knowledge, to receive a training, and solve some personal psychological problems. We need to be aware of this pseudo-commitment.

Surrender

To let the process of transformation happen, we need to "surrender to the Sangha," as Thay has often emphasized. This is to surrender to the practice-wholeheartedly, with all our conviction and joy-and to surrender to the activities of the Sangha. Surrender is easily misunderstood as obeying or letting other people run our life. It is amazing to watch the Hydra of the ego come up at every possible occasion! Angels turn into rebels. "I do it my way!" "I need ... " Soon the first enthusiasm fades and we are looking for every possibility to take a leave from the practice. Even minor details and changes on the schedule evoke angry discussion. Surrender is the spiritual practice of setting aside our ideas and goals, and opening to new experiences, to all aspects of life, to the unknown-without opposing them. Its religious form is the prostration: bowing down, opening our hands, not holding back anything.

Serving

Another expression of surrender is serving the Sangha. Serving means doing what needs to be done- setting aside likes and dislikes, me and you. To serve is to overcome our habitual attitudes towards work and responsibilities and develop our concern, care, and love for others.

Serving happens when our initial idea "I am living in a Sangha" has changed into "I am living for the Sangha." But even then, there might be some selfish motivation; some personal hidden agendas may be the driving force for our actions. Serving then is misunderstood as taking on responsibilities.

Some people feel that they alone are able to do certain things, that they must take up the burden of a specific task or even of the whole community. In due time, they get burned-out and bitter. To rely on the Sangha, to step down from self-importance and accept one's own limits does not come easily for "the doer." When serving is misunderstood as assisting the Sangha with our skills, knowledge, and energy, then positions become fixed, and members of the community are judged by their "usefulness." True serving is to experience the reality of interbeing. Everybody actually supports everybody; there is neither dependence nor independence. It is then that we realize, "I am the Sangha."

Acceptance and Harmony

Another aspect of building a true Sangha is the willingness, even the heartfelt longing, to live in harmony with others. By cultivating our abilities to accept each other just as we are, we break through our spontaneous likes and dislikes, judgments and categorizing. We create an atmosphere of trust. Supported by the practice of deep listening and sharing, we develop a spirit of openness, where understanding grows into loving acceptance.

In our Western societies, where competition, jealousy, mistrust, and separateness prevail, their opposites-trust, acceptance, openness, and love-are deeply longed for, but it can be difficult to open to them. So it is easier to create a "pseudo-harmony"-where we are just "nice" to each other, where everybody seems to accept and love everybody-by not coming too close to each other, not touching anything that could disturb the peace and by closing off to those who do not "fit."

Humility and Respect

To greet the Buddha in each other is possible only when we have dissolved separateness and tackled the threefold complex of comparing ourselves with others-"I am better-equal-lower." Only then do we glimpse true humility-not putting ourselves down, but gracefully accepting that we need not be "somebody" or extraordinary. Ordinary is sufficient! We need not hold onto an image of ourselves or be caught in social status. If we give a Dharma talk, we sit on a platform, and if a driver is needed, we carry the luggage of a guest.

Now, from the depth of our being, we can show respect to ourselves and others. This respect is the foundation of a peaceful life. But, respect is not imposed on us as social hierarchy. We do not pay respect to a social position, but to a human being. We learn from others, follow their example, and listen to their advice, because we deeply honor and respect their having matured on the path. We accept others as "elders."

Again, in a society where competition and mistrust prevail, where everybody makes sure that nobody is  "higher," even respect and trust are suspect. The "elder principle"-found in almost all spiritual traditions and at the core, a "maturity principle"-is rejected without any consideration. And that is an obstacle for building a spiritual community-a Sangha. Either a "pseudo-community" is created and maintained, or power games and "boss-hierarchy" consume all energy. Especially in Western societies we need to look deeply into this situation, and with the help of the Sangha, find ways to restore respect and based on that respect-the "elder-maturity-principle."

Each of these principles is in itself a door for entering the Sangha. As all these principles are interrelated, if one is practiced deeply, the others are strengthened. But if a Sangha member has a problem or a misunderstanding in  even one area, the whole process of spiritual growth for the person-and to some extent for the whole Sangha-is disturbed, maybe even blocked. So it is important to be very clear about the working of a Sangha, to avoid disappointments and suffering and to build a harmonious and happy Sangha.

Dharma teachers Karl and Helga Riedl, True Communion and True Loving Kindness, recently moved to the newly established Intersein Zentrum in Germany. Please don't hesitate to contact them. Please write to receive an Intersein Zentrum schedule. Intersein Zentrum fur Leben in Achtsamkeit, Haus Maitreya, Unterkashof 2 1/3, 94545 Hohenau, Germany. They are very happy to share their experiences and insight.

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Second Body Practice in a Lay Sangha

Weaving the Web By Caleb Cushing

Some of us in the 25-member Pot Luck Sangha were intrigued by the Second Body practice that Thay described in "Taking Care of Each Other." (The Mindfulness Bell, Spring 1999) Being openly responsible for supporting another person's practice and simultaneously encouraged by another sounded profound. We imagined that a Sangha's practice and relationships would become richer and stronger through the practice, but we'd never heard of a lay community implementing it. Looking at the practice with our Sangha eyes, we designed a lay version and tried it with remarkable results.

First, we shared copies of Thay's article. Over the course of three meetings, we sorted through our initial concerns, such as what the practice might actually involve and how the pairings would be determined. Many questions arose. "How do we arrange pairings if someone wants to connect with a particular person? What does being a first body do and how often? How intimate and involved should we get? What about people who were marginally involved with the Sangha? Should we mix genders? When does encouragement become too intensive? A volunteer committee drafted a proposal, after eliciting all our confidential concerns and suggestions.

Some of us who were not deeply committed to the practice understandably declined to participate, and some even withdrew from the Sangha, reacting to the increased expectations of involvement. Some Sangha members paired with marginally-involved people met apathy or avoidance. Most people, however, were committed and connect to a committed body, and thus, received a lot of support.

In practice, it soon became clear that relationships were more than pairs or trios. Several second bodies appreciate the support of companionship to help establish a regular, daily practice. My first body now joins me each dawn for sitting meditation, and my second body often joins us as well. We've become dear friends and share music and books, breakfast several times a week, and lunch once a week, after we work in each other's vegetable gardens all morning!

Within each group, participants determine the type of involvement they'd like. It might be by phone or in person, talks, walks, or meals. Some people shared vacations, cars, help with finances, or rides to the airport. We found that people expected different things, and had varying amounts of time to offer. So, it helps to establish boundaries. Frustrations arose from expectations and differing commitments to practice. Mindful speech and deep listening are essential when discussing expectations. Our Sangha found that the practice reduces isolation, which Thay calls the illness of our century. But it takes time to make the second-body practice work. Commitment and involvement is key. When someone dropped out, the circle mended itself at that point, with the adjacent bodies connecting.

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We shared our experiences with each other after three months of trying the practice. Here are some comments from Sangha members:

  • "By focusing on one person, my view shifted from a routine, general outlook to a new and more vivid relationship, which is touchingly important."
  • "The second-body practice pulls us out of our habitual self-concerns."
  • "I'm surprised and delighted by the extent and depth of the connections."
  • "I feel fortunate to be part of such a tender practice."
  • "This practice helps us get over our shyness and feelings of inadequacy. Our awkwardness is reduced by the support and structure of the practice."
  • "The more I'm involved in the Sangha, the better I feel, and this practice really supports that."
  • This practice doesn't work if there's not contact. People who aren't actively, regularly involved in the Sangha don't fit in as fully."
  • "It's a practice that makes us stretch."
  • "This practice is my gateway to a diligent practice, and that is a great joy. I've always intended to practice regularly, and now I do. Also, I've connected up and down the circle, and to the whole Sangha."
  •  "Being in community means taking care of each other."

After four months, we agreed by consensus to spin the wheel again, and draw new practice partners for the next three months. This practice became a real "glue" for the Sangha, drawing us together beautifully.

Caleb Cushing, True Original Commitment, compiled this article with the help of the Pot Luck Sangha in Oakland, California.

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Heart to Heart

In this section we invite you to share your story on a given topic. This issue features the Third Mindfulness Training (of the Five). For the Spring/Winter 2008 issue please send us your writings on the Fourth; keep it concrete and personal — under 500 words. Send your submissions to editor@mindfulnessbell.org by October 15, 2007 (or so). The next topic, due February 15, 2008, will be the Fifth Mindfulness Training.

The Third Mindfulness Training

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

Seeds of Transformation

In this training, we are asked to take care of our sexual energy for the benefit of ourselves and others. We are asked to resist the river of consumption in our society that promotes the misuse of sexual energy and power through pornography, advertisements, and the media.

So many of us are living with the legacy of abuse — shame, self-hatred, isolation, and addictions — because in our family sexual energies were misused. When I look deeply, I can see that in Western society we are trained in our families and by society to connect with people by viewing ourselves and others as objects. We are groomed to attract and “possess” others by altering our bodies.

In my practice, with the support of my spiritual ancestors, Buddha and Jesus, the support of the Dharma and our Sangha, I have been slowly removing the layers of masks that I wore to protect myself from further victimization. I am learning to come home to my true nature on a daily basis. I am learning to understand and love myself. The practices of stopping, calming my body, and resting are helping me to heal chronic physical and emotional unease. Recently I had a spiritual experience of “telescoping” in to the baby Buddha residing in me as a child, and then as I telescoped back out, I was able to see the layers of conditioning that had contributed to who I am now. This experience helped me to know, on a cellular level, that my legacy is not my true nature.

In our society, we have very little training to prepare for long-term commitments — to know deeply that we are much more than our bodies. The Third Mindfulness Training contains the teaching on our interbeing nature — that my well-being assures your well-being. If I take the time to protect my sexual energies, and to understand and love myself, I will be more able to understand, protect, and love you. It asks us to be aware that loving partnerships need the support of the community, and that committed relationships are building blocks for healthy community. If I look deeply, I see that all relationships can water seeds of sexual energy— including relationships between friends, co-workers, and even between parents and children. For me, to support others in their relationships means that I try not to take sides and that I try to look and listen deeply when a friend is complaining about her partner, or a priest is accused of being a predator. I understand that when heat arises, my deep looking and listening can help a lot to cool the flames in myself and others, so that I may know more clearly what to do, and what not to do.

At one time, I used to feel shy to read this Training aloud, perhaps because of my background. Now, having practiced for several years with the Mindfulness Trainings, I can see how they are all interconnected, and how much each one contains the seeds of transformation, health, and freedom for ourselves and society. May we grow stronger in our practice of the Mindfulness Trainings so that we, and our communities, may experience these fruits.

Meryl Bovard
True Heavenly Peace
Larchmont, New York, USA

Does It Make Me Happy?

Young people these days are saturated with sex. From perfume ads to TV shows, the idea of sex as happiness is always there. Going into university I believed that it was the most important thing in life and unconsciously I believed that it was happiness.

A member of the Toronto Sangha shared a story that he had heard in Plum Village that I found helped me a lot: There is a beautiful ripe apple. We all want it but can’t quite seem to find it. We have an idea of what it looks like so we draw a picture of it, cut it out, and eat it. It tastes very bad. It causes us to suffer, but we keep doing it. We draw it a bit differently each time, and each time it tastes just as bad as it did before. The apple is a symbol of the true happiness that can be experienced in the present moment.

Many males in my generation find it perfectly normal to view pornography. It is so easily accessible. I know many males who approach sex as a sport and spend so much of their energy thinking about it. They are not happy. Sex is my paper apple and pornography is a photocopy of that apple.

I remember being confused as to why Thay didn’t write a book about sex. I thought, “It’s so big and confusing. What is healthy? Is it good, is it bad? What should I do, what shouldn’t I do?” I wanted a big book that would give me all the answers, but all I could find was the Third Mindfulness Training and a section of the questions and answers in The Path of Emancipation. Then suddenly it hit me. I wanted Thay to write a big book about sex because I thought sex was the key to happiness, that we were all just doing it wrong and we needed someone to tell us how to do it correctly so that it would make us happy. Then I realized that Thay answered all of my questions in the Third Mindfulness Training.

At first I interpreted this training as saying, “Sex is bad! I am a terrible person if I enjoy it.” Then I began to realize that it simply says to be mindful of how you are spending your sexual energy and what your motivations are. I asked myself: “Do I think this is happiness?” “If I do, does it make me happy?” Eventually I discovered my answer was yes to the first and no to the second.

As I practice more and have more contact with the Third Mindfulness Training, my understanding becomes greater and I learn ways to channel my sexual energy into things that do make me happy. It doesn’t always work, and there are many times when I am still caught by the paper apple, but I always have to remind myself that that’s okay. The self-loathing and guilt I would feel when it didn’t work was not productive and only prevented me from practicing. I know that the more time I spend in the present moment, the easier it is for me to recognize what is real happiness and what is only an idea.

I now understand that sex can be enjoyable like eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich is enjoyable, but it is not the most important thing in life and it is not happiness.

Adam More
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Small Is Beautiful

Old Path Sangha Turns Ten! By Valerie Brown

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“Building a Sangha is very healing for the world.” Thich Nhat Hanh

On a rainy, cloudy Saturday afternoon in October 2009, friends of Old Path Sangha (OPS) gathered for a Day of Mindfulness and to reflect on a milestone: the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Sangha in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The theme of our anniversary celebration was “Healing the World, One Sangha at a Time.”

Old Path Sangha began as Old Path Zendo, which was founded by dedicated Order of Interbeing (OI) members Judith and Philip Toy. The Toys followed the traditions of Thich Nhat Hanh and also had a strong and elegant sitting practice in the Rinzai tradition. I loved chanting the Heart Sutra in old-fashioned Japanese, a practice that has continued at OPS even to this day.

When the Toys decided to retire in North Carolina to be closer to their family, I vowed to keep weekly meditation practices going at the zendo. Without hesitation, I moved out of my home in a nearby town in western New Jersey and moved into the zendo, located in a 200-year-old stone farmhouse on sixty acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The next year was spent hauling wood from the woodshed to the living room to keep a fire going when the Sangha came for sitting practice, clearing cobwebs, dusting, scrubbing floors, and preparing snacks—all to make whoever showed up feel at home. It was simultaneously exhausting and gratifying.

During that year, I received a deep and profound lesson about “protecting the Sangha.” I learned to look deeply at, and to overcome, my resistance to being committed to the Sangha. I realized that commitment—staying with the good and the bad and accepting the way things are—was one of my biggest issues. I felt torn by the competing obligations of home, work, family, school, and the Sangha. In learning to be there for the Sangha, I learned how to be there for myself and others. I learned the joy of giving, and I also learned the necessity of sometimes saying “no,” knowing that preserving my energy was an act of self-love. Initially, I found this hard to do; my needs for space and rest seemed at odds with the Sangha’s survival. I realized, though, that I could be a better Sangha member and a healing force in the Sangha by respecting my limits and not judging myself; that self-love, at times the hardest thing, is the practice of love.

After a year of juggling graduate school, family obligations, and a full-time job as a lawyer-lobbyist, I moved out of the old stone farmhouse and back into my home in western New Jersey.

Finding Home 

Once I moved from the zendo, it was time for our group to transform. We took the name Old Path Sangha and began to look for a home. We found our new home in tiny St. Philip’s Episcopal Chapel, located next to a beaver pond and wetlands in the small artists’ community of New Hope. The chapel hosts an eclectic mix of groups, including the Beaver Pond Poets, AA, a Bible study group, and many others. Our relationship with St. Philip’s and the current vicar, Rev. Peter Pearson, is a living example of its motto, “Radical Welcome.” Once planted at St. Philip’s, our Sangha, a tiny seed of hope, slowly began to grow.

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We come to the Sangha with our very busy schedules, family obligations, and full-time careers. Despite the ups and downs we have faced over the years—divorce, career changes, sickness, the deaths of parents and other family members, and the general stuff of life—we hold fast to the belief in the healing power of a community united by love. We recognize that we support the Sangha and that the Sangha supports us. We cherish the teachings, knowing that the fruit of the teachings is an open heart and mind.

We have relied on the practice of Beginning Anew to resolve small and large conflicts that threatened to tear the Sangha apart, promoting understanding, the root of love. We have studied the Five and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings to develop our understanding of and compassion toward ourselves and others. At each Sangha sitting, we share Thay’s inspirational words from his many books, and find this especially helpful when one or more of us faces life challenges. As a Sangha, we have attended five-day, weekend, and day-long retreats, building community and togetherness. We have shared many, many Sangha potluck gatherings to strengthen our bonds of friendship.

Although we remain small, we have nurtured connections with area Sanghas, hosting days of mindfulness throughout the Delaware Valley. We are part of an interfaith community in Bucks County and have participated in interfaith events with other religious organizations. Some of our members have realized their aspirations to serve the wider Sangha by becoming OI members. The work of building the Sangha garden, much like cultivating a vegetable and flower garden, has been slow and steady, attending to the very foundations of the Sangha: understanding and compassion.

Over and over, we have agreed to recommit ourselves to the Sangha, to come together to practice understanding, peace, and compassion, not just in our weekly sessions, but in our jobs, with our families, and with others. Over and over as a Sangha, we have recommitted ourselves to live our daily life in mindfulness. That tiny seed has grown into a healthy plant with deep roots and vibrant green leaves that has sustained Sangha members, visitors, the New Hope community, and area Sanghas. We have transmitted positive seeds of our practice to all we come in contact with, friends and strangers alike.

The Buddha of the Twenty-First Century 

At our tenth anniversary celebration, Dharma Teacher David Dimmack remarked that a Sangha is “revolutionary.” OPS has indeed brought about a revolution in the way our Sangha members act, speak, and think.

OPS, like any family, has been through many changes. People have come and gone. There were times I thought our small, newly formed group would not survive. There were times when the Sangha felt too tiny to survive. I worried that my energy level and the energy of other members were not up to the task of sustaining a Sangha. I worried that the many competing obligations of family and work would overwhelm our desire to practice in community. Settling in the tiny artists’ village of New Hope, the Sangha seemed unlikely to find others interested in practice.

In coming to accept the smallness and fragility of the Sangha, I have come to understand those parts of myself that are similarly small and fragile. The effort of sustaining a small, fledgling community of practice has allowed me to look directly at my fears, my aspirations, and larger societal messages that say “bigger is better.” In tending OPS, a tiny Sangha in a tiny chapel in a tiny artists’ community, I have been nurtured in very big ways by the support of the Sangha.

Thay has said that the Buddha of the twenty-first century may manifest as Sangha. Our Sangha, a tiny yet dedicated core group of members, comes together to practice mindfulness as a community of love, peace, brotherhood, and sisterhood. Building a Sangha takes time. Ten years is just the beginning for Old Path Sangha. It is a lotus flower to our community and to the world.

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Valerie Brown, True Power of the Sangha, is a founding member of Old Path Sangha in Philadelphia.

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Being Wonderfully Together

Receiving the Mindfulness Trainings

By Judith Toy

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In the 1980s, Thich Nhat Hanh formalized a way for people to deepen their commitment to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha within a worldwide community of engaged Buddhists. First, people may commit to following the Five Mindfulness Trainings, adapted by Thay from the traditional five Buddhist precepts. Second, people may study the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, receive Sangha mentoring, and subsequently apply to join the lay Order of Interbeing (OI). When receiving the Five and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, a practitioner is given a new Dharma name. In some cases, Thay may invite people to take a third step: becoming a Dharma teacher in this tradition.

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The Five Mindfulness Trainings are worded in such a way that all over our planet, people who aspire to wake up, find common ground within them. As a clear and concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings, they embrace the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world.

 Double Belonging 

I do not dip my big toe in the water of a pool; I dive headfirst into the deep end. In the mid-nineties, a few years after beginning to read Thay’s books, I heard him speak in New York City at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. At the same time, I read his new book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, and was floored. That this teacher was able to marry Christian and Buddhist ideals in such a clear and unbiased way seemed to me like a miracle.

What stopped me from considering transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings was that I did not want to renounce my Christianity. Then I heard that Thay kept a statue of Jesus on his altar. I read his book and began to understand the idea of double belonging. I immediately aspired to join Thay’s Order of Interbeing. I approached my first Zen teacher, Patricia Dai-En Bennage, and asked if she could help.

“I’m not really qualified to mentor you, Judith,” she answered. “But I can put you in touch with Lyn Fine, who founded the New York Metro chapter of the Community of Mindful Living, Thich Nhat Hanh’s lay Sangha there.”

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A Loving Mentor 

The two-and-a-half-hour bus ride from New Hope, Pennsylvania turned out to be well worth the wait. Lyn Fine is a quiet, petite power pack of a woman. She received the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in 1989. Soon after we met in 1995, she received Lamp Transmission, encouragement to teach, from Thay. She was able to model Thay’s clear and gentle approach for me. More than that, Lyn climbed onto the joy side of my depressed Libran scales, stood there, and did not get off until they were in balance again. To Lyn I owe my awakening to the middle way.

After meeting her the first time, I willingly began taking the trip to Lyn’s vintage, high-ceilinged New York apartment, where she lived with her mother, Leonore. It was a revelation to me that in their personal living space they hosted Days of Mindfulness, bringing the New York City public into their living room. Always by example, Lyn taught me how to chant the Heart Sutra, how to listen to a Dharma talk without busily taking notes, how to practice indoor and outdoor walking meditation, how to use the chanting book, and how to invite the mindfulness bell in the OI way.

Lyn often delivered her love gazes to me—looks that one young person called “eye hugs.” Her long, attentive looks into my eyes said, “Dear One, I am here and you are here, and I cherish you in this moment.” At first I wasn’t sure how to respond. But soon enough, I calmed down and dropped my separate self, returning her gaze with focus and affection. My speech was as direct as Lyn’s eyes. I let her know straight away that I was interested in ordination, which meant taking the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and becoming an OI member and lay minister. But first things first—I needed to enter the stream by receiving the Five Mindfulness Trainings in a ceremony Lyn was authorized to offer.

She began visiting our Pennsylvania farm, soon afterwards dedicated as Old Path Zendo. My husband Philip and I followed Lyn’s lead, inviting the public into our home for mindfulness practice and retreats which she led. She gave her first Dharma talk, ever, at Old Path Zendo.

A Beautiful Dream 

In an age-old ceremony one October afternoon in 1996, Philip and I touched the earth side by side as we received the Five Mindfulness Trainings from Lyn. I felt like we were moving in slow motion, as if in a beautiful dream. She gave me the lineage name Clear Light of the Source, and Philip, Flowing Stream of the Source.

The memories we gathered from those times are precious as breath: Lyn arriving in the zendo with a stack of books, papers, and a glass of warm water, wearing her Mona Lisa smile and making a nest on her cushion; Lyn’s soothing voice as she taught pebble meditation to the children of our Sangha; Lyn playing “Na mo Bo tat Quan The Am”* on her recorder; each of us scattering ashes of a Sangha member’s son into the garden while Lyn played her flute.

After some years in Pennsylvania, my husband and I moved to North Carolina and became members of the Cloud Cottage Sangha. From time to time at Cloud Cottage, a Dharma teacher offers transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a way of deepening our commitment to this way of life. We try to remind new folks that these are not commandments or laws of Buddhism; they are more like a flower opening to the sun.

In two spring events hosted by Cloud Cottage this year, eighteen people received the trainings. Maggie, Joe, and Bambi were among them.

On the Right Path 

Maggie Schlubach is a retired wedding planner who became Brave Action of the Heart in one of our ceremonies, led by California Dharma teacher Peggy Rowe Ward. Maggie says, “My biggest hesitation about receiving the trainings—and it took me several years to make this decision—was that I would not live up to my commitment.”

For Maggie, who approached her decision in a slower, more processed way than I, the ceremony inspired “a sense of wonder and gratitude. And I feel changed—more at peace and more certain that I am on the right path. I feel loved and appreciated, and feel like we have an extended family, especially on Sunday mornings at tea and when we plan events together.”

A Spoke in a Wheel 

Joe Lily is a five-star chef, and his new wife Laura Domincovic is an anthropologist. Together, they touched the earth to receive the trainings along with Maggie and several others in our ceremony. For extra encouragement, Philip and I bequeathed our lineage names to Laura and Joe. Joe is now Flowing Stream of the Heart, and Laura, Clear Light of the Heart.

Joe feels he has been living the trainings for years. “(I’m) not saying I have perfected them, but this commitment will help bring me closer to them. I had no hesitation about receiving them, just elation. During the ceremony I felt honored, excited, and lucky to have found this fulfillment in my lifetime. Many people live their whole lives and never truly explore their spiritual desires.”

I asked Joe if he felt changed after receiving the precepts. “The results are not in yet,” he said. “Actually, what I expect is a more gradual, stable growth over the rest of my life. I feel like a small part of this beautiful Sangha, like a spoke in a wheel, contributing enough to help the wheel roll, but not so much that the wheel collapses in my absence.”

Bathed in a Lineage Stream

Yoga teacher, dancer, and percussionist Bambi Favali, Deep Rhythm of the Heart, was inspired to receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings because she knew that when she set goals and commitments, “rather than just floundering around,” she would be likely to keep them. And she wanted group support on her spiritual journey.

mb58-Being4“If I don’t attend Sangha, I feel guilty, because I feel I have not honored my commitment. My biggest question was: what if I fall short of my commitment? I had no issue with the trainings themselves because they align perfectly with my belief system and lifestyle.”

Immediately after the transmission ceremony, Bambi’s husband underwent double knee surgery and she became his caregiver. “I did not want to leave him, so I got out of rhythm with my intention right away.” Bambi now enjoys ride-sharing with a friend to help support her renewed commitment to attend Sangha gatherings and Days of Mindfulness. She feels that her name, Deep Rhythm of the Heart, aligns her “with the pulse of all that is.”

For Bambi, the Sangha is an extension of her spiritual family. The ceremony “felt like I was being bathed in the stream of the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhism, like being inducted into the stream of the energy of the masters. It feels to me that deep inside I have known these things and done these things before, and in this lifetime, I am reintegrating this aspect of my soul energy.”

“On a very deep level there is the reintegration into a bigger consciousness, and remembering, and seeing it in the words of the Mindfulness Trainings. Hearing them recited in our Sangha each time is another awakening into the beauty and depth of the teachings.”

If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva, one who lives for the sake of others. Knowing we are on that path, taking each step with our spiritual family, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or fears about the future.

* “Na mo Bo tat Quan The Am” means “Homage to the bodhisattva who hears the cries of the world.”

mb58-Being5Judith Toy, True Door of Peace, is author of the book Murder as a Call to Love, published this year. She and her husband Philip Toy, True Mountain of Insight, have led Days of Mindfulness and retreats in the U.S., and Ireland, and Scotland. They practice with Cloud Cottage Community of Mindful Living in North Carolina.

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