diversity

Being Wonderfully Together

Report from the Order of Interbeing Second International Conference "Being Wonderfully Together" was the theme for the Second International Conference of the Order of Interbeing held September 30 to October 2, 1996, at Plum Village. More than 100 core community members from Australia, New Zealand, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Canada, the U.S., Vietnam, and other countries attended. Most of the meeting time was devoted to working group meetings and reports, following an agenda prepared by agenda committee members Fred Eppsteiner, Howard Evans, Mai Nguyen, and Francoise Pottier. We also had one inspiring afternoon tea meditation.

Reports from Working Groups

Administrative Structure

After reviewing the current structure and the role of monastics and laypeople, we proposed that the work of the Order fall under the guidance of a Council of Elders (composed of members, both older in age and those who have practiced twenty years or longer) and a Coordinating Council (composed of nine positions). On the Coordinating Council, at least one monastic and layperson will share responsibility for each area (communication, practice, training, youth and family, Sangha building, and social action). We also proposed the formation of a small Administrative Committee, composed of two directors, two secretaries, and two treasurers. The Youth Council as such will be discontinued, but the YouthlFamily committee will provide for retreats and attention to youth issues. After discussion and nomination in the General Assembly, members of the current Administrative Committee are: Co-Directors: Thich Nguyen Hai, Jack Lawlor, Therese ~itzgerald, Fran~oise Pottier; Co-Secretaries: Thich Phap An, Karl Riedl, Fred Eppsteiner; Co-Treasurers: Sister Huong Nghiem, Lyn Fine, Andrew Weiss. The following are committee proposals. They are not Order resolutions:

Education/Training

Implicit in our recommendations is the need for local Sanghas to provide consistent opportunities and introductions to practicing mindful sitting and walking, chanting, tea meditation, etc. The four-year Dharma teacher training curriculum devised by Sister Annabel was reviewed and suggested as a course outline. We suggest flexibility in how local Sanghas implement their training programs. Each group must learn how to strike a balance between welcoming newcomers and deepening the practice of long-time members. Sanghas can integrate the training into their weeknight sittings, Days of Mindfulness, retreats, or whatever schedule is practical and enjoyable for the group. The Order will conduct a survey of members to determine, among other things, what talents are available to facilitate Sangha d ve opment, training, and retreat activity. Efforts will be made to coordinate with the Communications/Resources Group to create a library of videotapes, audiotapes, and transcripts of Thich Nhat Hanh' s Dharma talks.

Communications I Transcribing I Resources

We discussed the need for transcriptions and translations; how local Sanghas could use their talents to help transcribe and edit Dharma talks by Thich Nhat Hanh and others, following the lead of the Lotus Buds Sangha in Australia; how to develop archives of audio and videotapes; how talks could be indexed for particular topics; and how to facilitate individuals and groups obtaining audio and videotapes and transcriptions, especially of winter retreat talks which Thay gave in Vietnamese.

Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings

Thay has replaced the term "precepts" with the telm "mindfulness trainings" to more accurately reflect their intention and purpose. A first draft was revised on the basis of suggestions from more than 30 people, and appears on pages 22-23.

Application for the Order of Interbeing

An application form and guidelines are being developed. General recommendations:

  1. Keep the current guidelines for applicants, but add requirement of a one-year mentoring period. When the core community reaches a decision on an applicant, it should use its Sangha eyes and nourish the bodhichitta of the applicant, even if that means suggesting a delay. While the Dharma teachers and core community make the decision on an application, long-standing members of the extended community should be consulted in the process.
  2. To encourage experimentation, local Sanghas are authorized to embellish the application procedures to address local culture, geography, and circumstances, provided that the goals and aspirations of the Order are not compromised. For example, local Sanghas may choose to formally celebrate the submission of an aspirant 's letter in a public or private ceremony, permit the aspirant to select a mentor or mentors from among the core and extended community (or another resource), and provide the aspirant with a gift copy of the book Interbeing.
  3. Provisions of the charter regarding ordination may be waived in individual cases under special circumstances (such as medical hardship) provided that the chairperson of the Order and the local or most appropriate Dharma teachers are first consulted and, if time permits, the local or most appropriate core community members.
  4. The charter's existing description of the extended community should be retained,but it should emphasize that long-standing members of the extended community (i.e., those who have participated regularly for a year or more) should be consulted about potential ordinations, whether or not that member has taken the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
  5. While the charter may continue to state that partners of an Order member should be members of either the core or extended community, it is proposed that language be added stating that, in the alternative, an aspirant would live harmoniously with his or her partner so that the aspirant's partner supports his or her practice.

Youth and Family Practice

The Youth and Family Practice group was a wonderful meadow of beautiful smiling flowers. We listened to each other deeply as we promised to have fun and to work from our own experiences rather than theory. We discussed the challenges to practice with youth. We recognized that sometimes children suffer rather than enjoy children's programs on retreats. We encouraged each other to listen deeply to children and to look deeply at ourselves so that we might make creative growth experiences out of opportunities that arise. Our purpose statement embodies that vision:

We recognize the joy of mindfulness practice with children, families, and communities. We want to embrace the spark of children's enthusiasm. Through the practice of looking through children's eyes and into their hearts, we wish to provide loving opportunities for them to creatively explore the Dharma. We recognize the challenge of including children in our practice. We wish to share with each other our diverse experiences of practice. We honor the value of diversity and acknowledge the need for skillful means to make the Dharma available to children of different backgrounds. Therefore, to encourage an experientiallybased approach and to nourish the seeds of mindfulness, we envision these tools for practicing with children:

  • A family section in The Mindfulness Bell, composed of an "adults" page, with anecdotal experiences, suggestions for practice, seasonal practices, and family retreat information, and a children's page with children's writings and drawings.
  • A resource notebook which would serve as a family practice handbook. The notebook could be composed, in part, from Thay' s Dharma talks and from the family section of The Mindfulness Bell.
  • Cassettes and videotapes (fun and instructional), some prepared by young people on retreat and some prepared for youth and children in practice.
  • Making Thay's Dharma talks for children more widely available in tapes or transcripts.
  • Support for local family retreats through notice of retreats, sharing experience of what does and does not work in local Sanghas, and helping to organize family retreats.
  • A catalog of resources on practice with children, compiled by members of the Youth and Family Council with contributions from the larger Sangha.

Sangha Building

The role and responsibility of Order of Interbeing members is to practice, to offer practice, and to support other people in the practice. The following recommendations were made:

  1. Help Jack Lawlor revise the draft of the manual on starting a Sangha.
  2. Support Dharma teachers to lead retreats within and outside their geographic areas. Assist newer groups and individuals to organize these retreats.
  3. Commit ourselves to practicing consensus, Beginning Anew, and the Peace Treaty in our Sanghas, and deepening our Sangha relationships. Create a suggestion box as a way for newer people to offer their fresh perspective to the Sangha.
  4. Commit ourselves to develop shared leadership by teaching our skills and developing ourselves in less skilled areas, honoring different styles of approaching the work.
  5. Gain wisdom from elders. Help newer folks. Support and receive support from monks and nuns.
  6. Commit ourselves to look deeply at how our collective consciousness and individual experiences shape how we see differences between us, in order to understand and honor differences (e.g. cultural, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, economic).
  7. Commit ourselves to helping Sanghas solve problems. Enlist support of Dharma teachers and international resources to help.
  8. Support and receive support from monastic community. Help Western aspirants enter the monastery. Support and receive support from residential practice centers In the West.
  9. Devise a calendar based on suggestions from Plum Village for international practice (monthly or weekly themes) incorporating seasonal changes, other religious traditions' important holidays, etc.
  10. Develop mechanisms for networking and support: e.g., Order of Interbeing address and phone list.

Inclusiveness and Special Needs

Recognizing the interbeing nature of all humanity and the suffering caused by isolation and exclusion, we are aware that there are many silenced and marginalized groups in our society, and that we need to listen deeply to these groups and individuals in their own language and ways of living. We need to become more aware and open to the tensions and misunderstandings between us and to explore ways to address areas that reflect our own suffering.

We agree to be open to suggestions from all racial and ethnic groups regarding inclusiveness; to listen deeply to our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual members to help eliminate misunderstandings which may exist; and to increase awareness of ways our Sanghas can welcome people with mental and physical disabilities and the chronically ill. Economic inclusion, financial support and scholarship to Sangha events, and health-related dietary needs were all identified. We hope that The Mindfulness Bell will present a broader picture with more diversity.

Social Action

To reflect the complex and diverse nature of social action, and to support our international community in responding to suffering, we submit the following:

  1. To facilitate the exchange of information and the networking of people, resources, materials, and spiritual support, we propose a designated time on the schedule during general retreats where those involved in social action can present their work to the Sangha. In addition, we propose that affinity groups concerning social action be encouraged and supported as part of the retreat schedule.
  2. We propose that The Mindfulness Bell provide a section in each issue to inform members about social action projects; resources and support needed and/or available both within and outside the community; continuing updates of the projects; immediate action calling for response to suffering and injustices. We encourage those involved in social action to write articles for The Mindfulness Bell.
  3. We propose organizing retreats for those involved or interested in social action, facilitated by experienced teachers both in and outside of the Order of Interbeing. We propose circulating the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in a non-Buddhist context as a skillful means of connecting and working with others.

Finances

We discussed the following issues:

  1. The membership fee of $50 for the Order of Interbeing is dana: it is suggested, not required. Of this, $18 goes for a subscription to The Mindfulness Bell. Payments outside of the U.S. can be made by Euro-check to one European account, or in U.S. dollars to the U.S. account.
  2. Local and national Sanghas are encouraged to have their own membership dues to cover local expenses. The UK Sangha has accomplished this by having their newsletter subscription be the Sangha dues.
  3. The Order of Interbeing finances are separate from the finances of Plum Village, Parallax Press, and the Community of Mindful Living.
  4. Questions for discussion: Should local Sanghas tithe 10% of their funds to the International Order of Interbeing? Should a portion (e.g., 25%) of receipts from Plum Village retreats and workshops with a significant involvement of Order of Interbeing members be tithed to the Order of Interbeing?
  5. Twenty to twenty-five percent of Order funds may be used for administrative costs, mailings, and phone calls. A portion of the remaining funds may be used to support Order of Interbeing retreatants at Plum Village and to respond to needs for social action.
  6. Questionnaires may be sent to determine the percentage of funds to go to scholarships and to needs for social action. Decisions about social action responses to be based on questionnaire responses. Decisions about scholarships may be made by financial coordinators.

PDF of this article

Building a Healthy Sangha

By Jack Lawlor If we reflect on the life story of the Buddha, we see that the Buddha sank deep and broad roots in community, both before and after his enlightenment. His success at Sangha building was phenomenal. He brought together people from every level of a highly stratified society-kings and queens, wealthy merchants, warriors, farmers, prostitutes, the poor, families attempting to live moral and religious lives, the widowed, parents distraught at the loss of a child, religious seekers, criminals, and those lusting after power and wealth. People who ordinarily would have nothing to do with one another came together to form a healthy practice community. The Buddha was always looking and listening intently, and learning from others.

As we read the story of the Buddha, we see that one cannot go far on the path of spiritual practice without the support of good friends. Although the Buddha is usually depicted at the moment of his enlightenment alone beneath the Bo tree, it might be more accurate to show him surrounded by all those who contributed to his enlightenment: his father with one-pointed sense of purpose and service, his teachers who candidly and sincerely offered what they could, and his five friends who encouraged and challenged him along the path. Viewed in this way, the Buddha's enlightenment is a collective achievement, the result of the efforts of many.

mb20-Building

In Buddhism there is a term for this kind of spiritual friendship, kalyana mitra, or "good friend." Being present, looking and listening deeply, is at the foundation of any spiritual friendship. When we become the spiritual friend of another, we become a link in a long interdependent chain going back to the friendships that supported the Buddha himself. They remain alive and present in us. Being a kalyana mitra means being totally attentive to the needs of the person we are with. When we practice in this way, profound compassion arises.

In the Four Exertions of Buddhism, a practitioner strives to prevent the arising of unwholesome mental states, to eradicate unwholesome states that have already arisen, to develop unarisen wholesome mental states, and to maintain arisen wholesome mental states. Good spiritual friends can do the same for one another. We bring out the best in each other by practicing Right Speech consistently and lovingly, and by pursuing healthy pastimes that do not lead to craving or lust We each have Buddha nature, the ability to come into contact not only with what is wrong, but what is soothing and supportive in our environment. Some people have not had the opportunity to get in touch with this ability, but a good spiritual friend can lead them to a direct experience of it. In Buddhism, the preeminent skillful means for making this discovery are the mindfulness practices of sitting and walking meditation. Good spiritual friends introduce their friends to these simple practices. Many spiritual benefits follow from this.

If a healthy Sangha is available, our first exposure to the calm of meditation can be as memorable as a first love. Our first insights into the needs of others, borne of meditation, can be a revelation. When we seek refuge in our local Sangha and practice together, we can transform the wobbly way we sometimes feel into calm, centeredness, peace, and a quiet spiritual resolve.

Although we need the support of others, we may resist the idea of practicing together in a group for many reasons. We prefer our privacy. The intimacy of a small Sangha may frighten us. We may fear that it will become cliquish or political. Many of us .have witnessed arguments in the churches or synagogues we left behind, and we know that there is nothing worse than the kind of strife that arises in religious or charitable organizations.

Within the Buddhist community, there have been teachers culpable of sexual abuse, substance abuse, and questionable financial practices. There are frequently interpersonal disputes over personality differences, power, or which way the group should be "led." We sometimes think that a legalistic solution or bylaw provision can prevent or solve these problems. But I have found that it is often misleading to rely much on the written form of an organization. If you were to read the constitution of many nations, you would be quite impressed by their idealism and concern for society and the rights of its citizens. But the reality can be much different. So while words and procedures may be helpful, they are not enough. A healthy Sangha is not a matter of words or a particular structure or form, but practice.

When we concentrate on sitting and walking meditation, the incorporation of gathas into our daily life, and regular attendance and participation with the Sangha, our practice deepens and we make a healthy Sangha possible. Our practice transforms the Sangha in this way, not through words and form.

When Thay urges us to "look with Sangha eyes," he is asking us to look at the needs of the collective practice body. When we practice as a healthy Sangha, we find it easier to let go of the view of self and join others in practicing mindfulness and insight. We not only have to let go of our view of self, we also have to let go of some of our favorite baggage-our fixed ideas, including those about what the Sangha should be like. Nirvana is sometimes described as the absence of greed, anger, and delusion. Concepts of happiness, of "what is good for me" and "what is good for the Sangha" can limit our flexibility and isolate us from others, because we are not really in contact with them or the present moment. Instead, we are judging, weighing, and measuring what seems to be going on in comparison to our ideal of a perfect Sangha.

We should not leave a Sangha merely because it uses a few skillful means that do not appeal to us. We should be grateful to be exposed to new forms of practice from time to time, whether it is a new breathing exercise, the use of mindfulness verses in conjunction with conscious breathing, or sutra or precept recitation. A practice that does not appeal to us today may be of great help in the future, for we change over time, and our circumstances change.

In Buddhism, concepts that bind us are called "fetters." In contrast, the Diamond Sutra declares, "Buddhas are called Buddhas because they are free of ideas." Some years ago, one of our Sangha members proposed an invention similar to the metal detectors at airports. A "fetter detector" could be conveniently placed at the entrance to Dharma discussion groups. People would be invited to leave their prejudices, preconceptions, and mental formations at the door. If they forget, the fetter detector will go off. If they choose to bring their fetters into the Dharma discussion, at least they will be aware that they are carrying this extra baggage.

There are certainly times when we don't feel ourselves, and may not feel like meeting with spiritual friends. But the happiness of a healthy Sangha of spiritual friends is contagious. The familiar faces, the glow of candles, the chanting-all are like bread crumbs leading us back to the miracle of mindfulness. We are invited to come to the S~ngha with an open mind and heart. When we practice in thiS way, we practice not only for ourselves, but for one another, much as the Buddha did.

Jack Lawlor, True Direction, was ordained as a Dharma teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1992. He is a founding member of the Lakeside Buddha Sangha and practices law in Chicago.

A tape set of the Dharma talks on which this article is based is available for $15 (postage included). Checks may be made payable to "The Lakeside Buddha Sangha" and sent to P.o. Box 7067. Evanston, 1L 60201.

PDF of this article

Letters to The Mindfulness Bell

What a delight it is to see The Mindfulness Bell in the mail! This journal is truly a bell, as the articles in it bring me back to my practice and my true self. I am new to formal Buddhism, but everything I read and hear seems to resonate with my own ideas, and waters fascinating seeds. I so enjoy knowing that there is a community here which sees life and our role within it similarly to the way I do. I am grateful to all who share the experience of their practice-especially those willing to relive painful memories-so as to remind me to come home and continue my practice. It often takes me quite a while to read The Bell, as many bits inspire a period of meditation. I look forward to the next issue, but keep savoring the old ones as well. Cherry Zimmer Duluth, Georgia

I am currently using the Sutra on Full Awareness of Breathing (Anapanasati Sutra) as a guide for sitting meditation practice, with the help of Thay's book, Breathe! You Are Alive and also the book, Breath by Breath: The Liberating Power of Insight Meditation. My intention is to practice each of the sixteen exercises in a systematic way. If there are others also practicing this way, and interested in sharing the practice, please contact me.

David Flint True Good Nature 311 W. 97 St., 6E NY, NY 10025 DFlint@MSN.com

Thank you for explicitly addressing the topics of racism and diversity in mindfulness practice in the April 1998 issue of The Mindfulness Bell. It was wonderful to read articles on "Unlearning Racism," "Diversity and Unity," and "Coming Out, Returning Home." Articles like these will not only broaden the base of Buddhism in America, they will deepen the practice of people who are already striving to cultivate mindfulness.

Scott PIous by email

PDF of this article

Media Reviews

mb53-MediaReviews1HappinessEssential Mindfulness Practices

By Thich Nhat Hanh Parallax Press, 2009 Softcover, 160 pages

Reviewed by Janelle Combelic

This book is a treasure trove of practical wisdom for longtime practitioners, beginners, anyone who is curious about the practice of mindfulness. Happiness summarizes in concise, clear chapters what Thay has been teaching for the last sixty years.

It also answers, for me, the question of what the word “practice” means in our tradition. Several years ago, twenty or so lay people gathered at Plum Village to consider the idea of a lay community. It soon became clear that people had vastly different meanings when they spoke of “practice.” Some meant formal sitting meditation, chanting, reciting sutras. And while those activities can enhance our experience of the Dharma, they are not the essence of our daily practice. “Mindfulness,” writes Thay in the introduction, “is the energy of being aware and awake to the present. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment.... The practice of stopping is crucial. How do we stop? We stop by means of our in-breath, our out-breath, and our step. If you master these practices, then you can practice mindful eating, mindful drinking, mindful cooking, mindful driving, and so on, and you are always in the here and the now.”

The book is divided into six sections; each short chapter is a gem. “Daily Practices” covers the basics, such as breathing, sitting and walking meditation, bowing, gathas, and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. “Eating Practices” and “Physical Practices” are guidelines for caring for body and soul. The section on “Relationship and Community Practices” describes how to start and maintain a Sangha. It also offers techniques for creating healthy relationships, such as beginning anew, hugging meditation, deep listening, and loving speech. Several pages are devoted to anger and other strong emotions.

Some “Exended Practices” include solitude and silence, as well as lazy day, touching the earth, metta/love meditation, and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. The section on “Practicing with Children” contains many useful tips for parents and teachers: listening to young people, walking meditation with children, the breathing room, and so on.

These are familiar teachings from Thich Nhat Hanh, which many of us have heard in Dharma talks or read in other books. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to read them again and again, because we might need to be reminded to actually practice them. And they really do work! I can vouch for that. Even practicing as unskillfully as I have, has made a huge difference in my life. In the six years since I committed myself wholeheartedly to Thay’s tradition, I have experienced deep healing and transformation. I am far happier than ever before.

Happiness is aptly titled. “We have a rich inheritance, but we don’t know it,” writes Thay at the end of the book. “We behave as if we were poor; a destitute son or daughter. Instead we can recognize that we have a treasure of enlightenment, understanding, love, and joy inside us. It’s time to go back to receive our inheritance. These practices can help us claim it.”

mb53-MediaReviews2Savor Mindful Eating, Mindful Life

By Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung HarperOne, March 2010 Hardback, 256 pages

Reviewed by Sister Chau Nghiem (Sister Jewel)

Two out of three people in the United States are overweight and one in three is obese. Obesity is becoming a pandemic around the globe. Most methods of weight loss focus on the symptoms, not the root of the problem, which lies not only in our way of thinking and living as individuals, but very much in the increasingly unhealthy and toxic societies in which we live, which encourage us to eat more, to eat foods that undermine our health, and to move less.

Based on both the profound Buddhist wisdom of mindfulness as well as the latest science on nutrition, this book by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung offers a new and penetrating perspective on how we arrived at our current weight problem and what we can do to reverse it, individually and collectively. The authors gracefully apply the teachings on the Four Noble Truths, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Nutriments, and other key Buddhist teachings to help readers understand and transform the suffering of excess weight and obesity.

Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung, of the Harvard School of Public Health, compassionately and engagingly encourage readers to have faith in their ability to change and improve their life situation, no matter what difficulties they may have had in the past around weight loss. With the latest data on the health and environmental benefits of a more plant-based diet, meditative verses that help us incorporate mindfulness in all our activities, detailed guidelines for creating and implementing a mindful living plan that incorporates weekly goals for eating, exercising, and living more mindfully, and inspiring stories and suggestions for social activism, the book is packed with a wealth of resources for how to begin to make significant and lasting changes in our weight, in our life, and in the world, starting now.

mb53-MediaReviews3Failsafe Saving the Earth from Ourselves

By Ian Prattis Manor House Publishing, 2008 Paperback, 192 pages

Reviewed by Christopher Titmuss (excerpted with permission from www.resurgence.org)

Ian Prattis, a former professor of Anthropology and Religion at Carleton University, Canada, belongs to a growing school of thought that believes humanity requires a real shift in consciousness to handle the global crises—environmental, political, and economic. A core tenet of Failsafe: Saving the Earth from Ourselves is the simple maxim that our thinking has to change if the current worldview is to change.

Under the guidance of the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, Prattis states that the three poisons of the mind (to quote the Buddha) have become institutionalized. Greed pervades the corporate world. Hate pervades the military. Delusion pervades advertising. The poisoning of land, water, and air, and the catastrophes for the world’s poor and marginalized have their origins in the state of mind of those who run our institutions and their intentions to make profit, act violently upon people and the earth, and manipulate the public mind. There are signs of soul-searching in our major institutions, but the pace is painfully slow.

Sai Baba, a controversial Indian guru, told Prattis that only two percent of the global population needs to meditate on a daily basis to transform human consciousness. Prattis endorses such a view and encourages people to slow down their relentless “doing” in order to experience a sense of “being”: a slowing down of thought, making it possible for fresh ways of thinking to emerge.

The book serves as a valuable collection of reflections on global issues and the part each one of us can play in making the necessary changes. While drawing on the wisdom of various authorities, past and present, Failsafe reminds us of the Buddha’s recipe for global ills—namely mindfulness, letting go, reflection, inner change, watching desire, inter-connection, and the transformation of consciousness.

Prattis writes that he remains “confident and optimistic about making the world a better place environmentally.” He has usefully employed his own experiences, the wise voices of others, and practical advice to address concerns about life on Earth. Failsafe concludes with a list of useful websites that inform and inspire further exploration.

mb53-MediaReviews4Touch the Earth

By Joe Reilly CD, 40 minutes

Reviewed by Nicole Brossman

Touch the Earth showcases true genre diversity, taking listeners through an intriguing landscape of rock, hip-hop, country, eco-rock, and meditative balladry. Reilly’s honest voice and consistent message have the unique ability to pull the eclectic mix together. With his Native American heritage, roots and upbringing in contemporary Catholic folk music, ever-deepening understanding of life through Buddhist meditation practice, and academic studies in environmental justice and racism, Joe Reilly is able to unite people across diverse lines of race, class, gender, age, religion, ability, and musical genre.

While listening to Touch the Earth, listeners are able to engage in lyrical discussions of ecological cycles, meditation, global warming, war, and spirituality with an open mind. Reilly’s music strengthens community while embracing diversity, inspiring listeners to experience the interconnection with one another and their environment, and inviting them to look deeper and connect with the positive aspects in their own nature. This is exemplified when he asks, in the title song, “Where’s the Earth?,” then answers, “in your hands, underneath your feet right where you stand.... It’s what you eat. Take off your shoes and socks and sink your feet in the mud of the Earth, it’s the blood of your birth.”

Reilly is a practitioner in the Plum Village tradition, and practices with the Huron River Sangha in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He also practices at Deer Park Monastery, where he received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in 2004, with the Dharma name True Faith of the Heart. He has visited Plum Village twice, and wrote many of the songs on Touch the Earth while he was there. It’s clear from the first track of the album, when Reilly sings “Keep it E-A-S-Y,” that his songwriting invites listeners to smile, laugh, and sing along with him. Reilly’s creativity brings both humor and depth to things that seem very ordinary. Through his songs we learn that a tree, a tomato, a guitar, and a human being are not separate and isolated.

PDF of this article

Book Reviews

mb55-BookReviews1The Mama Bamba WayThe Power and Pleasure of Natural Childbirth

By Robyn Sheldon Findhorn Press, 2010 Soft cover, 272 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

I met Robyn Sheldon when we shared a taxi during Thay’s 2008 tour in Vietnam. I learned that she is a midwife in South Africa who teaches mindfulness to expectant parents. This led me to reflect on my own experience being born in the 1960s. During the birth, both mother and baby experienced trauma. Not surprisingly, the labor and delivery of my first child were similarly traumatic for mother and baby.

Contrast this to the births described in Sheldon’s new book, aptly subtitled The Power and Pleasure of Natural Childbirth. Sheldon’s main thesis is: “Birth is a baby’s first experience of life. It impacts strongly on how deeply she trusts the world. Her primary need is to feel your attention and welcome at this moment.” This is the basis of the Mama Bamba method of childbirth, developed by Sheldon. The core tools of this approach include meditative awareness, relaxation and surrender, deep exploration of our unconscious processes, connecting with our babies in the womb, and labor support.

Sheldon works with women before labor so that no matter how the birth unfolds, it is a satisfying experience. Being in the moment with openness and receptivity is the fruit of her own daily meditation practice, and she brings this to bear when supporting women during childbirth. In addition to techniques for birthing with integrity and awareness, the book includes beautiful photographs by Nikki Rixon, quotations, and stories of all different sorts of births in the words of the mothers. Intermingled with the text are instructions for guided meditations, relaxations, and visualizations on the topics of simplicity, releasing tension, peaceful birth, the unborn child, and breast-feeding. There is guidance for labor, practical advice for the early months of parenting, and what to do when we suffer from the loss of a baby, preor post-birth. Finally, Mama Bamba is a remarkable example of one woman’s journey to integrate her personal mindfulness practice with her livelihood as a midwife, where she can make a meaningful difference in the way new beings are birthed: with acceptance, peace, and awareness. In the words of our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, “The stories, meditations, and lived experience in this book are powerful wisdom for expecting parents. It shows us concretely how to relax into, accept, and transform the fear and pain of birth by coming back to the present moment to be aware of our body and mind.”

mb55-BookReviews2Voluntary Simplicity Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich

By Duane Elgin Harper, 2nd edition, January 2010 Paperback, 210 pages

Reviewed by Brandy Sacks

Duane Elgin is considered to be the father of the voluntary simplicity movement. In 1981, when his book Voluntary Simplicity was originally published, Elgin’s ideas were widely regarded as counter-cultural and irrelevant. The book was ahead of its time. Now, three decades have passed, and the world is a very different place—a place that is unfortunately similar to the one the author warned us about.

With Elgin’s revised and updated edition we have more ways to learn “a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich.” Voluntary Simplicity is not about living in poverty but living with balance. By embracing voluntary simplicity—frugal consumption, ecological awareness, and personal growth— people can change their lives. In the process, they have the power to change the world.

The book reaches beyond the how-tos of voluntary simplicity to examine the many psychological, spiritual, and cultural benefits of living more simply and consciously. Elgin makes clear that voluntary simplicity is not self-sacrifi but rather enlightened self-interest, and that this emerging lifestyle choice can foster individual and collective well-being in multiple areas. The depth and significance of Elgin’s ideas are matched by the clarity of his writing, so that Voluntary Simplicity is an education, an inspiration, and a pleasure to read.

In the introduction, Elgin writes: “Overall, the world has changed dramatically since I wrote the first edition of Voluntary Simplicity in the late 1970s. To respond, I’ve completely revised this book and more than half of it is new material. It is my hope this new edition will extend the promising wisdom and healing force of simplicity to our imperiled world, for on the other side of the fast emerging planetary systems crisis is a future bright with promise.”

For more information, see Duane Elgin’s website, www.awakeningearth.org.

mb55-BookReviews3The Wisdom of Sustainability Buddhist Economics for the 21st Century By Sulak Sivaraksa Koa Books, 2009 192 pages

Red Alert Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge By Daniel R. Wildcat Fulcrum Publishing, 2009 128 pages

Reviewed by David Percival

If there was ever a time for the so-called “developed world” to listen to the “less developed world” and the indigenous teachers living among us, that time is now. We—the people who don’t know how to stop—need to pay attention. These two books call us to practice deep listening and let go of much of what we have previously learned.

In The Wisdom of Sustainability, Ajahn Sulak, a lay Thai Buddhist activist and writer, is like an old friend gently but forcefully telling us that we can’t live by consuming alone. Instead, we can make a difference through understanding Buddhist teachings, holding to a moral code, embracing sustainable living, and taking care of ourselves. He takes us through basic Buddhist principles, international development, structural violence, globalization, and governance, and gives us a vision of where we need to go. “Capitalism’s promise to bring about emancipation through perpetual economic growth is, to use Jerry Mander’s word, insane. Nothing can grow forever. There are limits. Before we irretrievably erode the matter of our mother earth, we need to change direction and build a future based on wisdom and compassion.”

Ajahn Sulak tells us to stop exploiting our beautiful earth and her people. Instead, we need to rebuild our economies based on wisdom, understanding, and loving-kindness. E.F. Schumacher coined the term “Buddhist economics”—societies based on sustainability, “where people help each other in difficult times, where power is shared, rather than fought over, where nature is respected, and wisdom cherished.” The author discusses moral governance and the idea of “gross national happiness,” which, in a Buddhist democracy, would be based on compassion and nonviolence, our shared humanity, and the interdependent nature of all beings. He examines the true meaning of “real security” in our changing world.

This short but life-changing book concludes with the metta (loving-kindness) meditation exercise: “May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings dwell in peace.”

Red Alert, Daniel Wildcat’s provocative book, is a call to pay attention to indigenous realism and develop “respect for the relationships and relatives that constitute the complex web of life.” He writes: “This alert is also a wake-up call to those always forward-looking societies that have failed to inquire into the modes of living of indigenous peoples that their histories interrupted and ultimately destroyed… a challenge to replace a search for humankind’s general development along a Western-inspired universal timeline with a rethinking of our diverse human cultural development as shaped by places.”

By not paying attention, we marginalize or destroy indigenous peoples and their knowledge. If we would only listen to our indigenous elders and teachers, we could see that their wisdom and knowledge systems are all around us, and that they offer hope. Wildcat explores our fascination with technology and our vast ignorance of indigenous ways of life. This book has the power to awaken us with its wisdom and compassion. It is a strongly worded appeal to pay attention, listen, and throw away our cultural imperialism and “culture of conquest.” It is a brilliant look not only at the mess we have made, but also the hope offered by merely slowing down and paying attention, realizing our interdependent nature, and taking indigenous wisdom seriously. Although Buddhism is not mentioned, this is a very Buddhist book; it reminds us that deep listening brings great rewards.

These two books offer hope and engaged solutions to save our earth from climate change, globalization, consumerism, and materialism, and ultimately from ourselves.

PDF of this article