four stages

Order Aspirant Training

The following two proposals are offered by Minh Tran and Rowan Conrad on behalf of the Order of Interbeing Education and Training Committee. When approached by an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing, Order members may wonder how to help. What will nourish and support the aspirant? What is expected? The Order Charter, found in Interbeing (third edition, Parallax Press, 1998), outlines the basic requirements for ordination into the Order.

In support of mentors and aspirants, the Education and Training Committee of the Order of Interbeing suggests using the first stage of the four-stage Education and Training Program proposed by Thay and Sister Annabel in 1996, with two basic differences. In this program, mentors need not be senior monastic Dharmacharyas (Dharma teachers), but may be lay Dharmacharyas or other Order members. The Committee suggests that Order mentors be senior Order members (members for at least five years) whenever possible. Secondly, aspirant training does not need to be in a retreat setting, although attending retreats is encouraged and expected.

The mentoring program is a guide for the study and practice of Buddhist teachings in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Its intent is to stimulate individual and collective transformation, increase happiness and stability, develop bodhichitta, and encourage a deepening mindfulness practice. We hope that practice with this program will support aspirants in their efforts to bring happiness to others and relieve suffering, and to build and support Sanghas. These are the real reasons for receiving Order ofInterbeing ordination.

All those involved in training-mentors, aspirants, and local Sanghas-should be aware that the program requires study and practice. Regular practice is essential to realize the depth of the teachings leading to transformation. Mindfulness is at the core of all efforts.

As the Charter explains, an aspirant must have received the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The aspirant then announces his or her desire to train for 01 ordination by written letter or application to the local Order members or to a Dharma teacher. One or more OI core community members then mentor the aspirant for a minimum of one year.

When the aspirant and mentors perceive that the aspirant is ready, the mentors write to Thay or to the ordaining Dharma teacher recommending ordination. The letter of recommendation indicates the aspirant is deeply engaged in active, daily practice that will allow him or her to achieve increasing stability, happiness, and transformation. Academic understanding alone would not support a recommendation. In addition, Order members and aspirants are expected to actively participate in and support their Sangha. As Thay said, "Only when you have the feeling that you have enough time, energy, and interest to take care of a community should you ask for formal ordination." After careful consideration, Thay or a qualified Order Dharma teacher may issue a formal ordination invitation.

The Education and Training Committee would like to hear from everyone involved in aspirant mentoring. We invite you to tell us the names of mentors and aspirants, the mentoring plan, and the current stage. Please contact Chan Ruy (Minh Tran), 9089 Richmond, Brossard, PQ, Canada J4X-2S1, telephone: 514-591-8726, fax: 514-466-8958; email: chanhuy@prisco.net.

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Order Member Education

This program is offered for the ongoing education of Order of Interbeing core community members. It is suitable for anyone who has begun to practice transformation using mindfulness in daily life and has received the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The program draws its power from the Dharma Teacher whose insight connects with the student and whose skills create a setting for deepening practice. The specifics of elaborating a Buddhist viewpoint, teaching skillful means for practice, and leading the student to new levels of understanding are not readily spelled out as traditional curricula objectives. "Dharma Curriculum" develops when brought to life by the understanding and skillful means of a Dharma Teacher. Using this program in private study can be beneficial and is encouraged. But, it is principally designed for use in a cohort group with a skilled teacher in a retreat setting. Only in this way can it be assured of attaining the full power envisioned by Thay and Sister Annabel.

Thay originally offered the program with the idea that a practitioner could come to Plum Village and study and practice for four years. We have adapted the course for those who are not able to spend four years in Plum Village.

The basic content may be covered in two ten-day retreats led by Plum Village or Maple Forest Monastery Dharmacharyas and three or four weekend retreats led by local Dharmacharyas each year, plus regular study and practice at home. Over four years, all stages would be covered. All Order members are encouraged to complete the four stages. Ten-day retreats involving the four-stage program will be organized in Plum Village and/or at Maple Forest Monastery under the direction of Plum Village and Maple Forest Monastery Dharmacharyas, if there are enough interested participants. Dharmacharyas may also travel to conduct retreats involving the program.

In May 1998, Thay will lead a 21-day retreat in Burlington, Vermont. The two ten-day retreats of Stage I can be covered by this retreat. Everyone interested in following the four-stage program is encouraged to participate in this retreat with Thay and the monks and nuns from Plum Village and Maple Forest Monastery. Stages I and 2 will be offered in 1999 in Plum Village or Maple Forest Monastery if there is enough demand to warrant it.

Local Sanghas and individuals are invited to communicate their need for study support and guidance to the Order of Interbeing Education and Training Committee. The committee will evaluate the global need and make every effort to arrange for study retreats to be organized accordingly. We also want to know who, in various geographic areas, is able and willing to teach and/or organize weekend study retreats. We encourage all order members, whether or not they can attend the formal trainings and retreats, to use this outline as a study and practice guide. It is keyed to available texts, and there will be tapes of the retreats where Thay or senior Dharmacharyas have taught these topics.

STAGE 1

Texts for study and practice--Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelinesfor Engaged Buddhism (Third Edition); Breathe! You Are Alive; Our Appointment with Life; For a Future To Be Possible; Old Path White Clouds; The Blooming of a Lotus; The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching; The Peace Treaty.

Practice--Walking meditation at all times. Sitting meditation: Shamatha-calming, stopping, and nourishing; Vipashyana-looking deeply. Metta meditation to parents, using selected exercises in The Blooming of a Lotus. Bell inviting for Dharma talks, meditation, tea meditation, and meals. Practice Beginning Anew and the Five and the Three Prostrations. Write letters to parents and or other family members. Basic Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eightfold Path. Chanting: Opening verse, closing verse, Heart of the Prajnaparamita, Refuge Chant, etc. Singing: Breathing in, Breathing out; I Have Arrived; Being an Island; In, Out; and other practice songs. Sixty days of mindfulness each year.

Assignments--Write to a friend who knows nothing about the practice and tell him or her about walking meditation in a way that will help him or her. Write about your experience of metta meditation toward your parents. Write a song describing your practice of walking meditation, working meditation, or watering the seeds of happiness. Ask three family members or others with whom you share a lot of time to comment on your strong and weak points. Report your decision on practices to transform your weaknesses.

STAGE 2 Revise and continue to practice Stage l.

Texts for study and practice--Transformation and Healing; Teachings To Be Given to the Sick; Interbeing; The Heart of Understanding.

Practice--Walking meditation: Deepen your own practice and explain walking meditation to others. Sitting meditation: Deepen the practice. Use all the exercises in The Blooming of a Lotus. Organize a tea ceremony. Invite the bell in ceremonies. Offer incense. Explain the Peace Treaty and Beginning Anew. Facilitate Dharma discussion. Basic Buddhism: The Six Principles of Harmony, The Seven Ways of Resolving Conflicts, The Four Immeasurable Minds. Check with the three family members or others who commented in Stage 1 about your last year's efforts at transformation, and report on their comments.

Assignments--A song expressing your insight. Write on how you envision the Pure Land in which you wish to be reborn.

STAGE 3 Revise and continue to practice Stages 1 and 2.

Texts--A Bhikkhu's Request; Thundering Silence; Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion; Preface to the Anapananusmrti Sutra by Dhyana Master Tang Hoi; History of Vietnamese Buddhism.

Practice--Sitting meditation: the nine-point metta practice. Report on how you put into practice the nine-point metta meditation practice with those with whom you are in conflict. Ask six people for feedback on your strong and weak points. Report your practices to strengthen the good points and transform the weak points. Organize a Day of Mindfulness. Guide meditations for others. Basic Buddhism: Interdependent Co-Arising, The Seven Factors of Enlightenment.

Assignments--A song expressing your insight. Write on the practice of the Four Noble Truths in your daily life.

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STAGE 4 Revise and continue to practice everything in Stages 1, 2 and 3.

Texts--Samiddhi Sutta; Lotus Sutra; Fifty Verses, with reference to the Thirty Verses of Vasubandhu; the 39 Mindful Manners from Stepping Into Freedom.

Practice--Organize a retreat; give a Dharma talk; Sangha-building; Chanting; conducting ceremonies for the sick and the deceased; Basic Buddhism: the chittasamskaras.

Assignments--A song expressing your insight. Write on your experience of practicing Buddhism as someone with non-Buddhist roots. Write on your experience of Sangha-building. Ask three of your co-workers and three family members how you have improved in transforming the weakness they pointed out last year.

Minh Tran, Chan Huy, is a Dharma teacher who practices in Maple Village, Montreal, Canada. Rowan Conrad, True Dharma Strength, is a member of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, Montana.

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