fourteen mindfulness trainings

How Much Is Enough?

By Jindra Cekan

Underlying much of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I see deep fear. Fear of the future, fear for survival, fear that people’s needs are not being seen, that they are invisible. Having worked on Wall Street in the 1980s, I believe that the same fears drive both the 1% and the 99%. My colleagues and I, bankers who made money for the 1%, were driven by fear of not keeping our jobs. We were doing deals to maximize profits and keep the company’s stock strong so our firms would not be bought out. We worked to keep our boyfriends and spouses happy with our wealth and status. Caught up in the heady game of profit-making for my bosses, I had no knowledge of the Fourth Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing, Awareness of Suffering. I had no idea of the true good or harm our deals had on society. I have much to forgive in myself.

Sitting and looking deeply at my beliefs is a doorway to insight. When I hear the protestors and look at my relationship to money, I ask myself what certainties I am trying to ensure with it. As a mother, I want to make sure I can feed my children, educate them, and have savings to pass on to them. How much is enough when so many suffer on earth? For many years now, my money has been invested in socially conscious ways. I donate to charities in Kenya and Haiti. I have decided to give away five to ten percent a year, but really, should I do more? How much is enough?

While I stand with the principles of the protestors, I hesitated when some of them demanded we take our money out of the international banking system that profits so much from greed. I asked myself: do I really want to take a leap out of my comfort zone by making this symbolic act? How much good will it do? I didn’t act. I have to forgive my indecisiveness and vow to keep looking deeply at my choices.

This week I have gone downtown in DC, following in the footsteps of some friends who practice NVC (non-violent communication). I listened and showed my solidarity, as Sanghas have done elsewhere in the U.S. I am grateful for people who are willing to act on their awareness of suffering. Like them, may I bring the Fourth Mindfulness Training to life.

Jindra Cekan, Ph.D, True Collective Maintenance, sits with the Washington Mindfulness Community in DC. A former banker, she is now an international development consultant and the happy mother of two boys and a puppy.

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Being Present with Suffering

By Leslie Rawls One day I took on a very difficult appeal involving much suffering all around. I had designated the day a Day of Mindfulness and decided to keep it, even after I got the call asking me to review the new case. I am glad that I did, because I needed all my mindfulness to be present with the suffering.

My client and his neighbors had escalating hostilities, which led to my client—a one-armed, middle-aged man—firing a semiautomatic weapon into an apartment, killing a grandmother and wounding two young children. The victims were not the people with whom he had disagreed. As I read the witness statements, I stopped to breathe many times. Even before the shooting, there was so much pain in the relationships among the neighbors and family members. It struck me many times that even a small act of kindness might have defused the situation and avoided the ultimate tragedy that resulted. As you might expect, intoxicants played a part in the shooting.

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It is a tough case. Before I had received the Fourteen Precepts, I think I would have turned this case down without a second thought. Somehow, though, I feel this is one way I can be present with suffering, and offer my wholehearted practice of mindfulness.

New Order member Leslie Rawls practices law in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she also organizes local Sangha activities.

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Sangha Profile

Haus Tao/Foundation of Mindful Living Marcel and Beatrice Geisser 9427 Wolfhalden, Switzerland Tel: 41 (71) 44.35.39, Fax: 41 (71) 44.35.35 Email: 101676.1466@compuserve.com

In August 1996, Haus Tao will celebrate its tenth anniversary as a Buddhist meditation center. As the house was built more than 200 years ago, ten years might seem like a short time, but considering the history of Buddhism in Switzerland, it is a great example of the growing interest in Switzerland in the Buddha's teaching, and of the common effort of the local Sangha to create and maintain a practice center.

In the mid-1980s, there were only a small Tibetan and a small Thai Buddhist monastery in Switzerland. Marcel Geisser and many of his friends felt the need to have a center that addressed the issues of lay Buddhists. In 1986, Marcel purchased the property that was to become Haus Tao, which is in the northeast part of Switzerland, 1 1/2 hours from Zurich. His intention was for the house to be communally owned with practice rooted in the Buddhist tradition. After four years of effort, in 1990 Haus Tao was founded as a communally run meditation center based on the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing.

Marcel was the main person to begin restoring the house, financing this work by giving seminars in psychotherapy and meditation, as well as by renting the house to other Buddhist teachers and therapists. Although the need for the support of the nationwide Sangha was obvious, it was difficult to rally everyone's energy to create this center. It was only when Marcel was about to sell the property for financial reasons that people began to raise funds to keep it.

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In the early 1990s, Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong visited the center several times. It seems like a miracle that since then, the Sangha has been investing in Haus Tao, both financially and with their personal skills, by helping restore the building, sew curtains, and maintain the garden. As there is a growing interest in Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings throughout Europe, the center is now able to support itself.

Haus Tao is near the German-Austrian border, and attracts people from all over German-speaking Europe. The center is open year-round and offers a schedule of morning and evening meditation. The quiet and serene valley surrounding the center supports our practice. When sitting in the meditation hall, we can hear the nearby river and birds singing. Loriana, our guest manager, is the only permanent resident. However, guests come throughout the year to join her in the practice. Haus Tao can accommodate up to 25 people. Marcel, the resident Dharma teacher, and his wife Beatrice, a movement therapist, live nearby and support the Sangha with weekly Dharma discussions and Days of Mindfulness. They lead several retreats a year, including a three-month retreat which will begin November 1. Retreats and seminars include a daily work period and a session in mindful movement, guided by Beatrice. Haus Tao is now in the middle of our first three-year ongoing seminar in Buddhist studies and practice, which gives the 15 participants the opportunity to integrate the knowledge derived from Buddhist texts with personal growth practices. Since 1993 Haus Tao has published InterSein twice a year, which is the German-speaking sister of The Mindfulness Bell.

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Marcel is on the executive committee of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), and the Sangha networks with INEB members all over the world. In Europe, many people consider Buddhism to be a practice of meditation and theory only. As the idea of engaged Buddhism is still very new, Haus Tao is currently investigating what the social needs in our area are and what are realistic possibilities for developing socially engaged Buddhism in Switzerland. The Sangha may adopt a model similar to the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE) program organized by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. The Sangha actively networks with Christian groups, who have a long history of social engagement in Europe, and are grateful for all the inspiration and help from open-minded Christians. In the future, Haus Tao wants to put more energy in building a strong neighborhood Sangha.

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Holy Week

By Joan Monastero Each year, I spend Holy Week at the Nevada Test Site. The groups I have come to cherish there are Nevada Desert Experience, The Catholic Worker, and Pace e Bene—all part of the movement to stop underground nuclear testing at the site. These groups provide a faith-based witness of peace and nonviolence amidst a very destructive situation.

This year, I was invited to help prepare the liturgy for Good Friday at the Nevada Test Site. We created fourteen Stations of the Cross for the occasion, using enlarged photos of contemporary situations of suffering such as war, poverty, homelessness, and the death penalty. During this procession of about 50 people, I offered the bell of mindfulness. At each station, the bell was invited at the beginning and end of the reflection. When we reached the entrance of the test site at the end of the walk, we formed a circle and read the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing.

The Fourteen Stations of the Cross and the Fourteen Precepts had a unique collaboration on that most solemn of days in the Christian tradition. The Stations of the Cross are reflections on the suffering of Christ and the suffering in our world. The precepts offer us balance—a way to address suffering. Like a prayer, the precepts bring hope, much like the promise of spring and Easter resurrection, elevating and renewing our lives.

Joan Monastero, Complete Cultivation of the Heart, lives in Saugerties, New York, and practices with the Budding Flower Sangha.

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Devotion

By Nanda Currant

Greg Keryk took the Fourteen Precepts in May at a ceremony in Santa Cruz. That evening, he became a member of the Order of Interbeing and received the name True Good Birth. Greg was the first person to receive his precept name via fax, and it was the first time the precepts were read by Arnie Kotler and Therese Fitzgerald for Thay. The stability of the practice and the kindness we felt that night guided us in the days and weeks that followed.

Sangha, family, and friends wove a wonderful web of community around the Keryks. The Ulrichs were like guardian angels, bringing food and care daily and postponing a vacation to come and help at the edge of life and death. Irene's coworkers donated some of their sick days so that she could have nearly two months off to be with Greg. Greg gave richly to us with the remaining moments of his life. He watched over his adopted grand-nephew, Matthew Ulrich, with humor and interest. He wanted to know about Matthew's new haircut and complimented him on the fine newsletter he has been doing for us. Matthew is 16 years old going on ancient, so it was fitting that he and Greg found each other at this time in their lives.

Greg came to the Sangha a few more times to sit with us, and then we took turns going to his house to sit with him, sometimes at his bedside. At one point, Irene set up a tent (intended for a summer camping trip) in their backyard and lay by Greg as he rested. We all sat outside and kept watch as the mosquitoes hovered around us.

In Irene's face we saw the hope, resolve, and tenderness it took for her to sit lovingly by her husband's side. He was less here than there, but he touched in with a tiny joke or a little ~ap. Sometimes he wandered around the. one-story house trying to find the "upstairs," or to step In and out of the door to another life.

Irene's devotion to Greg moved me. She was beautiful as she poured through wedding pictures on the living room floor while he rested nearby . Strong feelings intermingled with memories, moments, and plans which would never be met. As she told me about their wedding ceremony, the feeling floated into the ceiling and the walls and was there when Greg woke up and drank some water. She brought the wholeness of their relationship into the moments they had left together. It was a gift to experience that kind of love in a room with two people.

After my mother died when I was in my twenties, I began to work with Turning Point, a support group for children and their families with serious illness. Even though members of our group gradually stopped meeting, the awareness of that work lives on in our lives. My visits with Greo and his wife Irene reminded me of the time with those families . The presence of love was palpable, and the highly charged atmosphere was imbued with light in the midst of suffering. By sustaining love in a tenuous and fragile place in life, a very gentle and subtle quality is generated. It is something felt, not necessarily seen, an open quality that breathes into the atmosphere. Humanity is often at its best when life hangs in the balance. The courage and quiet devotion that pulls a family together, or gives an individual a stronger sense of the heart of his or her life, awakens us to the simple fact of existence.

Greg had a favorite oak tree that he visited throughout his life in both good and hard times. Although I was unable to attend a memorial ceremony held there, I was inspired to draw an oak tree with a seed floating in the sky above it. This seed is planted in all of us through our having known Greg and through our continued friendships with Irene and his lovely daughter Diana. Greg may no longer be with our Sangha, but he will always be a part of us as we breathe and move through the day . I don't know if things turn out the way they should, but I do know that waking up is possible, and if we are lucky we get a glimpse of it now and then. We will miss Greg and his gritty, honest nature, humor, and inspiration.

Nanda Currant, True Good Nature, is an artist and does environmental restoration work with home-school students. She cofounded the Hearth Sangha in Santa Cruz.

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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 | Transcribing | 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 experientially based 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.

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Thich Nhat Hanh in Israel

By Marjorie Markus

When I first heard that Thich Nhat Hanh would be leading retreats in Israel in May 1997, I was excited and knew immediately that I wanted to go. As the time approached to commit to attending the retreat, I had some doubts and concerns, particularly about how we might be received in Israel. It was the period when the peace process had become endangered, and I was concerned about our safety. After acknowledging these fears, my initial enthusiasm returned and I knew that I wanted to be present when Thay offered his peaceful presence and precious teachings to the people of Israel.

As Dharma teacher Lyn Fine and I drove from Ben Gurion Airport to Kibbutz Harel, I noticed a huge sunflower field in which only one flower had rushed to bloom, as if to greet us. In other ways, the land reminded me of Plum Village. The birdsongs surrounded us, and I instantly felt at home. The first person Lyn and I met at the kibbutz was Barry Sheridan, the coordinator for special events. He put us at ease, and throughout our visit was our mindful guardian angel. That evening, Thay, Sister Chan Khong, two monks, and four nuns arrived from Plum Village. For the next day and a half, final arrangements were made to welcome the more than 200 retreatants.

During Thay's introductory talk for the first retreat, the atmosphere was calm and quiet with people taking in his every word and gesture. They were relaxed and already smiling. The next day during the outdoor walking meditation, Thay continued to share the Dhanna as we gathered under the welcoming shade of a huge Jerusalem pine.

Over the course of his 11-day visit, Thay gave three more Dharma talks and another weekend retreat. I was touched by his commitment to our new Israeli Sangha. The retreatants came from diverse backgrounds. Some were young people who, like many Israelis, had traveled to India and other points east after their army service. Many had experience with vipassana meditation. A group of observant Jews came with their rabbi. They substItuted their morning prayers for the morning meditation, and time was set aside for their Shabbat observance.

The Dharma discussion groups reflected the retreatants' concerns about tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and divisions within the Jewish communities. Throughout the Dharma talks, Thay addressed these issues in many ways. Early on, he said, "It is through my background of suffering that I can understand your suffering." In another talk he said, "People have different ideas. Also, nations may be attached to their ideology. What is your idea of happiness? Maybe your idea of happiness is the obstacle to your happiness." He later said, "All of us have suffered violence. We ask ourselves where violence comes from. If we look deeply, we see that it comes from ourselves, because there is a bomb in each of us. Do we know how to defuse the bomb in us? That is the art. That is the practice." He suggested that each person sign a peace treaty with themselves and said the solution will come "from our lucidity, our happiness, our peace. When I have peace, it is easy for me to make peace."

Thay explained, "It is not my intention to uproot people. A person should remain a Jew, but that does not mean you have to accept everything in the tradition. Like a plum tree sometimes needs pruning. Otherwise it will be broken and will not be able to offer fruit."

In the question-and-answer session, Thay responded to a question about how to bring about peace by saying he is more interested in how individuals conduct their daily lives rather than in big solutions. When people with the same kind of suffering come together, they can exchange experiences and provide their nation with some insight. If they are able to practice deep listening and speak to each other in a calm voice, they may provide hope to others. He suggested inviting groups from different segments of the population to come together as the first step.

Dharma discussion groups had been organized by place of residence. Some made plans to meet again back home as a Sangha. Lyn Fine shared her experience in Sangha building with about 50 people interested in starting Sanghas. It was wonderful to see Sangha seeds being planted in Israeli soil.

Later that evening, enjoying the stillness of the kibbutz, I was delighted to find out that Thay and his Plum Village Sangha took the opportunity to visit Jerusalem. They arrived at the Western Wall in time to witness the fin al observances on the Sabbath. I imagined their joy while viewing the Jerusalem stones bathing in the setting sunlight.

At the Day of Mindfulness for peace and social change activists, Thay talked about "burnout" and said, "As long as love is still alive in us, we will not give up." He held out the reality that in each group there needs to be a person with presence. "Who is that person? You! You are the bodhisattva that can bring salvation, cultivate non-fear, and be solid." He added, "The question is not what to do, but knowing what not to do . If you operate on the basis of fear, you are not operating from the ground of peace. In our daily life, we have to live in a way that transforms fear and anger into compassion. With hatred, jealousy, and anger, there is no way to be a real social activist. The main task of a peace and social activist is to cultivate compassion, understanding, and patience. Patience is an indicator of love."

After a walking meditation through the pines, palms, and cypresses of the kibbutz, and a silent dinner, we gathered in the meditation hall for questions and answers with Sister Chan Khong. She shared her experiences as an activist during the war in Vietnam. The Israeli activists hung on to her every word, engrossed by what she had to say and the gentle strength with which she said it. It was as though they were right there with her in Vietnam, observing her as she used her mindfulness to remain calm, compassionate, and skillful while resolving seemingly impossible situations. She was a model of the quality of presence that Thay had talked about.

The next week, Thay gave three evening talks. At the end of each lecture, Sister Chan Khong captivated the audience with her singing, and no one wanted to leave. At the talk in Jerusalem at Kol Haneshama Synagogue, she spoke directly to the young people present. She shared breathing awareness with one young boy and gave him an opportunity to invite the bell to sound. The children left the room with big smiles. Shortly thereafter, the English language Jerusalem Post published an article about mindfulness' practice with children.

On the last night of the second retreat, Thay invited us to join him for a full moon walking meditation after the Dharma talk. This extra gift was gratefully accepted.

In our spare time between events, Thay and the nuns and monks took every opportunity to familiarize themselves with Israeli life. We visited a marketplace in a small town as well as those in the various quarters in the Old City of Jerusalem. We went to a nearby nursery with the kibbutz gardener, where we were surrounded by hundreds of exotic succulents, many of which displayed their fresh flowers. Everyone bought a plant to take back to Plum Village. We did floating and frolicking meditation in the Dead Sea. Sister Chan Khong was the first one in and the last one out of this saltiest of waters. On the way back through the desert, we saw a donkey get hit by a truck. Our three cars stopped, and we gave the shocked donkey our calm, loving attention. One of the nuns wet her brown scarf and tied it around his injured leg. We waited until a Bedouin boy appeared and walked our new Sangha friend to safety.

After Thay's last talk in Tel Aviv, we headed back to the kibbutz. We arrived after midnight, and Sister Chan Khong, still full of energy, joyfully told us that Thay had invited us to join him early the next morning on a silent walking meditation in Jerusalem. We would go to the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and then walk in the footsteps of Jesus along the Fourteen Stations of the Cross. After many centuries of divisions, it was an opportunity to plant peaceful steps on the sacred ground of three major religions.

The next morning, we embarked on our last journey together as a traveling Sangha. Leaving the kibbutz, we passed the fie ld of sunflowers now in full bloom, and I thought of all the wonderful seeds planted during these two weeks. May they bear much fruit and benefit all beings. Shalom!

Marjorie Markus, True Contemplation of Understanding, practices with the New York Metropolitan Community of Mindfulness.

Peace Is Every Step

During the two retreats with Thay and Sister Chan Khong at Kibbutz Harel in Israel, we gained the serenity of dwelling in the preset moment. Hundreds came together, learned to breathe mindfully, and become bodhisattvas for one another. Sanghas will emerge.

That is not to say that everything was sweetness and light. Repeatedly, we were challenged to confront our prejudices, hatreds, and fears, and encouraged to find new places in our hearts from which to deal with them. Through "Touching the Earth," Sister Chan Khong encouraged reconciliation with all who have dwelled on this disputed land; Christians, Muslims, Jews, Arabs, Israelis. We were asked to learn to loved and understand the rapist sea pirate, in addition to sympathizing with his victims. This challenge resonates here, where terrorists and freedom fighters, bombers and suicide bombers, assassins and rival armies have shed so much innocent blood in both the immediate and historical past.

While peace will not come easily to this region, it was wonderful that so many peaceful steps were taken here.

--Robbie Heffernan, Amman, Jordan

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Ready When Ripe

By Mitchell Ratner In the spring of 1997, the Washington Mindfulness Community Order of Interbeing aspirants initiated mentoring by writing a letter of aspiration to our local Dharmacharyas, Anh-Huong and Thu Nguyen, and to the other four local Order members. Each aspirant was asked to choose a mentor from the current Order members.

Four women asked to be considered for Order membership. Each was already attending the bimonthly Mindfulness Trainings recitations that bring together Order members and others interested in learning more about the Order. The meetings provided an opportunity to formally recite the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, and also to eat and walk mindfully together and share our lives and concerns.

We all understood that the mentors hip period was open-ended--it would continue until the aspirant and mentor felt the aspirant was ready for ordination. The nature and goals of the mentoring were also open-to be worked out by the aspirant and mentor. What generally occurred was that mentor and aspirant met several times, mainly to talk about the aspirant's practice and motivation for seeking ordination, to answer questions about Order membership, and to explain responsibilities of and expectations for Order members. Other central focuses were the aspirant's ability to embody the practice in family and Sangha relationships; whether they could share from their hearts, receive and give emotional support, and resolve conflicts. Because the aspirants all had been actively involved with the Washington Mindfulness Community for one to four years and had attended many retreats with Thay and senior teachers, there was little need for mentors to assign readings or teach specific mindfulness practices.

A month before the Omega retreat, the Order members, including Anh-Huong and Thu, met to discuss the aspirants. At the very beginning of the meeting, the criteria for ordination came up--on what basis should we decide? A few minutes into the discussion, Anh-Huong picked up a nearby tomato, smelled it, and asked, "Is it ripe?" What made the question particularly interesting was that the tomato in question was a variety that was yellow with streaks of green when ripe. The tomato question ended the discussion of criteria.

We then considered each candidate. The mentor spoke of her history with the community, strengths, and in some cases, hesitations of the mentor or aspirant. Others asked questions and offered thoughts. Being ripe meant different things for different aspirants. In some cases, we focused on what they were already doing-some had for a long time already done everything expected of an Order member. In other cases, we focused on what support the Order of Interbeing community might offer the aspirant, how membership might strengthen their practice. Much of the discussion had to do with the ways the practice had entered the aspirants' lives and hearts. Was the aspirant really able to live the practice? What difficulties were they having?

After an hour of heartfelt, focused, and caring conversation, each of the four aspirants was either recommended for ordination or conditionally recommended, contingent on the clarification of some remaining issues. In general, we all felt that the process from beginning to end (especially the tomato) was very organic. It grew out of an intimate and harmonious Order of Interbeing community, the procedures were flexible enough to bend easily to changing conditions, and the focus stayed throughout on nurturing joy and equanimity in Order members and aspirants alike.

Mitchell Ratner, True Mirror of Wisdom, is an applied anthropologist, and conducts workshops on mindfulness and meaningful work.

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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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Dharma Siblings

By Paul Williams I n late February, John Balaam, Caleb Cushing, Terry Helbick, and I met with our mentor Therese Fitzgerald for a few days of Order of Interbeing aspirant training and a retreat with the larger Sangha in northern California. My training time began with a visit to CML/Parallax Press' modest headquarters which resulted in my writing letters to prisoners who had requested books or correspondence. I suspect most 01 aspirants, like me, want to be of service in a meaningful way, however clumsily.

That evening, we attended Arnie Kotler's talk on the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and the Trainings recitation at the weekly Community of Mindful Living Sangha meeting. The discussion afterward helped me get in touch with my feelings about the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings as a vision Thay had in the midst of war, of a set of simple, universal values people might reasonably agree to live by to help relieve suffering .. .if a handful of us start living this way, the whole world could shift.

The next morning I picked up Caleb, and we drove to Saratoga, talking happily all the way, new friends discovering common interests and experiences. That drive, getting to know Caleb and starting to experience the solidity and immediacy of this new community in which I'm taking refuge, is one of my treasured memories of these OI Aspirant Training Days. Indeed, one of my breakthroughs the next two days-letting go of hard feelings I'd had towards a Sangha member-began with Caleb's sympathetic listening as we drove south on Highway 880.

At Camp Swig, we gathered in a cabin called The Lodge, sharing our aspirations to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and become Order members. Somewhere along the line, John, Caleb, and I discovered we each had just had or were about to have our 50th birthdays. Because we were all born in 1948, year of the rat or mouse, it seemed to me that our theme song should be "Three Mindful Mice. See how they stop!"

The great value of the OI aspirant training days was the resulting sense of connectedness and stability. What is "bonding" after all but a tangible experience of interbeing? As I met and spent time with other aspirants, it became clear that being a member of the Order of Interbeing is about Sangha-building and -supporting. The Mindfulness Trainings do not include a vow to build communities; that interest seems to arise naturally from being part of a Sangha and wanting this kind of nourishing refuge to continue for ourselves and others. In the course of the gathering and the retreat, I found a wonderfully renewed energy for my practice and an ever-increasing respect for the value of Sangha. "When two or more are gathered in My name"which is to say, in mindfulness-stuff happens. Wow.

This "Dharma brother," "Dharma-sister" talk isn't just romanticization. Three or more of my experiences fall into this category. John was cheerful and stoic about being a novice bellmaster and making inevitable mistakes in front of a Sangha of 60 mostly-strangers. My heart was with him the whole time, because "there but for the grace of God go I," and because I know it's my nature to be nervous in such situations and feel compelled to redeem myself with (impossible) perfection. Just exchanging glances with John all weekend made it easy for me to imagine myself in his socks. It was like he let me experience the training through him, without risking humiliation or whatever other suffering my mind might create. Thanks, John. You did a great job. And even my low-key responsibilities for bells at three morning meals were a real assistance to me. Thanks, Therese, for your particularly gentle way of letting me know, near the end of my first breakfast duty, that I needed to wake the bell before inviting it. So, that's one "Dharmasibling" experience, John and me being bell cadets at the same retreat.

Another was when the three mindful mice met with Terry in the Lodge to touch base with her as a fellowaspirant, after she arrived. Therese had suggested we ask her to share her aspirations with us per the "Opening Statements and Questions" in our mentorship outline, as we had done earlier with each other. Terry had written her comments. We had all engaged in such writing tasks through our monthly aspirant letters to our mentor. I was particularly affected by this opportunity to hear Terry read from her spiritual journal.

One more Dharma-sibling incident occurred after a Dharma discussion session where three separate extraordinarily un-victim-y bodhisattvas shared with us their experiences: one woman recently helped her husband prepare for his death from AIDS, and had to learn to stop seeing their daughter as "a child who will have lost her father"; another guy told how only the practice had allowed him to survive since his young wife died; and a seemingly very young Sangha member spoke of his relief in being able to see his dying daughter as a bodhisattva after he read about Thay calling a flower in his garden a bodhisattva. As Bob Dylan once said, "It's all right, Ma, it's life and life only." What an extraordinary lesson we all had in impermanence and the Four Noble Truths (especially the path which leads to cessation of suffering) that afternoon! A few minutes after the session ended, I encountered John Balaam as I came out of a men's room, and told him I'd burst into tears sitting in the bathroom. He gave me a big hug. We understood each other. And that's how it felt all week, without words, amongst all of us aspirants and most of us fellowretreatants. A lot of positive seeds were planted in our collective store consciousness in these OI aspirant training sessions at Camp Swig.

Order aspirant Paul Williams, Joyful Peace of the Source, is the author of 25 books including Das Energi and Bob Dylan Performing Artist He and his wife practice in San Diego, California.

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Where Is the Heart of Compassion in the Balkans?

By Fred Eppsteiner

Once again, our country is at war. Once again, violence is the solution nations and peoples choose to settle conflict. Yet, one of the hallmarks of the Buddha's teaching is nonviolence. The first mindfulness training given by Shakyamuni Buddha was "Do not kill, do no harm, protect life." As students of the Buddha, we must turn our mindfulness to the violence and incredible suffering occurring in the Balkans today.

As a traditional meditation discipline, mindfulness is an "inner practice." We learn to be aware of the content of our minds-our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and beliefs. But this distinction between internal and external is false. This mind that is aware of its own suffering and happiness is no different than the mind that is aware of the suffering and happiness of the world. The same mind looks within and without. We must be mindful of what is going on inside ourselves, but we must also turn our mindfulness outward, to the world.

The Buddha said, "Do not be violent in thought, speech or action." He knew that mind is the initial mover. Mind, speech, action-that's how things flow. When we look at what's going on in Yugoslavia, we can see that the current destruction was preceded by aggressive words, and that these words came from minds clouded by intolerance, fanaticism, and wrong view.

Today in the Balkans, violent intolerance is creating great suffering, but the world's violent response to the situation is also creating suffering. The earliest teachings of the Buddha stated that anger can never be stopped by more anger; hatred can never be stopped by more hatred, aggression can never be stopped by more aggression. Only through understanding, tolerance, deep listening, compassion, and lovingkindness can these negative mind states that lead to violence be stopped.

This revolutionary message is at the opposite pole of the political ideologies dealing with the Balkan situation. NATO forces are trying to end violence with more violence

The great American pacifist, A. J. Mustie said, "There is no way to peace, peace is the way." But the NATO alliance is seeking peace through war. Buddhism teaches that only when we become peaceful and nonviolent in body, speech, and mind can we create a truly peaceful and nonviolent world. There is no other way.

We need to look in mindfulness at this situation and ask, "What's really going on here? What are the real causes?" The media and politicians urge that time is of the essence, we must act quickly. But, we have to be very careful. In our personal lives, we may feel strongly called upon to act out anger and hurt or to use angry and attacking words at times. If we don't bring mindfulness to the situation, if we don't step back to see what's really going on, we'll never break the cycle of violence in ourselves or in the world.

Aggression may have immediate effect, but that's not the issue. For example, one can't tell parents who physically abuse their children that violence doesn't work, because they know if they smack their child for doing something they don't want him to do, he' ll probably stop. The real issue is the long-term damage violence does to the child. Hitting may stop the behavior, but very likely, it will also breed resentment and anger, and lead to aggressive behavior in the future. In the same way, bombing may stop aggression in the shOJi run, but does it really change anything? Violence only begets more violence. When there are winners and losers, the winners exult in their victories, and the losers, brooding with resentment, wait for their turn to be on top.

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings are relevant to the situation in Yugoslavia. At its core, the violence in this dispute arises from fanaticism and intolerance. Serbs versus Albanians, Christians versus Moslems, Orthodox versus Non-Orthodox. Each group intolerant of the other. The first three Mindfulness Trainings clearly identify causes of suffering: fanaticism and intolerance create suffering, attachment to views and wrong perceptions create suffering, imposing our views on others creates suffering.

The third training also reminds us of our responsibility "to help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through compassionate dialogue." Is that what we've been doing in Yugoslavia for the past ten years? Have we poured our money and energy into Yugoslavia to help people learn to talk with one another or to develop programs to teach them how to understand each other? Now that there's a crisis, we spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to kill and destroy, which in no way touches the underlying problems. Yet, we never spent a penny to develop compassionate dialogue. We took no interest in teaching nonviolence, or helping people learn to get along with those who are different.

What is compassionate dialogue? It's what Thay calls deep listening. To walk in someone's shoes and really understand who they are, their fears and concerns. To be compassionate means to feel the suffering of others and to want to relieve it. If the Serbs were listening to the Albanians compassionately, they would have asked, "What is your problem? What are your concerns? What are your fears? What's making you angry? Tell me about your history." And the Albanians would listen to the Serbs and all of their concerns, fears, desires, and frustrations. They would listen to each other with a sense of understanding. With this understanding, I believe people would see their commonality instead of only differences. And out of seeing their shared humanness could come real peace.

We should also learn to practice compassionate dialogue within ourselves, to listen to those parts of ourselves that are angry or wounded, and to accept them. This practice is no different than learning to listen deeply to friends, family members, or work colleagues. When there is conflict and anger, we especially need to listen deeply to each other and enter into compassionate dialogue, so we can peacefully resolve all conflicts.

In the Tiep Hien Precepts, killing is not directly addressed until the Twelfth Mindfulness Training. The first eleven deal primarily with actions of mind and speech, because that's where killing begins. Intolerance, fanaticism, anger, and hatred are nurtured first by thoughts, then by violent speech, and finally, one acts.

Our Buddha nature is a nature of oneness, interdependence, and love. To get to the point of killing, we first have to dehumanize the enemy, to say they are unlike us and outside the pale of civilization. These thoughts and language do violence to another human being. We have to be very careful about language and thoughts, because only when we've dehumanized someone can we do violence to them and want to see them suffer. This is the very opposite of the heart of compassion. How could peace ever come out of this mind state?

The Twelfth Mindfulness Training says, "Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, understanding, and compassion in our daily lives, to promote peace education, mindful meditation, and reconciliation within families, communities, nations, and in the world. We are determined not to kill and not to let others kill. We will diligently practice deep looking with our own Sangha to discover better ways to protect life and prevent war." This Mindfulness Training gives us a technology of nonviolence, very different from the technology of war. It shows us there are clear, nonviolent ways to settle disputes and resolve conflicts, ways that preserve the integrity and humanity of the person we disagree with. There are ways of resolving conflict in which both sides come out feeling respected.

The ability to understand that people are products of their conditions does not mean that one doesn't act, perhaps even forcibly, against violence and evil in the world. But, the key to nonviolence is that one always acts out of love and understanding, not out of hatred. It doesn't mean we allow those who do violence and aggression to have their way. It means that when we act, we act out of understanding.

The lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us how to act with understanding. They wisely taught us that hate deforms us and that nonviolent action is possible. The dualistic mind wants to say there are good people and there are bad, but in truth there is no good and bad, because those who are good today may be bad tomorrow. Today's victims are tomorrow's perpetrators. So it's often said that we must hate the crime, not the criminal, hate the deed, not the doer.

Only when we look deeply at the Balkan situation and identify with everybody, do we have the power to act wisely. When we act without seeing both sides, we get into trouble by seeking quick solutions. The ancient teaching of Buddhism calls us to the path of nonviolence, understanding, love, and peace. Our practice is not just about crossing our legs and turning within. We need to use our compassion to touch the suffering in the world.

This article was excerpted from a talk given by Dharma teacher Fred Eppsteiner, True Energy, at a Day of Mindfulness in Naples, Florida.

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Return to Chiapas

By Jo-ann Rosen After 18 months away, I returned to Chiapas last April, leading a small group of mindfulness practitioners to learn firsthand the complexities of the Mayan struggle in Mexico—a struggle that exemplifies the clash between indigenous lifestyle and the global power economy worldwide. Life in Chiapas is lived so close to the bone that each encounter of the trip was a meditation on impermanence. The people's lives are a testimony to non-attachment and a practice in overcoming birth and death. A marginal economy brings the unexpected. Working to see each experience as fresh and whole helped us appreciate the gifts, as well as the burdens, of these harsh realities.

Traveling outside our familiar environment, we became more aware of the hidden cultural filters we impose. Aware of the first four Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing, we saw more clearly the fixed ideas we held, and were challenged  to see things fresh in each encounter. As we watched children three or four years old taking primary responsibility for younger children, we reevaluated our ideas of a good childhood. We saw children of all ages playing joyfully together, hugging, kissing, working, and problem solving. Mayan children work as soon as they can. They may never have a "childhood" as we define it. We learned to ask questions rather than say "Oh, those poor children." We wondered if this early caring of each other might be why the Maya seem such a patient, watchful people, yet refuse tenaciously to let go of their roots and spiritual connections, even when faced with severe pressure.

In San Cristobal, the new home of tens of thousands of relocated Maya, we visited a squatter neighborhood on the outskirts of town. Here, a friend facilitates a women's reflection group. Speaking in their native language, Lupe, an indigenous single mother of five, encouraged women to share their stories: women who fled burning villages, abusive relationships, and abject poverty. "We are made of corn," they say. "Without land, how are we to survive?" These Tzotzil, Tzeltal and Choi women are set apart from the dominant Mexican culture by language, custom, and economics. Here, they struggle to birth a new form of community. We were aware of their suffering, of the powerlessness we felt to help them, and the question arose, "What could be empowering for these women and what might be our right role?"

At Centro Arrumacos, babies napped in hammocks, while preschoolers studied their native language, Tzotzil. The center had grown since I left. It was more organized and showed promise of attaining its goal of empowering indigenous single mothers. While we were there, however, they received word that funding would terminate in two months. This is typical of the two steps forward, two steps back that Chiapas Non-Governmental Organizations constantly face. Feelings of joy and pain arise in the same moment. What sustains these caregivers who continue joyfully in the face of such constant and difficult change?

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Melel Xojolabal (True Light) is a project that works with street children. This group began to work with the ideas of Beginning Anew two and a half years ago. Two staff members told me that communication has greatly improved among the staff, partly due to the seeds we planted back then. Another staff member shared how much her family has gained by doing the Five Contemplations and the Waking Up Gatha each day. "Now our family has tradition. It's so simple; that's what I love."

Those who work for social change plant seeds hoping they will find fertile ground. What sustains their energy and faith while the seeds germinate? What can we learn about this from these people who have sustained their "planting" power for over 500 years of struggle? We will find answers to these questions—and many others—only when we wholeheartedly practice. When we drop our preconceived notions and listen with all our attention and openheartedness, we may see reality more clearly.

Jo-ann Rosen, True River of Understanding, is from the Ukiah Sangha in California, where she integrates mindfulness practice into her work as a psychotherapist. For information on personalized ways to help these projects, the upcoming trip to Chiapas in October for the Day of the Dead, or further dialogue, contact Jo-ann at bbdog@pacific.net.

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The Tasty Fruit of Inclusiveness

By Jack Lawlor Every day, the Buddha and his Sangha made a morning alms round to beg for food . Each doorstep was approached, and  each householder was greeted with a request for food. The householder may have been a king, queen, wealthy merchant, warrior, farmer, laborer, or outcast. As part of each visit, the Buddha and the monastic Sangha would offer a teaching, addressed to the many and varied people encountered in their daily rounds.

The body of teaching we know today as Buddhism - and its wondrous fruits of both wisdom and compassion - is in no small part the result of this inclusive interaction with society. The Buddha ordained people from every portion of society into the monastic Sangha, including the feared criminal , Angulimala. In an equally revolutionary way (for his time), after a period of hesitancy, the Buddha included women into the monastic Sangha.

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As the result of this interaction with society, the Buddha and his Sangha learned that suffering is inclusive - every member of society knows the experience of suffering. Early in his teaching career, while pondering how to address the needs of so many different people, the Buddha noticed how the lotus plants in a nearby pond were at such different levels of development. Some were in full bloom, some just below the surface of the water, some still barely more than root systems, and some white, some yellow. Observing this, the Buddha reflected on how people are in different situations, and at different stages of growth and that, as a result, his teachings would have to be many and varied in order to address different backgrounds and circumstances. Today, we call the art of crafting inclusive, responsive teachings "skillful means" - or upaya.

The spiritual inheritance of those who study with Yen. Thich Nhat Hanh includes the wisdom of inclusiveness. The Charter of the Order of Interbeing states that, "To protect and respect the freedom  and responsibility of each member of the community, monks, nuns, and laypeople enjoy equality in the Order of Interbeing." The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing provide us with a great deal of guidance regarding the importance of letting go of our prejudices and rigid ideologies that thwart our Sangha's ability to embrace others in an inclusive manner. The Second Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing urges us "to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to resent views," including our views of other people. The Third Mindfulness Training suggests that we " respect the rights of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide." The Fourth Training invites us to look deeply and observe how our acts of discrimination cause suffering. We are urged to be committed "to finding ways, including personal contact ... to be with those who suffer, so we can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace and joy." All the Trainings urge us to develop compassion, reconciliation, and ways to enhance the ability of others to have a chance to live peacefully and happily.

While the wisdom of inclusiveness is soundly included in our spiritual inheritance, each generation of practitioners needs to look deeply into his or her personal practice and into the life of the Sangha to be sure that we are practicing inclusiveness. In The Raft Is Not the Shore, Thay underscores the importance of this deep looking in the context of Sangha when he observes that, "What is important is that you find yourself in a situation where nobody discriminates."

There have been efforts to encourage family practice and to welcome children in our retreats with Thay. A spirit of warmth and tolerance is enjoyed by many who attend Thay's retreats and Sangha Days of Mindfulness. Yet we can continue to use the calm and equanimity afforded by our daily practice of sitting and walking meditation to consider whether there is more we can do to encourage the spirit of inclusiveness in our Sanghas. Do our retreats attract the same wide variety of people encountered each day by the Buddha and the monastic Sangha? The way we conduct ourselves and organize our events and activities may inadvertently hinder our ability to skillfully offer the teachings to others.

For example, we may sometimes lack in understanding the needs of others when structuring our activities. Many people in North America are compelled for economic reasons to work long hours in return for modest pay and limited vacation time. In structuring our national, regional and local Sangha calendars, are we careful to provide retreats and other mindfulness practice opportunities that are accessible and affordable? Do we select places for our local Sanghas to convene where parents can find facilities for childrens' programs? Are we tak ing steps which will lead to the Sangha becoming more multigenerational and multiracial?

Everyone benefits from the practice of inclusiveness. Our Sangha took modest steps to make our presence known on university campuses, and we are now graced by the presence of students from three different schools, one of whose students organ ized their own group practicing in tandem with Lakeside Buddha Sangha. Another Sangha of students has inspired us with its tradition of community service. The freshness and enthusiasm of the students has been a gift to our Sangha. We are now attracting more members from varied racial and ethnic heritages and economic backgrounds.

A key ingredient to long-term success at being inclusive is the quality of our mindfulness practice. If we practice wholeheartedly, others will become curious about the teachings we share and the skillful means we employ. If our practice is not genuine, no amount of advertising will attract others on a sustained basis. I recently received a communication from someone who did not feel included at a large retreat because the person did not observe other people smiling or making eye contact. When our practice is genuine, we are peace and happiness, and no one fails to catch our eye or experience our smile. The next time your smile reflects your joy and peace, you are invited to remember that it is a fruit of centuries of inclusiveness. Please, share this fruit with others.

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Jack Lawlor, True Direction, was ordained by Thay as a Dharma Teacher in 1992, and facilitates Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston, Illinois.

Photos courtesy of Plum Village

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True Wonderful Action

By Anissa Housley

I’m in Estes Park, Colorado. The cavernous meeting hall is filled with people. It’s early morning; everything is dimly lit. Monks and nuns sit onstage and Thay is leading the ceremony for the transmission of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. I’m standing, I’m prostrating, I’m kneeling, I’m singing.

I find myself before the stage. Sister Chan Kong hands me my ordination certificate. I can’t believe it—the name I’ve been given is “True Wonderful Action.” I feel deep gratitude to receive such a beautiful name, hand-picked for me by Thay and the monks and nuns, but I also struggle with feelings of insufficiency. Is this a name of which I can be worthy?

This transmission occurred two years ago. I had looked forward to learning my Dharma name and had wondered what it might be. When I took the Five Mindfulness Trainings, I had been pleased and grateful for the name “Wise Caring of the Source.” I could see how it applied to who I was at that point in my life. I could also see how it was something I was becoming.

But True Wonderful Action? This is a name about which I’ve had conflicting emotions, especially as I’ve tried to understand more deeply the foundation of our Order: Engaged Buddhism. Why is this sometimes a struggle? Part of it is my perception of both Engaged Buddhism and Right Action. Many people, both in my local Sangha and in the OI community at large, are diligent social activists. I hear and read about their dedication, commitment, and wonderful actions often.

I do not, however, view myself as a social activist. I tried many times to summon the energy to get involved. I attended peace walks, donated funds, and signed petitions. But it didn’t go much deeper than that. My heart wasn’t attached to any particular cause.

This has been a source of shame for me. I felt like an ant in the company of giants. Surrounded by people moving social and political mountains, I’m doing well just trying to keep my anthill in good order.

Shortly after receiving my ordination, I made a post to the OI Announce listserv, signed with my new Dharma name. I received a kind e-mail from a brother who shares the English translation of my Dharma name (the original names in Vietnamese are not identical). He asked me about myself and shared his experiences. We could not have been more different. He is an amazingly active member who has done much for the community and for the world through his conscientious and consistent social action. His accomplishments overwhelmed me. He had wondered if he had been given his name because of his dedication to social activism. I wondered if it disappointed him to learn that I, a tiny ant, shared a similar name with him, a true giant.

I tried to deal with my fluctuating feelings of inadequacy through humor. I would jokingly sign e-mails to my brothers and sisters “True Wonderful (In)action.” I was disturbed even by this little joke, since “inaction,” when broken into two words, is “in action.” I was still convinced I was anything but active. Even when I took action, it felt empty and forced, as though I were going through the motions in order not to be judged.

The real sticking point for me was the word “true.” I could perform “wonderful actions” if I had to, but for them to be “true” didn’t they need to fit my true nature? Didn’t they need to arise from a place of compassion and understanding? Even though I’m only a wave in the ocean, I’m a specific wave and my actions flow from my individual amplitude and frequency. How could I be authentically active?

So I continued to feel slightly uncomfortable with the fit of my name. Sometimes it felt like I was walking around in someone else’s clothes, of a fine material and cut, but too large for me, dragging in the dirt.

After receiving my name, I became more aware of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra. As the bodhisattva of great action, I hoped he could help teach me to grow into my oversized name. I took as an ant-sized goal to “ease the pain of one person in the morning and bring joy to one person in the afternoon.” It wasn’t going to bring war to a screeching halt, end world hunger, or cause all suffering to cease, but it was something I could see clearly, something I could do. It was a Tiny True Wonderful Action––or so I hoped.

Time passed. I stopped analyzing so much and learned to let go a little. My name is my name and it won’t change. My name is a gift and I decided to be patient, to accept it, to see what it might offer.

So I continued my ant life. I wrote. I painted. I listened and talked to my friends and relatives. I participated in Sangha. I meditated. I read. I walked in the park.

Finding True Action

About a month ago I find myself walking to my park with the intention of feeding the hungry (in this case, the hungry ducks). As I arrive at the large pond, I see three boys. Two of them are throwing rocks at the ducks and the third is charging at them with his bicycle.

I’m instantly angry. My first impulse is to yell at them and tell them to stop. “Why are people so cruel?” I wonder. “Why must children be destructive and hateful? No wonder our world is such a mess.”

My stomach is churning and my heart is beating quickly. My usual course of action would be to walk past the upsetting scene and forget about it as quickly as possible.

But something happens. My habit energy is interrupted by a sudden burning awareness of the bag of bread in my hand. I came here for a specific reason and that reason wakes me up. An idea springs full-formed into my head.

I feel hot all over. What I intend to do is outside my normal, comfortable range of behavior. But I have to do it.

I walk over to the boys.

I don’t have children of my own. Nor do I work with children. In fact, I’m still learning how to be around children because I don’t automatically know what to do or say or how to act. Walking up to these three boys is an act of courage, especially for an ant like me.

I stop in front of the boy who has been leading the rock-throwing.

“Hi,” I say.

“Hello,” he responds, obviously wondering why I’m speaking to him. I feel a flicker of encouragement. Some part of me expects him to ignore me, to run away, to mock. Instead, he’s just a boy, saying hello to a grownup, and to a stranger at that.

“Can I ask you a question?” I begin.

“Yeeesssss,” he answers, still unsure about what’s happening.

I forge ahead with my plan. It feels exactly right. “Why are you throwing rocks at the ducks?”

I wait. He looks down at his feet. I feel his discomfort. I know he thinks I’m going to yell at him, tell him how bad he is. I know this because I remember. I remember what it is like to be him.

He answers: “I don’t know.”

I look at him and nod. I’m silent for a moment. I realize he’s telling me the absolute truth. He has no idea why he is throwing rocks at the ducks. I know what I have to do.

“Well,” I say, and I pause again, gathering my courage, getting ready to put it all out there.  “How would you like to feed them instead?” I hold up my bag of stale bread.

His face clouds over for a moment with confusion. Then his eyes clear and he half-smiles.

“Sure,” he says. “I’d like that.

I give him a couple of bread slices and start to walk away, but the second rock-throwing boy runs up to me.

“Can I feed the ducks, too?”  he asks eagerly.  I oblige and hand him some bread.

A few seconds later, the third boy on the bike rides towards me.

“Do you want some bread for the ducks?” I ask.

“Please!” he says, with excitement.  More bread changes hands.

As I continue on my walk, I glance back over my shoulder at three boys surrounded by ducks. In spite of myself, I feel my eyes become hot with tears.

True Wonderful Action. I think I’m beginning to understand.

Anissa Housley, True Wonderful Action, practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas. She is a writer and an artist.

Sister Annabel on Dharma Names

Until fifteen years ago Thay knew all OI aspirants personally and they were invited to receive the OI ordination. After that time candidates began to request ordination and often they were not known to Thay. More than fifty people receive the lay OI ordination every year and Thay cannot possibly know them all personally. It is therefore very important that ordinees practice deeply while writing their aspirations because the Dharma teachers of Plum Village and Thay use those words of aspiration when giving a name. Giving a name is a meditation and is never done by one Dharma teacher alone. After the Dharma teachers are agreed about the name, Thay has to give Thay’s approval. The list of names already given has to be consulted so no two people have the same name, although sometimes two different Chinese words have only one English equivalent. It is necessary that an aspirant writes her aspirations with all her concentration and mindfulness as if she were writing to the Buddha about what matters most to her in this life. Once the aspirant has done his best, he can be sure that the name he receives will help him. She should receive her name with humility and gratitude. If he does not understand his name he can ask his mentor or a monastic Dharma teacher to help. Otherwise she may recognize that she has not yet realized the full implication of her name, and be willing to give it time to reveal itself as her practice deepens. A Dharma name is to point to a quality that we have, and we need to practice to help that quality manifest more. “True” is the name that Thay has chosen for his own disciples. The quality that follows may be something that we already have, but not yet in its truest form. We need to practice to make it more true.

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Transforming Suffering into Peace & Joy

By Sheila Canal

When Laurel and I realized we would need to leave Deer Park early and miss the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings recitation ceremony, our first reaction was disappointment. We had gotten to know one another over the course of the five-day Order of Interbeing Retreat [January 2007], and we promised each other we would do the recitation ceremony in the shuttle bus on the way to the airport.

The morning arrived and we left the sangha as they were prostrating — touching the earth. Our shuttle was waiting for us at the foot of the hill outside Clarity Village. We immediately noticed how quickly our driver spoke. He was helpful, though, and friendly and mentioned how cold it was and that climate change was even affecting San Diego. Communicating and mobilizing about catastrophic climate changes are of great concern to Laurel so there was immediate agreement and solidarity there.

Our driver asked about our teacher and noted how many people come to Deer Park when Thay is there. With that as a lead, Laurel explained we were members of a group of householders who took vows to follow the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and we were missing a ceremony by going to catch our planes. She expressed our desire to recite the ceremony. Our driver was quite willing, saying he felt the spiritual energy in the van already!

Thus we performed the Sanghakarman procedure; there was harmony in our community and our ceremony proceeded. As we left the potholes of the long dirt driveway and met the less bumpy asphalt, we bowed through the rest of the prostrations, sang the Heart of the Prajnaparamita and the Sutra Opening Verse. Then we took turns reading each of the fourteen trainings.

Usually I become ill when reading in a car. The essence of the practice, the familiarity of the words, being open and present after five wonderful days on retreat, and taking turns reading miraculously kept the usual nausea and dizziness away. We shared the merit at the stoplight before the airport, bowing to the San Diego harbor, its palm trees, cruise ships, blue water, and sky.

Questions came then from the driver. How long have you been involved? How long does it take to practice these?

Upon hearing the phrase “transforming suffering into peace and joy” our driver shared that his only child was diagnosed closely after birth with cerebral palsy, was hypotonic and quite disabled. As Laurel held my arm she shared that her only child too had been born with severe disabilities and that being a mother to her child is what brought her to our practice.

Laurel understood completely and perfectly the suffering of our driver and his wife and child. In true bodhisattva fashion, she embraced his experience and offered her friendship. Successfully raising her daughter to the age of nineteen took a lot of effort, advocacy, and faith, which Laurel was ready to share with these parents of a four-year-old.

As we parked at the airport, the gratitude was overflowing, ours to him for being open and in harmony with our ceremony and his for our sharing the practice and our understanding and compassion towards his suffering. We all appreciated the moment that brought us together.

We are hopeful that the phone numbers exchanged will lead to deep friendship and support and indeed help in the process of transforming suffering into peace and joy.

Sheila Canal, True Spiritual Understanding, lives in Ashland, Oregon where she has been a member of the Ashland Mindfulness Sangha since 1996.

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Someone Committed to Your Full Awakening

By John Bell At the January 2007 Order of Interbeing retreat at Deer Park I found myself in a handful of conversations with monastics and lay members about mentoring and support of OI members. It seems that aspirants for the Order get mentoring in preparation for ordination — the aspirant does assigned readings, a Dharma teacher checks in on the aspirant’s practice, and the Sangha sometimes holds a Shining the Light for the aspirant.

But typically once you are ordained, you’re on your own! It seems that only rarely does an OI member have ongoing mentoring by a Dharma teacher or monastic. Even lay Dharma teachers have little personalized support. It seems that this lack of structured support leads some lay OI members to feel disconnected, isolated, and lost, or to leave the Order altogether.

I’m wondering if there might be a missing piece in our community’s structure. I pose it as a question: What would it look like if someone were committed to your full awakening? What would it be like if someone more experienced and wiser in the practice personally cared about your liberation? How might that accelerate your development along the path?

A Personal Spiritual Relationship

As I understand it, at Plum Village, Blue Cliff, and Deer Park Monasteries, there is a mentoring relationship among monastics; each has a specific big brother or big sister. Other traditions have built this relational piece into their practices. If you are in a Twelve-Step program, you have a “sponsor” whom you call or who calls you on a regular basis. If you are in psychotherapy, you have the therapist who not only listens deeply, but also asks important questions that you might not ask yourself. In a peer counseling community, at least one other person is committed to your “re-emergence” and actively assists you to identify and shed unwholesome habit energies.

Another way to get at this issue is to reverse the question: What would it look like if I were committed to someone else’s full awakening? When asked this way, some elements of a caring, personal spiritual relationship become clear for me.

  • First I would have to be committed to my own full awakening! Do I really intend to be free or am I just going through the motions? Am I willing to recognize and embrace my own suffering in order to realize true peace, or am I wanting to stay comfortable and comforted? How do the five hindrances operate in my own practice — desire, aversion, dullness and drowsiness, agitation and regret, and doubt? If I knew that I could only truly assist another to the extent that I had freed myself, then such questions would motivate a more sincere effort, sharpen my practice, and increase my ability to be present to the person I’m committed
  • I would want to practice the four levels of love toward the person — loving kindness, compassion, joy, and I would want to be active in knowing the person and their struggles, showing love, and giving him or her my best.
  • I would want to check any ego tendencies to “help” or “save” the person, to create dependency, or to pat myself on the back for feeling wise, more advanced, or in some way better than the person I’m committed
  • I would want to continually study and practice the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings as the grounding for my If I were not walking the talk, it would show up (at least to myself) in the relationship with the person I’m committed to.
  • I would have to learn how to accept the expression of deep emotions, since the person’s suffering would arise in the course of their liberation I would want to be present when it happened, even urge emotions up and out, if appropriate. I know from my own experience that full release can cleanse and permanently relieve long-stored suffering. The more I have done my own emotional work, the more capacity I have to accept the emotions of others.
  • I would want to continually add to my toolkit of skillful means so that I could think about the person from many To twist an old saying, I want to avoid having only a hammer so I don’t treat everything as a nail. A person’s journey to inner freedom is sometimes subtle, nuanced, non-linear; sometimes wild, roaring, ecstatic; sometimes depressing, confusing, scary. A hammer won’t do for all these!
  • I would want to ask for help when ) didn't know what to This is where the person committed to my full awakening could come in handy! Or a trusted advisor, or the Sangha, or a Dharma teacher, or a text.
The Benefits of True Love

There are risks in setting up such committed relationships. Since we are human beings and can get hooked by all sorts of unwholesome behaviors, we can fairly well predict that sticky situations would arise. For example, the mentee feels judged or shamed; the mentor feels unskilled or unsuccessful as a mentor; unhealthy dependencies develop; the two cross some boundaries and cause further suffering. However, I suspect that beneficial relationships would far outnumber the distorted ones. The benefits are two-way: if I commit myself to your full awakening, then that intention will necessarily encourage me to grow. True Love is never one-way.

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There are a couple of methods that we could experiment with:

  • Formal mentors. Upon ordination each OI member is helped to find an older Dharma brother or sister who would serve as a mentor. This might be the same person who mentored the person as an aspirant. It might be someone with whom the Order member has built a good relationship. It could be a monastic or lay Order member. The mentor would find ways to get to know the person, set up regular practice check-in by phone or in person, and try to attend at least one annual retreat with the person.
  • Practice Partners.  Where an older brother or sister is not readily available, two Order members might pair up and agree to check in regularly. They might ask each other about learnings and challenges in their practice. They could offer reflections, feedback, and suggestions. They might attend retreats together. They might occasionally check in with a Dharma teacher if they feel stuck in their relationship. This kind of peer mentoring would encourage mutual deep listening.

Still other arrangements would occur to us if we began thinking about mentoring. We might need a monastic or senior lay Dharma teacher in charge of thinking about and tracking these support relationships. Maybe when registering for retreats, in addition to stating our Dharma name we would also list our mentor.

A Cascade of Mentors

Creating such mentors or practice partners would call for a crucial shift: each individual, beginning with each lay Order member, would be thought about in a personal and ongoing way. The most important piece is for the Order member to feel personally known and cared about by their support person, and to feel that their practice is deepening partly because of the support person’s commitment to their spiritual development. While it is true that we are all connected and safe in the ultimate dimension, it is most helpful to feel the connection and love on the personal level. I’m envisioning a kind of cascading mentorship, from Thay to senior monastics, senior monastics to senior lay Dharma teachers, senior lay Dharma teachers to senior lay Order members, senior lay Order members to newer Order members, newer Order members to aspirants and Sangha members.

The two guiding relevant questions for Order members are:

  1. Who is personally committed to my full awakening?
  2. Whose full awakening am I personally committed to?

Would this approach be worth trying? What might the benefits be? How might we begin?

mb51-Someone2John Bell, True Wonderful Wisdom, practices with the Mountain Bell Sangha in Belmont, Massachusetts, and he offers retreats on mindfulness and emotional healing. John is co-founder and vice president of YouthBuild USA, a national network of 226 local YouthBuild programs that work with low-income young people who have dropped out of high school.

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Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Pardoning an Imperfect Church  By Brother Phap Kinh 

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Three times a day, around mealtimes, the brothers living in Upper Hamlet and Son Ha Temple of Plum Village can hear bells chiming from nearby churches. Whereas these bells used to call Christian practitioners to prayer, nowadays they mainly serve as simple reminders of the time of day. The bells are not rung by a human hand. Without enough priests in France to go around to every church, many are not open to the public.

In September 2011, eight Buddhist monks and thirteen nuns from Plum Village went for a “pilgrimage” to Abbeye Saint-Pierre, a living Benedictine monastery that is home to some fifty monks, in Solesmes, France. Our stay was part of a fraternal exchange between the two monasteries. Every two years, two monks from Solesmes come to Plum Village for a short retreat, and two years later, members from our monastic community return the visit.

Elder Plum Village monastics such as Sister Jina initiated this interfaith dialogue with our Christian counterparts, opening many doors within the Solesmes monastery and to the hearts of its monks. For those of us from the Western world, this pilgrimage is the realization of our teacher’s will for us to return to our source, water our ancestral roots, and honor a common monastic tradition going back over two thousand years. For our Vietnamese brothers and sisters, it was a chance to learn about European monastic culture. It was also the first time most of us from the West had stepped foot in a Christian monastery.

Some of us with Christian backgrounds were motivated by a desire to reconcile with our past and with the Catholic Church. Although monastics are free, and even encouraged, to embrace our original spiritual ancestors, it is not always easy to feel connected. Some of us suffered in our religions of origin.

A Living Church 

My father’s family was Polish Catholic and my mother was Orthodox, from Montenegro. I was born in a Catholic hospital in Juneau, Alaska, and attended a Catholic grade school and later a Jesuit all-boys high school. Many Polish Catholic families dream of having a priest or nun as one of their family members, and my Polish grandmother prayed I would become a priest.

Over the years, I have had many misgivings about the church and Christianity. I had never forgiven the Catholic Church for requiring my mother to abandon her family’s religion in order to marry my father. As a result, a tradition was lost to us. Since becoming a Buddhist monk, I have felt relatively at peace with my past, though my stay at Solesmes was a test to see if I had more wounds to heal and bridges to mend.

The first impression that many of us had upon entering the Abbey church, the heart of the Saint-Pierre monastery, was its vitality. The church felt alive, by virtue of the many monks praying and singing in it seven times a day. The well-being of the monastery was reflected in its gardens, buildings, and cloistered walks. I realized that this was my first time experiencing a truly living Catholic church.

The feeling of familiarity and brotherhood was strong and heartfelt from the moment we arrived. When the bells were rung during our stay, we saw the monk who was pulling the cord. And rather than simply reminding the locals that it was time for lunch, the bells corresponded to the chants and prayers inside the church, sung and spoken by a community of brothers who had dedicated their lives to beauty and worship.

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This insight brought me to a deeper understanding of the suffering of the Catholic Church that I had known all of my life. The hospital and school in Juneau, run by missionary sisters, were closed during my childhood, as has been the case for countless churches throughout Europe and the Americas in recent decades. But even before they had closed, the nuns had difficulty fulfilling their mission as their numbers dwindled. And if enrollment was still high in the Jesuit high school I attended, there was a sense that the priests were losing their grip on the situation, as the times, they were a-changin’. Sometimes the Church tried to hold on by asserting authority, but to increasingly deaf ears. Looking back, I see that we were living in the shell of a church past its prime. Individual members certainly tried their best, but the church as a whole lacked life and joy.

My experience in Plum Village is quite the opposite. If we lack the resources of the Catholic Church, we are nevertheless expanding and full of vitality. Our community seemed very young to the Benedictine brothers of Solesmes, and they were amazed by our numbers and the centers we have opened worldwide. Our relatively short existence—Plum Village celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, whereas Solesmes celebrated its 1000th year in 2010—makes everything we do modest in scale and scope. For example, it is hard to imagine Plum Village monastics running a hospital or a school. But our community is marked by a sense of being at the beginning, rather than at the end, of something major, something with the potential to flourish and last for centuries. Whatever forms the future may take, we know that we are the first generation of a Buddhism newly planted in the West.

Observing the life of our Benedictine brothers, the longevity of their vocation, and the depth and beauty of their practice, I was overcome with compassion for those within it who know that the Church has seen more glorious days. And yet the brothers continue to garden, build furniture, and publish books. Although their numbers are waning, they seem content to have four novices in their fold. They know that throughout history, conditions have come and gone, and that monastic life in Europe has alternately thrived and suffered throughout periods of revolution, war, and famine, but also of stability, peace, and feast. These dedicated brothers have chosen to offer their life to humanity, singing and praying for its well-being.

Rooted in Gratitude 

Looking with compassion, I no longer feel a need to fault the Church for what I may once have perceived as its arrogance, dogmatism, narrowness, discrimination, or exclusivity. I am thankful for the excellent education I received from nuns who were far from home and doing their best with very limited means. If some priests were unable to answer satisfactorily my spiritual queries, others took good care of my family in times of need. They made mistakes, but so have, and so will, we. Our teacher does not ask us to be perfect; he only asks us to try our best. And at the very heart of Jesus’ many wonderful teachings is to love and forgive both others and ourselves, unconditionally, and in spite of all our so-called trespasses.

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The practice of Beginning Anew allows us to praise others’ strengths, convey gratitude, and express our regrets and suffering. It was in a spirit of beginning anew and reconciliation that during a visit last summer to the town of my birth—my first as a monk—I visited my former grade school and parish church. Alone in the church, I touched the earth in gratitude to my teachers and spiritual ancestors from that branch of the great tree. I also attended a mass in the Catholic cathedral followed by a chanted vespers service in the Orthodox church just across the street. In so doing, I honored my ancestors on both sides of my family tree.

If my visit to Solesmes served to reaffirm my engagement to my current monastic life in Plum Village, it also filled me with admiration and love for the beautiful path of our monastic brothers and sisters in Christian monasteries. We are because they are. And in the true spirit of equanimity as taught by our teacher, I sincerely hope that others will follow their path, which is parallel to and not in competition with the one I currently follow.

Before inviting the great bell in Upper Hamlet, I thank my spiritual ancestors, Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Buddhist alike, for sending me to Plum Village. I feel very fortunate to have these three roots. Thay teaches us that a tree with multiple roots is stronger than one with a single root. In this lifetime, I became a Buddhist monk rather than a Christian priest. I believe my grandparents in me are all pleased with my choice because I am here for our collective happiness and well-being. I dedicate my monastic life to my ancestors, as well as to all my friends and loved ones, and to the entire international mahasangha.

When I invite the great bell, I express the wish that all people, animals, vegetables, and minerals will be happy and free of suffering. And when I listen to the chimes from nearby Christian churches, I now think with maitri and gratitude of my brothers in Solesmes going off to chant, and I take them as melodious bells of mindfulness. May every minute and every second of our days and nights be well. 

mb63-Forgive4Phap Kinh/Dharma Meridian/Brother Christopher is a novice monk in Upper Hamlet, Plum Village. He is French and American, was born in Juneau, Alaska, and lived in Paris for twenty-five years before ordaining. He likes hiking, singing, climbing trees, and watching butterflies and clouds.

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Occupy Oneself, Occupy the World

By T. Ambrose Desmond When my wife Annie and I first arrived at Occupy Wall Street in New York, I felt a powerful sense of arriving in the beautiful present moment. Surrounded by towering stone and glass buildings in which so much wealth is exchanged, Zuccotti Park was overflowing with a sense of hope. The park was crowded with people and signs, drums and brass bands, a medical station, information tables, and an outdoor kitchen that fed everyone. It was also swarming with television crews.

Annie and I walked mindfully to the southeast corner of the park, where about a hundred people were sitting down for a silent meditation. I sat with one hand on my heart and one hand touching the earth. As I breathed, I took the grounding energy of the earth into my heart and radiated it out to everyone in the park. After forty minutes, a woman took out a Native American drum and played a heartbeat while we chanted over and over, in English and then in Spanish: Because we love you so much. Porque te queremos tanto.

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The heart of the Occupy movement is deep listening, despite how the media chooses to portray it. It’s about creating spaces where people who are concerned about “the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression” (1) come together and dialogue about what to do. The movement offers no demands because demands would end the discussion. So many people in the world are concerned about the suffering caused by our economic and political system, but we may not agree about how to respond to this suffering. Before the Occupy movement, public political discourse was largely relegated to the media, which had created a situation of increasingly deepened division. The Occupy movement provides spaces for people with different views to meet in person and connect. Although many people who come to these spaces are not yet skilled in listening, there are many others who are trying to help us all “renounce fanaticism and narrowness through compassionate dialogue.”(2)

Room for Everyone

Most of my involvement with Occupy Wall Street has been in facilitating consensus meetings and mediating conflicts. One of the most difficult conflicts was about the nearly constant drum circle on the west side of the park. The neighbors had begun to complain about the drums, which often continued at high decibels into the night. Many of the working groups (which did all the organizing) were complaining too, because it had become nearly impossible to have a meeting anywhere in the park due to the noise. Complicating the situation, many of the drummers had been homeless for a long time before coming to the park, and many were mentally unstable.

We held a meeting with several drummers, a representative from the working groups, and a representative from the neighbors in a kosher cafe near the park. At one point, the local woman who represented the neighbors talked about how hard it was for her kids to do their homework while the drummers played. Jim, one of the drummers, started screaming at her. He told her she was “collateral damage” and was trying to oppress him, and that there was no place for her in the revolution. When the representative from the working groups said he wanted there to be a place for her and that she was part of the 99%, Jim shouted that he didn’t care about the 99% and was here for his own revolution.

The other customers in the cafe looked afraid and began leaving. The cafe manager also looked upset. I felt angry at Jim and wanted to make him stop yelling. Thanks to the practice, I have a strong habit of stopping and breathing when I feel anger. As I breathed, I heard a voice within me ask for love and support. I sent the energy of compassion to myself and my heart softened.

When I looked at Jim again, he no longer looked like a bully who needed to be stopped, but like a man in deep pain who wanted to be loved. I made eye contact with him and his face softened immediately. I said, “Jim, I’m so happy to see how deeply you care about changing the world for the better. I also know that it will be possible to do that in a way that makes room for everyone’s needs. Can we start focusing on figuring out how to work together?” Everyone nodded and looked anxiously at Jim. He smiled and his face resembled a scared child’s, but he nodded too. The tone of the meeting changed, and a week later we had an agreement that the drummers would play for two hours each day at the park and then march around the city for the rest of the day.

I feel so deeply fortunate for this practice that transforms not only my life, but also the world.

1 From the 13th of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings 2 From the 3rd of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings

mb63-Occupy2T. Ambrose Desmond, True Mountain of Joy, lives part- time in New York, working as an organizer in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and part-time at MorningSun Mindfulness Center in New He also works as a psychotherapist.

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