Order Aspirant Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Supporting the Aspirant

By Mike Bell A couple of summers ago in Plum Village, I asked Sister Annabel about the process of joining the Order of Interbeing. Over several meetings, she dictated guidelines to me. My understanding from those meetings was that the emphasis was on self-assessment and we answer an aspirant "yes" in the absence of flagrant disregard of the precepts or clear inability to meet the guidelines. Thay has also made it clear that one joins the Order as a statement of intention to build Sangha, not simply as a personal statement of connection with the teachings and Plum Village.

I was among the first to join the Order using the training method, but it did not work well. I have spoken with other aspirants who share my sense of being judged by people who were not our spiritual teachers. I felt judged by people not in a position to judge. Some local Sangha members felt they were asked to judge when not in a position to do so. I have communicated with current aspirants who feel uneasy--not knowing what they are expected to do in order to be "approved." This is clearly not what the mentors intend, but may happen automatically unless prevented.

I feel uneasy about proposed mentoring programs, based on a similar process in another lay Buddhist Order. Fifteen years ago, people drawn to join this particular Order who were known by the teacher, simply expressed their desire to join and were generally welcomed. Since then, a program has developed, and only those who complete a training course and are "approved" may join. As a result, nearly all dissident voices and variety are excluded, and the later Order members seem to me grey and mechanical.

For these reasons I feel a sense of foreboding that we may be embarking on a path which will not lead to the goal we desire. I am concerned that we may create an organisation where only those who conform are judged suitable for membership and only those with the time to complete the course are ordained. Looking at those who inspired and helped me, I wonder how many would be there if they had had to pass through this training and assessment.

I do feel there should be training within the Order, but not as a precondition of ordination. Something along the lines of Sister Annabel's guidelines, perhaps phrased as questions to the aspirant plus a clear commitment to Sangha-building should, in my view, be sufficient. The role of the mentor should be limited to helping the aspirant with self-assessment.

Though not a bed of roses, my life is better as a practicing Order member. I want to share this experience with others and give them access.

Mike Bell, True Sword of Understanding, is a member of Cambridge Interbeing Sangha in the UK and is editor of the UK newsletter, Here & Now. This contribution is an edited version of two longer submissions.

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