North American Order of Interbeing Gathering

By Richard Brady Twenty-six Order members from across the U.S. gathered February 15-17 at the Ralston White Center in the San Francisco Bay Area. During the weekend, we enjoyed sitting meditation, walking amidst the redwoods, group sharing, and delicious, mindful meals. The joyful feeling of being with sisters and brothers at this time in the evolution of our Order suffused the event. Because of the Order's growth during the past several years (almost 250 members now in North America), and Thay's focus on training the growing number of monks and nuns, we feIt the timeliness of efforts such as this gathering and last September's Plum Village conference to organize the Order.

Jack Lawlor and Lyn Fine began with reflections on the Order and last fall's conference. They talked about the diversity of members and Sanghas. Jack asked, "What does an Order member look like?" and directed us to the Order's charter, Sister Chan Khong's Learnillg True Love, and the writings of Alfred Hassler for some answers. Lyn suggested that we cannot really know what we look like, and, in the words of Paolo Freire, "We make the road by walking."

We discussed local Sangha involvement in social action. Many of us and members of our Sanghas do social service work as our livelihood. A few groups have been involved in prison work, supporting Vietnamese and Cambodian relief efforts, and working in soup kitchens . Sanghas provide a place for us to maintain our equanimity in the midst of this work. Nevertheless, one participant asked whether outsiders would see the work of the Order as "engaged." Bringing Thay's teachings to many emotionally wounded people is also an important form of engagement. As more people become aware of Thay's teachings, we are increasingly asked to share and interpret mindfulness practices and teachings. Several participants stressed the importance of offering mindfulness practices to receptive children and young adults. The Communi ty of Mindful Living, with its small staff and limited financial resources, could especially benefit from the service Sanghas could provide. Jerry Braza suggested creating a "Dharma Corps" of volunteers who would ass is the CML staff (see Announcements, page 35). One person suggested that Sanghas or individuals be guest editors for issues of The Mindfulness Bell. Another asked for more articles addressing topics related to Sangha practice, participation, and decision making.

Another topic was preparation of Order aspirants for ordination. In the past, there have been times when local Sangha members expressed their desire to be ordained shortly before one of Thay's visits. This put local Order members in an awkward position and pointed out the need for clarity and good communication about the process. Different Sanghas carry out the preparation process in different ways. In the San Francisco Bay Area, aspirants meet monthly with Order members to study selected practices and teachings. In the Chicago area, Jack Lawlor mentors several aspirants. One person suggested that the one-year preparation period could be seen as an opportunity for deepening rather than as a barrier. Recommendations for revising the Charter's provisions about the ordination process were made at the September conference (see Mindfulness Bell # 18). Jack welcomes comments about these recommendations.


The new version of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings was another topic. Members described their rich words as facets of a jewel, reflecting the light of mindfulness practice from different angles. Many felt they had not yet had enough time to fully realize the benefits of the revisions, but saw that both versions shared a common core of mindfulness. One participant described how his Sangha alternated between reading the old and new versions, using one to deepen the understanding of the other. At the end of the September conference, Thay welcomed responses to the new language. Some Sangha members have expressed an initial sense of discomfort with the word "Trainings," feeling it has a hierarchical tone. The phrase, "Fourteen Mindfulness Practices," was suggested as a substitute. Regardless of the wording, we agreed that Sangha elders (ordained or not) have a role to play in helping younger Sangha members develop their practice.

Smaller groups discussed consensus decision-making, transforming conflicts, and designing inclusive Sangha programs for non-participating partners and children. There were also presentations on family practice, maintaining warmth and tolerance in Sanghas, and engaged Buddhism.

We discussed how to incorporate Plum Village practices and forms into our Sanghas in a way that supports all our members, both those who find support in form and those who are refugees from too rigid a form. Inviting the bell, bowing, walking meditation, and other practices provide a constant, familiar environment that facilitates mindfulness for many . In one Sangha, new people are trained as bell master to reduce the sense of hierarchy. Instruction is given with a light touch, tolerant toward the little mistakes everyone makes when learning this practice. The Beginning Anew practice is a strong way to promote healing, but only a few Sanghas use it due to the regular presence of visitors and newcomers.

Arnold Kotler spoke about progress in establishing a national center. Thay has asked Dharma teachers Arnie Kot ler, Anh Huong Nguyen, Wendy Johnson, Jack Lawlor, Therese Fitzgerald, and Lyn Fine to comprise the Program and Practice Committee of the center. With support from Pritam Singh and his development company, attention is now focused on finding a property in northern Virginia.

Everyone agreed it would be valuable to have regular North American Order of Interbeing gatherings, perhaps every six months. One person was concerned that frequent Order meetings might detract from local Sanghas and create a sense of separateness from the Extended Community. Another expressed the feeling, " let a thousand flowers bloom." Penelope Thompson (3 10-392-1796), Linda Parker (713-880-3130), and Richard Brady (30 1-270-3923) will inves tigate the possibility of future gatherings, including one after Thay's September retreat in Santa Barbara. Please contact them with your interest. Susan Murphy (415-969-3452), who helped to coordinate this meeting, is also a resource for those interested in planning similar events.

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Meditation at Juvenile Hall

By Soren Gordhamer t took eight months to begin meditation classes at the local Juvenile Hall-seven months of talking about it and one month of letters, phone calls, and meetings with the director. The director was not sure the kids would go for it. He said if we expected them to sit down, cross their legs, and watch their breath for forty-five minutes, we were mistaken. My co-leader was a former resident of the hall and works as a drug rehabilitation counselor with a similar population. He said, "We could teach basket weaving and if we are genuine, they will go for it. They watch you, not what you say." The director gave us a more clear warning: "You need to be a master of your art. If you show signs of weakness or doubt, they will see it and blow you away. They won't hold back." I was not sure what to expect.

The first night, we walked through three locked gates and a quad to arrive in an all-purpose room which would serve as a meditation hall. As we put the chairs in a circle, a worker asked, "We got some kids who misbehaved and are in lock-down. You want them in here?" "Sure," we responded. "Also, Johnny is planning on coming. He has the attention span of a fly. You sure you want him in here?" "Yes, of course."

Ten boys and girls finally meandered through the door. They were primarily between the ages of 14 and 16 with about an equal number of boys and girls. Some had tattoos, others had funky hair styles, and all had a particular toughness about them. We introduced ourselves, went over the guidelines of the class, talked about respect, and then spoke in simple terms about meditation-finding what is true, being with the moment as it is, developing mindfulness. We then went around and asked what they wanted out of the class.

"An ability to levitate," said the first kid. Everyone laughed. Most of the others talked about wanting to better control their anger. Juan sat back in his chair and announced, "I love two things in life: marijuana and violence. But violence gets me into trouble. I know when I get out of here it will be easy to get back in a gang and start busting people up. I don't want to do that anymore." Anger was the primary theme of the class. We led them in a guided silent mindfulness of breathing meditation which went fairly well. No one walked out, yelled, or made too many wise cracks. Johnny, with the short attention span, nervously shook his leg the entire time, but hung in there. Most of the kids kept their eyes closed and did their best. For many, sitting still is probably the hardest thing to do.

Next we conducted a short lovingkindness meditation, focusing on sending love to oneself then spreading it out into the world. This seemed much easier. Since this was the first class we did not ask for comments about their experiences. We wanted to let the kids keep the experience to themselves. However, after the lovingkindness meditation, Audrey looked up and spontaneously said, "That was tight." "You mean you were tense?" I inquired, uncertain what she meant. "No, it was tight. That means it was good; it was cool." "Oh."

In the following five classes, the kids taught me a great deal. They had seen and experienced intense suffering and they had deep questions. Our class had its difficult moments, however. Johnny, in particular, made a lot of wise cracks and disrupted the group occasionally. I was not experienced in dealing with such behavior in a meditation class. Finally, Audrey had all she could take. During one supposedly silent meditation, Johnny decided to eat an orange loudly. I thought of Thay's tangerine meditation and said nothing, but Audrey was fuming. After the meditation, she pointed at him across the room and shouted, "He's f-ing up my meditation." I was dumbfounded. I had never heard the F-word and the M-word used in the same sentence. No one had ever cussed or shouted in any meditation group I had been in. Should I get mad at her for cussing or at him for making noise? I did the only thing I could think of at the time: sat there with my mouth open. The girl gave him an ultimatum: "F-ing take this seriously or else f-ing leave." He left. A great weight lifted from the class. Everyone seemed much more committed and focused. Something had cleared. I was confused by this. While much of their cussing was hard to take, there was a directness about these kids that I liked and I was happy that Audrey cared enough about her meditation to defend her right to sit quietly.

The classes were rarely what I expected. Once during guided meditation, we encouraged them to see their thoughts arising and passing away as if watching train cars pass by. After the meditation, Juan said, "That was great. I was just sitting there smoking a joint and watching a train go by." Not exactly what I had in mind, but what do you say? Strangely, Juan seemed to get more out of the classes than anyone else and expressed the desire to continue the practice after he got released.

During these classes, I found myself listening much more than speaking. I knew if we were going to work together, we needed to trust one another and listening develops trust. I needed to learn about their world-where they came from, what issues were central in their life, what struggles they were facing . I had gone in thinking that I was going to "lead" a meditation class. I did guide the meditations, but the rest of the time I felt like I was in "Youth Issues 101." I learned about the medications they were taking, what life was like in the hall, whose parents had disowned them, how it was to be locked up.

The story for many youth today is not a happy one. The rate of suicide in American adolescents has quadrupled since 1980. Violent crime among juveniles has quadrupled in the last 25 years. Weapons offenses for children ages 10 to 17 have doubled in the last decade. Kids are being incarcerated at younger and younger ages. Youth are raised thinking that money is everything and it does not matter how one goes about getting it. In a June 1997 Time Magazine poll, 33% of Generation Xers agreed with the statement 'The only measure of success is money."

Youth today face gangs, violence, and drug addiction problems without easy answers. Any remedy must include elders who are willing to make themselves available. We do not need the greatest wisdom or expertise, but we do need to show up. We need the passion and determination of youth, but for youth to use these energies wisely, they need the help of elders. For many youth, elders are nowhere to be found. Among the 1.4 million people incarcerated for substance abuse offenses are parents of 2.4 million children. Dharma centers can playa central role in offering alternative ways to explore one's mind, body, and heart, but youth must first feel invited and welcomed.

Taiy has said certain problems are too big for one person and must be addressed by the entire community. The challenges and struggles of youth are such issues. The current trend is to either lock up youth or think their every need will be satisfied by a new technology, without ever addressing their inner life or exploring ethics. Dharma practice can help provide ways to nurture the inner life and an outer sense of responsibility. There are no easy answers as to how mindfulness practice can be offered so that it speaks to and benefits challenging populations, such as youth at Juvenile Hall, but any creative effort made with joy and mindfulness has a good chance.

Soren Gordhamer is working on a meditation book directed to young adults. He has taught meditation for teens through Spirit Rock Center, Kaiser Hospital, and at Juvenile Halls. He lives in Soquel, California.

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Wake Up

A Collective Aspiration By Brother Phap Luu


In May 2008, Phap Thanh, Phap Ho, Phap Xa and I went to see Thay in Hanoi before flying back to the United States. From the time we arrived until the moment we walked out the door, Thay discussed just one thing: how we can find ways to share the practice with young people? I was living in Deer Park at the time, and there were plenty of young people coming and going. We hosted college retreats, and even a group of college students who came to stay for two weeks. What Thay wanted to begin was an international movement for young people.

Back in Plum Village that summer, Thay continued to press the issue. Phap Linh and Hien Nghiem, only recently ordained as novices, received the full momentum of Thay’s message, and soon, along with many other young monastics and lay friends, they were mounting a website, making films, and finding new ways to reach the youth. At one point, Phap Linh called and asked if I wanted to be the main contact for Wake Up in the States. The program was already present in Thay and Sister Chan Khong’s School for Youth and Social Service in Vietnam, and it was continuing in the youth retreats in Plum Village. A movement was taking form.

It became clear to me that this was not just about sharing the practice of mindfulness with young people; that would make it seem like I had everything sorted out already, and I just needed to pass the wisdom on to them. Wake Up is about finding the answers together. Our ecological communities, our diversity, our aspirations, and our confusion form a common base of happiness and suffering, and these issues are in no way settled once and for all.

Refuge in Harmony

The spirit of Wake Up is a collective aspiration to figure things out together, in our own minds and bodies, as best we can from moment to moment. This means coming back to our breath in times of stress and taking refuge in each other’s insights, even when we’re convinced our idea is best. It’s about waking up to the presence and aspirations of our brothers and sisters, even when we disagree with them, and finding harmony amidst our myriad strands of culture, race, gender, and class.

Wake Up tours are specifically tailored to meet the physical, emotional, and financial needs of young people. Using the spaces that are graciously offered to us, we sum up the basics of the Plum Village tradition for young people. We keep the talks short and the practice simple. We sit, breathe, walk, eat, relax, listen deeply, and speak with mindfulness and love. Every two-hour session has a period for “down time,” when the monastics and young lay practitioners can get to know the first-timers and connect emotionally with them. Also, we try to remove financial obstacles by making everything low-key, from traveling in a van packed with monastics to sleeping on Sangha members’ floors. As always, much depends on the generosity of more mature practitioners who give from the heart.

In 2010, we initiated two Wake Up tours—the first in the United Kingdom and the second in my homeland, the United States. Seven monastics went to the UK in the spring, while eleven of us made it through the northeastern U.S. tour last fall. Thay advises us to go as a river when we travel. Though that has meant, at times, coursing along two or three different channels as we pass an island, the river always comes back to itself.



In Your Hands

These rivers will soon be coursing through your neighborhood. After this edition of the Mindfulness Bell is published, the Wake Up Tour will have flowed through California, at times in conjunction with our brothers and sisters in the Against the Stream movement (founded by friend Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx). Some pools will swell in Italy, and five young monastics will go to the three largest cities in Spain. Brothers and sisters from the European Institute of Applied Buddhism will support a tour in the Netherlands, and plans are in the works for the first tour in Germany and the second tour in the UK this fall.


Written words can do little to put you in touch with the energy of the Wake Up movement. If you’re moved by this, please check out the numerous resources we have online: • The Wake Up website:, and local sites:,, etc. • Wake Up on Facebook (try searching by country or area) • Videos from the tours on YouTube, Vimeo, and the Wake Up website

We are still in the midst of pulling all of the resources together in a coherent way, but that is another beautiful thing about Wake Up: it’s a grassroots movement and it is already in your hands. We don’t even know all of what is out there, because new retreats, songs, poems, and stories are being created every day.

If you’re young, start a Wake Up group at your school or at home. If you’re more mature, find ways to support Wake Up morally and/or financially. You could offer a space for a Wake Up group to meet, be available and present to support Wake Up groups (but let them lead themselves!), or buy them a ticket to Plum Village or to a retreat near you.

Thank you for your love, care, and support. There is no limit to how far this can go.

mb60-WakeUp4After graduating college and spending some years living and working in Spain and France, Brother Phap Luu (Brother Stream) was ordained as a monk in 2003 at Plum Village. He received teaching transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh in 2011. He has helped to guide retreats in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. He grew up amidst the forests and rivers of western Connecticut, and now lives in the Dharma Cloud Temple of Plum Village.

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