As a member of the Order of Interbeing, we are asked to participate in 60-days of mindfulness each year. Even though this is only about one day per week, it remains a tall order for many. One method to fulfill this requirement is to join a retreat. In the Plum Village tradition, there are dozens of retreats to select from each year throughout the world. To assist with this, a calendar has been created listing all the retreats around the world offered by the monastics in the Plum Village tradition.
by Leslie J. Davis
This essay was originally published on Lion’s Roar at https://www.lionsroar.com/engaged-parenting-as-spiritual-practice/
When I first learned about Buddhist practice, I immediately saw its parallels with parenting. The two practices share the same basic tenets for living an ethical life. We are asked to transform suffering. We practice non-violence, loving speech, and deep listening. We vow to do no harm, protect our children from sexual misconduct, and practice mindful consumption. As a Buddhist practitioner, I was attempting to live by this code of ethics, but I wanted to go deeper. My role as a mother seemed the perfect place to begin.
At the time, my two teenagers were just a toddler and an infant. I sat in meditation when I could, but it wasn’t often. After my first retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I was inspired to make mindful parenting my daily practice. I tried to remember to breathe as I changed diapers, picked up Legos, and stirred the oatmeal. I mindfully cleared tables of paints and Play-Doh, trying not to complain about the mess. I aimed to view my tidying up as providing a clean canvas for my son’s next creation. It was difficult at first. Following my breath helped me reframe my complaints into gratitude. I could smile at the gift and privilege of having a healthy, creative, and messy toddler.
But it was exhausting to be mindful all the time. I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I experimented in short blocks of time. I would set a timer and bring as much presence to the present moment as I could for just 15 minutes. And then I would stop. That was all I could handle. I gave myself a lot of leeway and permission not to practice mindfulness perfectly. It’s a practice after all, and I had to keep practicing, embracing my imperfections as I stumbled along.
I started learning about what my Buddhist teacher, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, called Engaged Buddhism. Referencing the Vietnam war and his tradition of socially engaged Buddhism, Nhat Hanh said, “Engaged Buddhism is just Buddhism. When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time.”
I’ve found the same to be true with parenting — you cannot stay in a meditation hall and be a parent. You have to be in the trenches with the present moment.
For years, I thought I wasn’t practicing “Engaged Buddhism” because I wasn’t as politically, socially or environmentally active as I wanted to be. Being a mother of two children, one with special needs, took most of my energy. I had a nagging and harsh judgment of myself that I wasn’t doing enough. But, eventually, I realized that day in and day out my children demanded that I show up for them and be in the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Engaged Buddhism is the kind of Buddhism that is present in every moment of our daily life. While you brush your teeth, Buddhism should be there. While you drive your car, Buddhism should be there. While you are walking in the supermarket, Buddhism should be there.”
Buddhism was there as I helped my kids brush their teeth. As I drove the carpool, grocery shopped, tied shoes, and wiped noses. As a mother, every moment is an opportunity to practice. Parenting was my spiritual practice, and parenting was indeed a form of Engaged Buddhism.
Thich Nhat Hanh also says that to be an Engaged Buddhist is to be connected to your breath and being present in every moment of daily life. For parents, the word “every” is a tall order. I don’t try to be present in every moment. I try to simply be as present as possible for as many moments as possible. Practicing this way, I am more connected to myself and my children. I experience more joy. When I forget to bring mindful attention to individual actions, entire days slip by in a blur. When that happens, I find myself harboring regret and guilt. When Buddhism is there, I suffer less.
Meditation has deepened my ability to accept what is actually occurring with my family instead of focusing on what I would prefer to occur. When children are young the quality of the moment can change in flavor and intensity quite rapidly. When anger flared and food was thrown, yelling inevitably happened. I used my breath to anchor myself and tried to calm everyone down. It didn’t always work, that’s for sure, but with practice, the kids were soon reminding everyone to take a deep breath.
“Buddhism has to do with your daily life, with your suffering and with the suffering of the people around you. You have to learn how to help a wounded child while still practicing mindful breathing. You should not allow yourself to get lost in action. Action should be meditation at the same time,” says Thich Nhat Hanh.
Children and teens suffer, and their suffering is very real. They need our action and support as they navigate their own difficult experiences. As a mom, I have the opportunity to see my actions as meditations every day. If I stay connected to my breathing and respond mindfully to homework stress, and struggles with a disability, then my actions are a beautiful meditation.
“As a mindfulness practitioner, we have to be aware of what is going on in our body, our feelings, our emotions, and our environment. That is Engaged Buddhism. Engaged Buddhism is the kind of Buddhism that responds to what is happening in the here and the now,” says Thich Nhat Hanh.
This awareness of the body is so important for parents. Are we sleep deprived? Are we in physical pain? Are we sad or lonely? What is happening right now in our environment whether we’re at work or in the grocery store? Tuning in to these conditions allows us to respond more mindfully to our ourselves and our children.
When I sit and meditate on my cushion, I can bring the quality of my meditation into my daily life. The very essence of the sitting experience — awareness, presence, calmness — carries over into my mothering. It is at the root of how I treat myself, my spouse and our children. When I practice Engaged Parenting, I experience it as a deep spiritual practice that brings me joy and transforms my suffering.
As parents, we may not think we are doing enough, but mindful parenting is enough. “The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment,” says Thich Nhat Hanh. As we care for our children in the present moment, we care for the future. That is Engaged Buddhism.
About Leslie J. Davis
Leslie J. Davis (True Auspicious Dwelling) is a writer who practices meditation and mindfulness in the Plum Village Tradition of Thích Nhất Hạnh. She lives in Ojai, California, with her husband and two teenagers. Leslie is the founder of DharmaMamas.com — a community for mindful mothers. lesliejdavis.com
In the Plum Village tradition, we all embrace the idea of engaged Buddhism as central to our practice. However, we have very diverse ideas about what constitutes skillful means in practicing engaged Buddhism. I have met people who think that simply by practicing loving-kindness meditation for all beings they are helping to make the world a better place. Others are involved in the helping professions, charitable work, efforts to promote dialogue and reconciliation, or social justice protest and other forms of activism. These various things are, of course, not mutually exclusive, but it is also certainly the case that we do not all see eye to eye on what we ought to be doing. And yet we relatively rarely seem to have conversations about which of these activities are really skillful means. I’m contributing this column as my part of my thoughts on this matter. I don’t imagine everyone will agree with it—and I think it is important that the sangha remain a place of refuge, where people with very different ideas about the most skillful means are all feel included.
In Roman Catholic liberation theology, there is a concept known as the “preferential option for the poor.” The core of this idea is that, in the social conflicts in our society, it is the duty of a virtuous Christian to support the movements of the poor in the struggle to create a society based on social and economic justice. So, a good Christian would support people fighting for democracy against a repressive military regime; slum dwellers fighting for basic services such as running water, electricity, trash pickup, and schools in their neighborhoods; or workers struggling to unionize—even in the face of active opposition from those in power, whether military leaders, business-owners, or the wealthy who don’t want to see resources go those in most desperate need of them. (I should also add that I am by no means an expert on liberation theology or Roman Catholicism more broadly—I’ve principally read up on this one aspect of liberation theology.)
Dear Dharma Teachers, Dear Order Members, Dear Aspirants,
In 2019 there will be one opportunity for aspirants from North America to be ordained into the Order of Interbeing at Magnolia Grove Monastery. In order to facilitate the process, the Care-Taking Council of the Dharma Teachers Sangha of North America (including both monastics and lay Dharma Teachers) have clarified the requirements, criteria, and procedures for North American students of Thich Nhat Hanh.
The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings offer clear guidance for living simply, compassionately, and joyfully in our modern world. They are a concrete embodiment of the teachings of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva ideal. Anyone who wishes can live their life in accord with these fourteen trainings.
To formally join the Order of Interbeing means to publicly commit oneself to studying, practicing, and observing the trainings and, also, to participating actively in a community which practices mindfulness in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.
The minimum requirements for joining the Order of Interbeing, as established by the Charter of the Order, are that the aspirant:
- Be 18 years of age or older
- Has received the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Three Jewels
- Practices with a local Sangha in this tradition
- Is committed to observing at least sixty days of mindfulness a year
- Has been mentored by members of the Order of Interbeing for at least a year, and
- Is ready to begin the work of an Order Member: Sangha building and support, explaining the Dharma from personal experience, and nourishing the bodhicitta (the mind of love) in others while maintaining a regular meditation practice in harmony and peace with one’s family.
The process of becoming an aspirant and receiving support and training varies depending on the region and on local circumstances. In a region in which the Order of Interbeing has been established for many years, there may be clearly defined procedures; Dharma Teachers and Order Members available to train and support aspirants; and a community of Order Members that meets regularly for recitation ceremonies, study, and days of mindfulness. In other regions an aspirant may have to travel a considerable distance to practice with an Order Member or Dharma Teacher and the training of aspirants may be much more informal. Nonetheless, the Care-Taking Council and the Dharma Teacher Sangha of North America has developed and adopted an OI aspirant process that is now required in the process of receiving the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in North America.
The decision that an aspirant is ready for ordination is a joint decision involving the aspirant, the aspirant’s local sangha, the OI mentors, and one or more lay Dharma Teachers who either have been directly mentoring the aspirant or who have been working with the OI mentors.
It is not possible to specify the exact criteria that determines whether an aspirant is “ripe enough” for ordination – for ultimately it depends on heart-to-heart insight and recognition of a mature Bodhisattva spirit – however, some general guidelines can be stated. To be eligible for ordination into the Order of Interbeing, there is the expectation that the aspirant:
- is a stable practitioner who has learned to transform suffering and embodies the practice of mindfulness in his or her own life,
- practices with a spirit of generosity, attentive to the needs of others,
- is committed to continue deepening his or her practice of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings,
- is able to teach the basic practices to others,
- participates (and will continue to participate) regularly and harmoniously in their local practice community and in the Order of Interbeing community, and,
- has the intention and capacity to be an active Sangha builder.
In order to be ordained at a retreat in 2019 it is requested that the aspirant and his mentors put together a packet containing the following:
- Completed Application to Become an Aspirant to the Order of Interbeing Core Community (this is the application you completed at the beginning of your aspirant training)
- Completed Order of Interbeing Application for North American Applicants (this is a password protected resource and you may obtain the application from your Dharma Teacher mentor, if the Dharma Teacher needs assistance, please contact Kenley)
- letters of support from OI mentors and
- letters of support from Dharma Teacher(s)
- letters of support from local Sangha members and family members (when available)
- original letter of aspiration to join the OI (if there is one)
- a letter to Thay articulating the aspirants desire to be ordained into the Order of Interbeing. This letter should include a brief spiritual history and a clear commitment that the aspirant will be a Sangha builder in a community which practices in the Plum Village tradition.
- a copy of the 5 Mindfulness Training certificate, or at least the date, place, teacher of that transmission and the name you received.
If the aspirant wishes to ordain at Magnolia Grove Monastery (Retreat is August 7 -11), please send a copy of the packet by June 28, 2019 to Sister Tri Nghiem, Magnolia Grove Monastery, 123 Towles Rd., Batesville, MS 38606.
You may also submit the materials via email at the address below.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding ordination at Magnolia Grove Monastery please contact Sr. Tri Nghiem: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The aspirant should also bring a copy of the full packet to the retreat where they wish to be ordained. We thank you for your nourishing mindfulness, understanding, and compassion in North America.
The Care-Taking Council of the Dharma Teachers Sangha of North America and The Monastic Organizing Team
April 23, 2019
Thay has compared the mindfulness trainings to the North Star—we can use them to guide us, but, just as we will never reach the North Star, we will never fully live up the mindfulness trainings, for the simple reason that we are imperfect beings. But, beyond our own imperfections, there are other reasons we cannot live up the mindfulness trainings, ones related more to society’s failings than our own individual ones.
The second of the Five Mindfulness Trainings begins, “Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting.” This is clearly an effort to update the ancient precept against stealing to encompass contemporary concerns about the exploitation of others and other social injustices in today’s global society. But there is a disconnect here, at least in how the mindfulness training is phrased, though doubtless not in the intentions behind it. When we approach the mindfulness trainings, whether the five foundational ones or the fourteen of the Order of Interbeing, we usually do so in the context of reflecting on our own actions and whether they have been consistent with our best intentions as embodied in the mindfulness trainings. This is unquestionably an important part of our practice. The second mindfulness training asks us to reflect upon our actions not only to make sure we’re not hurting others, but to look for opportunities to be generous—to actively help others, whether with our time, money, or other resources.
The lamp transmission refers to “the manner in which the teaching, or Dharma, is passed from a Zen master to their disciple. The procedure establishes the disciple as a transmitting teacher in their own right and successor in an unbroken lineage of teachers and disciples, a spiritual ‘bloodline’ theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself.” According to Zen schools, the first instance of Dharma transmission occurred as transcribed in the Flower Sermon, when the Buddha held up a golden lotus flower given to him by Brahma before an assembly of “gods and men.”
A Dharma teacher is a continuation of the Buddha and of all our ancestral teachers. Their deepest aspiration is to manifest mindfulness, concentration, and insight in every thought, word, and action. Guided and protected by wisdom and compassion, a Dharma teacher is a happy person who joyfully passes on the practice to others. A Dharma teacher in the Plum Village tradition conducts one’s life in accord with the Five and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Is guided by bodhichitta, looks deeply, and sees and nourishes the bodhicitta in others. These teachers have the support of their sangha, fellow Dharma teachers, and their family.
Our Teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has shared about being a dharma teacher in this talk from 2001.
“There are Dharma centres, there are monasteries, there are teachers, there are Dharma brothers and sisters who practice and being a member of the Order of Interbeing helps us to profit from all of these in order to advance on our path of freedom. With enough freedom we can make others around us happy. We know that practicing without a Sangha is difficult so we try our best to set up a Sangha around us, where we live. To be an OI member is wonderful . To be a Dharma teacher is wonderful. Wonderful, not because we have the title of OI membership, or of Dharma teacher, but because we have the chance to practice and to organize.
“Being a Dharma teacher is also an opportunity to practice – you cannot not practice! You need to practice in order that your teaching has content. How can you open your mouth and give the teaching if you don’t do it yourself? The teaching is an opportunity: even if you are not an excellent teacher yet, being a Dharma teacher helps very much when you speak about the Dharma, for you have to do what you are sharing, otherwise it looks odd. It’s like a monk living with other monks: when everyone is doing walking meditation it would look strange if that monk did not do the practice. So, as a Dharma teacher, you have a great opportunity to practice.
“Every member of the Sangha can create favourable conditions for you, whether that member is good at the practice or not. A person who has a strong practice may inspire you to be at least like them and another person who is very weak in the practice may draw you to help them. So being a Dharma teacher is a good thing.”
On June 14 and June 15, 2018 the sangha invited twenty-six Order members to receive the lamp transmission. The ceremony took place at Plum Village, France and included the following people surrounded by hundreds of lay and monastic practitioners.
- Valerie Brown (USA)
- Theresa Payne (UK)
- Serge Letort (France)
- Christiane Terrier (France)
- Tineke Spruytenburg (Dutch)
- Jack Bertho (France)
- Bill Woodall (USA)
- Sheila Canal (USA)
- Juan Gregorio Hidalgo (Spain)
- Angie Searle (UK)
- Luis del Val Martinez (Spain)
- Ava Avalos (Botswana)
- Rosa Serrano (Spain)
- Bruce Nichols (USA)
- Josselyne Letort (France)
- Rick Sonnenberg (USA)
- Margret de Backere (Germany)
- Dianne Little Eagle (USA)
- Caitlin Bush (New Zealand)
- Dominique Lemoine (France)
- Greg Grallo (USA)
- Michele Tae (USA)
- Scott Schang (USA)
- Denise Segor (USA)
- Phil Stein (USA)
- Viviane Ephriamson-Abt (USA)
We welcome these dear friends to the community of teachers.
COORDINATED BY THICH NHAT HANH/NORTH AMERICA SANGHA
As many of you may know, since 2012 Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh has been consistent in his defense of the well-being of the Rohingya people, who are Muslim, against discrimination and violence in an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, Myanmar.
Since last fall, over 647,000 impoverished Rohingya refugees …. that’s correct, over 647,000 in the course of only a few months…. have fled across the border into one of the most poor regions of neighboring Bangladesh, historically a country in great need itself.
Many practitioners in the Plum Village tradition have responded to this tragedy by addressing needs related to the health and well-being of the Rohingya people. For example, members of Lakeside Buddha Sangha in Evanston have been in regular contact with the Rohingya community in nearby Chicago. Its leaders have returned from visits to the refugee camps as recently as last December. They have consistently reported that Doctors without Borders, also known as Medicines Sans Frontieres, is the most visible on-the-ground presence helping the refugee camps. Over 146,000 refugees were treated by Doctors without Borders in late 2017, suffering from infant malnourishment, respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, and diphtheria, primarily among children. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on attempting to prevent the outbreak of disease, especially cholera. Our contacts returning from Bangladesh did not see much evidence of help from the Bangladeshi government, which is understandable when its limited resources are taken into account. Continue reading “Loving Response to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis”
I will start with a confession: I am a news junkie, but one who, despite that, tries to read the news mindfully, though admittedly there is something of a contradiction in this. Thay has on a number of occasions encouraged us to read the news no more than once a week, warning that reading it more often can water such unwholesome mental formations as anger and despair. In my own experience, he is not wrong about the ways in which regularly reading the news can weigh down one’s spirit, fostering not only anger or despair, but also a certain degree of jadedness to the suffering one reads about. But, given that I teach and do research in the fields of sociology and global studies, I actually need to read the news nearly daily to remain properly informed about developments in areas I study and to teach my classes well. But, even given that, I read the news more than I need, sometimes checking my favorites news sites several times a day, as a way of taking a “break” from whatever I am working on. I do so partly out of unhealthy habit energy, but partly also out of a genuine interest in learning more about the lives of others across the world–out of wanting to deepen my understanding and thereby my compassion for the people I read about. Continue reading “Reading the News Mindfully”
In an effort to mitigate the suffering of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar into nearby Bangladesh, we are writing to enlist your help in our capacity as the Care-Taking Council of the Dharma Teachers ordained by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh residing in North America.
Since 2012, Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh and our Council has been writing to lay and monastic leaders of Myanmar, asking them to look deeply in order to see and understand the basic humanity and rights of the Rohingya ethnic minority living in western Myanmar, who practice a form of Islam.
We and other Buddhist leaders wrote to the government of Myanmar in February of this year as well to ask that its military cease military operations against Rohingya refugees causing them to flee Myanmar into impoverished Bangladesh.
As you have probably learned from newspaper sources, notwithstanding its receipt of many such letters appealing for peace, Myanmar military operations increased sharply this summer, causing an estimated 500,000 Rohingya refugees to flee into one of the most remote and poverty-stricken areas in Bangladesh within a period of approximately 30 days, sometimes at the rate of 20,000 people each day, only to hide in forested hillsides.
Is what has been happening consistent with the Buddha’s teachings? Continue reading “Urgent Response to Rohinghya Suffering”
The following letter was written by Robb Kushner, an Order of Interbeing Aspirant. Robb has given permission to post and share this very instructive and thoughtful statement.
Letter to Sen. Cory Booker – On a National Resolution of Atonement
Jersey City, NJ 07302
14 August 2017
The Honorable Cory Booker
359 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Booker:
The tragic events in Charlottesville this past week have caused me to revisit a powerful idea: a National Resolution of Atonement – and I want to share this with you in the hopes that you may want to bring it up in Congress.
It is time for our country to officially atone for the twin atrocities of centuries of unconscionable subjugation of Native Americans – including stealing their lands – along with the tragic enslavement with ensuing subjugation of African Americans.
The Germans have atoned for their perpetration of The Holocaust. We as a nation desperately need to face up to these tragic elements of our past.
In atoning for these twin atrocities that have been an integral part of our history, we can send a message to the world and to all future generations that we are indeed fully dedicated to the immortal declaration that “all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
We are truly a nation of immigrants, and this has always been our key strength and point of uniqueness. We need to celebrate the diversity across our land that makes us such a blessed country.
In addition, by adopting this kind of national atonement, we will send a clear and unequivocal message that racism and bigotry will never be tolerated – in any manner – in our national dialogue, including public displays and assemblies.
I trust that you will give this idea the kind of serious consideration it deserves. And I hope to hear your thoughts in response.
With deep gratitude for your dedicated service to our state and country,
With copies to:
Sen. Bob Menendez
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Kamala Harris
Sen. Al Franken
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Sen. Chuck Schumer
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Tammy Duckworth
Sen. Lisa Murkowski
Sen. Susan Collins
Sen. Claire McCaskill
Sen. Chris Van Hollen
In addition to the letter, the following practice statement from ARISE (Awakening through Race, Intersectionality, and Social Equity) is very relevant to this topic.
GATHA FOR HEALING RACIAL, SYSTEMIC, AND SOCIAL INEQUITY: Aware of the suffering caused by racial, systemic, and social inequities, we commit ourselves, individually and as a community, to understanding the roots of these inequities, and to transforming this suffering into compassion, understanding and love in action. As a global community of practitioners, we are aware of the disproportionate racial violence and oppression committed by institutions and by individuals, whether consciously or unconsciously, against African Americans and people of color across the United States and beyond. We know that by looking deeply as individuals and as a community, we can engage the collective wisdom and energy of the Sangha to be our foundation for Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Mindfulness, and Right Insight. These are the practices leading to nondiscrimination, non-harming, and non-self which heal ourselves and the world.