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Dharma Talk Thich Nhat Hanh

Eyes of the Buddha Retreat

June 19, 2000

TNH: I was thinking of the Tiep Hien Order without a leader. It is like a bee hive without a leader. This is possible. There is no elder. We do not need an elder in order to give orders. We can operate like the neurons in the brain or the ants in the ant hill. It is perfectly possible, provided we have a very good network of communication. If we have good communication, that is enough. The bees they have their way to communicate. The ants also. We have many more facilities. If communication is there, then any group of brothers or sisters can start a project. And everyone will observe them and everyone will come and help, just like the termites the termites: when they see something going on, they are excited, they communicate more, they come, and they help build the colonies. This is possible. It is a very exciting kind of perspective. In the past we elected a leadership, but I dont think that we need it. We need something like a coordinating committee in order to get the information to flow, back and forth. And anyone in the order profits from the wisdom of everyone. And everyone can learn from the mistake of everyone. Therefore, anything can be helpful.

So, communication is the key word. Email is one of the means. I think if a member of the order lives beautifully, if her practice of trainings is perfect, is she can build a beautiful sangha, create greater happiness, that is also communication. Because very soon people become aware of that. Communicates very far. Very quickly. She may not need an email address. Because you cannot hide anything from anyone. Whether that is positive or negative. That is the very sense of community, of sangha. If you are happy, people know that you are happy. If you are not, people know that you are not. Our principle is that when you are happy then you have something to share. But if you are not happy, you cannot share much.

About twenty years ago a person from England came and asked Thay, Thay, when do you think a person is ready to be a teacher? That person came from Western Friends of the Buddhist Order. Thay said, Well, when one is happy. He was very surprised. He thought that Thay would say: You have to undergo five years of training, and graduate, and things like that, but Thay just said, When you feel happy.

Organizing is not the most important thing. The Vatican is very well organized. Over organized. There is a lot of suffering. I think Buddhism is the least organized religion in the world. That is why we have so much freedom. No one can excommunicate us. There is only one person that can excommunicate us, that is ourselves. So let us learn to see things in that light. Organizing is not the most important thing. To be there, practicing, and to be open for communication to fluid, to be possible, is very important. I think we can learn very much from the bees. The bees can dance. We can dance also. Communicate. Anyone can dance for us.

Can you organize a twenty one day retreat in America without the physical presence of Thay. Why not. A twenty one day retreat is much deeper. It is very difficult to give a five, six day retreat because you have to offer the basic teachings always, you dont have time to go deeper in other directions. But in a twentyone day retreat it is very nice. You have enough place to dig deeper. I think very soon we have to organize a retreat for scientists. And we have to resume retreats for children, for school teachers, for parents, for politicians.

In Australia, you can organize a twentyone day retreat.

On the last day of our twentyone day retreat, we will be chanting the name of Avalokita for expressing our gratitude. All members of the Order of Interbeing come up for the chanting. We have to rehearse a little today.

[Half hour rehearsal occurs.]

In Germany we have the Intersein center which is a very beautiful place. A little more than two hours from Prague and Munich. Plenty of fresh air, or woods, or paths for walking meditation. Many rooms for permanent residents and guests. There are now five community residents. The community has reached minimum community size. Our friends Karl and Helga are very careful in accepting new members. Because it is very easy to accept a new member, but not so easy to ask him or her to leave. Because when the practice is not good enough, then the quality of the community will go down. That is why it is very important for the Sangha to have enough time to recognize that this is a member that can contribute to the quality of being of the practice, because the Sangha is a refuge for many people. If we are not careful, it will be very difficult. So in the beginning we should only invite those who have the capacity of practicing and living in harmony together. A person who would like to become a permanent member in the Sangha should allow time for the Sangha to observe and to say yes. Sometimes only a month or two. Sometimes they have to try for six months in order to get a yes. Sometimes longer. That is our experience.

And sometimes we dont need such a person to ask for the status of permanent residency, because we see that if such a person becomes a member of the permanent Sangha, then that would be a plus so we just invite him or her. Please release your cows and come and stay with us. If you have a happy Sangha, you can help a lot. You have something to take refuge in to protect us and also to serve many people.

In Germany there is an opportunity and we are going to have a day of mindfulness later this month. There will be 600 people coming for a day of mindfulness. This is an opportunity to introduce the center to people. An opportunity for people to look and realize that this is a place for practice and not a boutique selling retreats. What we try to avoid is a boutique selling retreats run by a couple. Living like that is no community and that couple has no chance to practice. In a retreat is not real practice. When you are taking care of the retreat, you want to make the retreat a success it is like business. Retreat business. Only by living together according to the six togethernesses, the six concords, that we can get the transformation. Everyone has the same problem. When we come together like a group like this, we will experience difficulties because we are not used to being in community. So we collide with each other. We make each other suffer. But that is the only way to polish everyone. And suddenly we become smooth and beautiful and shining. It is like when you wash a bunch of chop sticks. You have to wrap all the sticks together, then afterwards every stick is clean and shining. That is Sangha life.

In the beginning you ask: Why have I come here. At home I had a lot of comfort. Nobody pushed me like that and you are tempted to go home. But you have made a commitment. What you are seeking for is not comfort, it is transformation. So you go on and accept the Sangha. And there you develop brotherhood, sisterhood, which is very rewarding. And when brotherhood, sisterhood is there, harmony is there, you become a refuge for so many people. You are now doing the work of the Buddha. And therefore it is the Order of Interbeing that has to take the responsibility of building the first lay Sanghas, lay communities. And Thay has some ideas to propose.

If you are in North America, then do some research, some observation, of the practice cetners that are not in america. We know in the past there were centers like the Rochester Zen Center, San Francisco Zen Center, Los Angeles Zen Center, the Tibetan Center in Colorado. So there should be a survey, an obseration, in order to see the strengths and weaknesses of every center. For us to learn.

And then there is a lot to learn from the monastic tradtion. Two thousand five hundred yearsof experience. We may like to begin with a sangha a five people really committed to sangha building. This is the real work, the real practice. The quality of the practice in a retreat depends on the quality of living in a sangha. Because this is a real practice, a twentyfour hour a day practice. And when they come as guests they see us living with each in harmony and happiness. They see our way of treating each other, looking after each other, they know, they have confidence. We know that Buddhism in the west begins by being lay buddhism. Many people think that they dont need monastics. Insight Meditation Society and other places think that it can be entirely lay practice. But many of us have experience that monastic communities are also very important. They serve as the base, the roots. And although the lay sanghas can be autonomous, independent, yet they have to relate to the monastic sangha. Becaue the tradition has always been like that. It is like the biksunni order always relies on the bhikshu order. The lay communities should rely on the bhiksunni and bhikshu orders. We dont need a lot of monastic communities, but we do need many lay communities to offer people an opportunity to see the living dharma. Because there are a lot of books and tapes and lectures they need to see the living dharma. There are many of us who are talented in creating a place. There are many of us who would like to devote our lives to building a sangha. So to have a lay sangha a little bit here is something we can offer to society. Because there is a real vacuum. As members of the Order of Interbeing I think we have to take the initiative. We make a study, we observe, the existing communities to see what we can learn from them and what we can avoid.

Our lay communities can always welcome the visit of monastics. There may be a place for monastic guests. It is like in a monastic community there is a place for those who come and visit. And we keep in touch. It is very important to look into. Monastic tradition translated into lay experience, lay culture. That is a part of engaged buddhsim.