The Care Taking Council (CTC) of the North American Dharma Teachers Sangha adopted a statement on behavioral and mental health difficulties in sanghas. It was initially posted here in August 2016 but wasn’t easily discoverable. Therefore, we are reposting that document in hopes that it will better serve the community.
This article came across my email recently and I think it deserves a deeper dive. Although in our tradition we don’t have student-teacher relationships like what you might see in other traditions. Nonetheless, we definitely do mentoring and a dharma teacher is always involved for new aspirants. Even as we progress on the path, we may have a spiritual friend that we turn toward for guidance and support.
I have been under a guidance of a Zen teacher for over 10 years. However, when I began to experience challenges in the process of meditation, I was misguided or misunderstood. In the end I felt more confused and discouraged. Please respond to this letter if you can, because your advice could help to shed a light on some aspects I cannot see.
The question is posed by a student to Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel who has studied and practiced the Buddhadharma for 35 years under the guidance of her teacher and husband Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.
Dharma Teacher Lyn Fine poses a few follow up questions to consider. What resonates with your experience and thinking? What’s missing that you might want to add? What’s relevant/less relevant to the Plum Village form of practice?
Feel free to respond below in the comments or respond to the OI email list (where this is also posted). And perhaps this could lead to a webinar or a sharing group on these topics.
Back in early 2013, a random encounter brought two strangers together that led to the Technology Leaders’ Circle Event with Thich Nhat Hanh and a small group of Silicon Valley CEOs on October 25, 2013. That event took place at the home of Salesforce founder Marc Benioff.
Then in the fall of 2015, the Plum Village monastics participated in the annual Salesforce user conference known as Dreamforce. That year we were placed in the main (outdoor) thoroughfare of the conference where we offered individual consultations and a series of workshops on mindfulness and meditation. The intention was to bring the ethical dimension of mindfulness to the corporate world. The Plum Village community has participated annually since then and just completed our fifth conference on November 22, 2019.
The Plum Village monastics recently wrote about our participation in this conference. “It is our aspiration to help people touch insight and transform their suffering right where they are, ideally transforming their workplaces and companies as they do so. Suffering and wrong views are abundant in Silicon Valley, and we are committed to continuing to offer the True Dharma there. To seed collective awakening, we need to be everywhere in the world. We see how important it is to bring our spiritual voice to tech companies, which have a disproportionate influence on the direction of our civilization and the planet. When we share the Dharma, we share the complete teaching, with a clear ethical dimension. We have been actively challenging the companies where we offer the Dharma, and encourage them to re-examine their business ethics. We are confident that the authentic practice is transforming people in profound ways. We’re practicing as a community and we trust in the collective fourfold Sangha Eye and the Mindfulness Trainings as a compass to guide us as we tread this fine line, being vigilant and open-minded (not careless nor dogmatic) about where and when to offer the Dharma.”
Through the years, we have offered feedback to Mr. Benioff and his team about how best to offer the dharma during this large (170k people) conference. As a result, in 2019 we were offered a larger and more dedicated space. We were situated near the exhibit hall and Salesforce bookstore where the vast majority of conference goers pass. The space included two dedicated meditation halls and three huts (smaller spaces) for small-group consultations and meditations. The images surrounding us were mindfully created and living plants were present all around. It felt very much like Plum Village, down to the mats and cushions, the bell, and monastics in brown. Throughout the convention center there were signs and directions to “Plum Village” and we were mentioned numerous times by both keynotes and fireside conversations (including a conversation between President Obama and Marc Benioff). Plum Village was in high demand and our dharma sessions were mostly full.
The deepest part of the offerings was likely the individual and small-group consultations. During these periods, conference attendees were offered a short guided meditation followed by an introduction to our practice. In the program, these were called 20-minute Power-up. Then we could listen to the suffering and joys of those attending. Our team of 25 monastics (from Deer Park, Magnolia, Blue Cliff, and Plum Village) and one lay dharma teacher (that’s me!) were kept busy meeting with people and offering panels on the various aspects of our practice.
In addition to the Power-Up sessions, we offered Guided Tea Meditation, Embodied Mindfulness, Mindfulness & Communication, A Mindful Look at Leadership, Total Relaxation, Eating Meditation, Walking Meditation, Innovative Decision Making Through Mindful Collective Insight, Compassionate Communication, Zen Deep Dive: 90-minute Immersive Mindfulness, Radical Mindfulness for Challenging Times, a film screening of “A Cloud Never Dies” and “Happy Teachers Change the World,” and a final dharma talk with Sister Lang Nghiem and Thay Phap Luu. Many of these sessions were offered several times throughout the four-day conference. Additional sessions were offered at the Executive Summit (a conference within a conference). All of these sessions were offered in a non-sectarian manner and each felt like any dharma talk you would hear at one of our monasteries.
It was a lot! And this was just the four days in San Francisco, not counting the months of planning and preparation to pull this event off. The True Dharma was shared with thousands of people, mostly customers of Salesforce from around the world – from large corporations to small nonprofits and educators. One of the beautiful aspects of this experience is that we did touch a handful of people more deeply. In particular, the Salesforce employees who were with us almost 24/7, the production team, the audio technicians who sat through every session, and the ambassadors who welcomed people to each session. I heard from several who were very moved by the experience and how they felt blessed to be a part of our team for the week.
Transformation and Healing
Even though we were only able to touch a very small number of people, there was likely thousands more that may have only heard of our community in passing. It could be that attendees will followup on their own by looking for a local sangha or may have the capacity to attend a full retreat. Regardless of the number, many were touched and perhaps have begun on the path of transformation.
A few take-away quotes from those of us offering the dharma:
“We’re moving within the wave of Thay’s virtue. Marc is also Thay’s continuation.”
Br. Phap Luu
“As a monastic, I was able to offer more, because the conditions were more supportive.”
Sr. Le Nghiem
“It’s very satisfying to feel that the energy we put in was not wasted… people were helped, touched transformation.”
Br. Phap Linh
“We offer our Dharma with all our love, and we continue Thay’s wish to offer the practice to Businesspeople.”
Sr. Hoa Nghiem
“Thank you for inviting me. I super enjoyed the event. I really liked the Power Ups because we can be very close to the people. I led the total relaxation. It was wonderful.”
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.
You also have the option to add this calendar directly to your own system by using this iCal link. If you notice something missing from the calendar, please complete this form to let Kenley know.
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:
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.
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.
“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”
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.
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.
We write to share a happiness that in 2018, Plum Village will be hosting their bi-annual 21 Day Retreat from June 1-21. It is a retreat focused for experienced Buddhist practitioners, especially from our Order of Interbeing community, but is also open to the general public. The retreat will be conducted in English with respective translations. We will also be transmitting the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order for all qualified international OI aspirants.
Once registration opens, we will arrange for the first month to be open only for members of the Order and then open up for the general public, so keep an eye out for the open-registration date on the Plum Village website.