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Engaged Practice Practices Sangha

A New Paradigm For Racial Justice and the Global Pandemic

Meeting suffering where it is – a path to freedom.

Centering the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in our practices meets the suffering where it is and offers a path to freedom. A New Paradigm for Racial Justice and the Global Pandemic” is an offering by Marisela Gomez and Valerie Brown. We encourage all Order members to read and practice these Contemplations on the Five Mindfulness Trainings

A New Paradigm For Racial Justice and the Global Pandemic

By Marisela Gomez and Valerie Brown

Let us open to a new and deeper way of understanding the Five Mindfulness Trainings, guiding principles for mindful and ethical living, which call us toward individual and collective awakening, compassion, and peace.  We are aware that we are interconnected.  What happens in Wuhan, China affects people in New York City. What happens to the Black body affects all bodies.  We are called forward.

The global pandemic is a gateway to suffering worldwide, disproportionately impacting Black people, indigenous, and people of color, who face poverty, sickness, displacement, and death.  They, we are not alone. Our lives and livelihood are interconnected. We are called forward.

We cannot exist independent of low wage workers, health care workers, un-housed people, single mothers, undocumented people, the unemployed and underemployed.  If one such person lives on the knife edge of racial, ethnic, social, structural, and systemic oppression and discrimination we are all affected.  We are called forward.

The practitioner dwells in the now, recognizing equanimity and instability, discrimination and non-discrimination, ill-being and well-being, practicing right view and engaged through compassionate action.  Aware of the cycle of racial, ethnic, and social inequities and discrimination, we courageously turn to practice wholeheartedly.    We are called forward.

Lighting a stick of incense, listening to the sutras, sitting upright and solid, palms joined, the practitioner looks within and in concentration the path and fruit of skillful action is revealed.  We are called forward.

Speak aloud these words with the sangha voice, a true river of understanding:

Acknowledging Beauty as Reverence for Life

Aware of the suffering caused by oppression and  generational harm based on racial,  cultural, social, and ethnic  inferiority and superiority and its resultant structures of injustices and harm, I acknowledge the beauty and violence inherent in life. I vow to resist being complicit in systems and structures that continue to perpetuate violence and hatred instead of reverence of life for marginalized groups. I recognize that  each person contributes to my individual and our collective awakening, and the co-creation of a world that celebrates  and affirms differences and similarities. All living beings can teach me something,  when I remember to pause, breathe, listen deeply  with a calm and open mind and heart, and ask myself: ‘is there more’ or  ‘ what else is here with me’’?’ I  honor  and respect  all life guided  by Right View and Right Energy.

Belonging and Connecting as True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by ignorance and aversion of my own and other’s racial, ethnic, cultural, and social history, its legacy and how this affects me whether I am aware of it or not, I am committed to connecting to these histories. I know that turning toward these histories with an open heart is my journey of awakening to true belonging. I will take the time to learn the history of the racial and ethnic group with which I identify as well as for other socially constructed racial and ethnic groups. Aware that there is no genetic or biological difference between different racial and ethnic groups, and that these identities were constructed by one group to establish dominance over others, I will turn toward racial and other forms of othering with an open heart and compassionate action. I know that this history has led to fragmentation inside and outside body and mind and brought much suffering to all beings. I vow to transform this suffering through the practice of connecting with an open heart. I will notice when emotions of belonging and othering arise and I will ask myself ‘why’? Whatever feelings, perceptions, or mental formations arise, I will embrace and when needed engage with love in action. I am committed to practicing Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood so I can help relieve this legacy of racial and social suffering.  I will practice looking deeply to see that true happiness is not possible without true connecting leading to belonging and understanding. 

Cherishment as True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by discrimination and oppression, I vow to understand its roots within my consciousness and my body and the collective body of the sangha and larger society.  I vow to recognize the ways in which I have benefitted or not-benefitted explicitly or implicitly from systems and structures that foster discrimination and injustice.  I am aware of the legacy of violence, especially unlawful police violence, perpetrated against Black people, indigenous people, people of color, differently abled people, people of various gender identities and expressions and sexual orientation, and others who are marginalized. I acknowledge the lived experience of all people to deepen my capacity for understanding and for greater compassionate action.  I am aware that narrowly constructed, prevalent interpretations of intimate relationships constrain how we cherish each other in our expression of love, leaving many further isolated and alienated. I am committed to looking tenderly at my suffering, knowing that I am not separate from others and that the seeds of suffering contain the seeds of joy.  I am not afraid of bold love that fosters justice and belonging and tender love that seeks peace and connection.  I cherish myself and my suffering without discrimination.  I cherish this body and mind as an act of healing for myself and for others.  I cherish this breath.  I cherish this moment.  I cherish the liberation of all beings guided by the wisdom and solidity of the sangha. This is my path of true love.  

Vulnerability as Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware that vulnerability is the essence of our true nature, our humanness, I vow to risk listening and speaking non-judgmentally with understanding and compassion to alleviate suffering and support peace in myself and others.  I vow to live with empathy, compassion, and awareness and to listen for understanding rather than disagreement. When I’ve hurt others through my unskillful action or speech, I vow to practice making a good apology that acknowledges what I have done and offers sincere regret, knowing that this supports the other person and me. I am committed to speaking that aligns with my highest aspiration and encourages honesty and truthfulness.  I am committed to generous and courageous listening that bridges differences and supports understanding of others who may be different from me.  I am committed to taking meaningful steps to become a true instrument of peace and to help others to be the same. When I am not able to understand the experiences of others, I vow to come back to my breath and my body, and to offer myself gentle patience while learning to support myself in developing greater awareness and skill.  I vow to practice awareness of my beliefs, perceptions, and feelings, aversions, and desires and to take refuge in mindful breathing and in the sangha to support greater stability, peace, and understanding.  Through my practices of vulnerability, patience, forgiveness, and deeply listening, I know that my speech will be guided by love and understanding. Practicing in this way supports Right Speech and Right Action and guides me to Right Insight. 

Welcoming as True Nourishing and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by the consumption of an inadequate history of racial and ethnic forms of social segregation, I am committed to healing myself and the world by welcoming, and practicing with this awareness. I will notice how my thoughts, perceptions, feelings, words, and actions may have been influenced by this inaccurate history. I will look deeply to understand how both physical and mental health, for myself, my family, and my society have been influenced by embracing and denying this racial, social, and ethnic history of inferiority and superiority and its legacy of inequities and injustices. I will cultivate joy to support me toward individual and collective wholeness. I will practice mindfulness of the Four Kinds of Nutriments to become aware of how edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness are all influenced by this history. Practicing with Right Energy and Right Resolve, my Right Action of consumption will include awareness of certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations and how they continue to foster wrong perceptions of racial, ethnic, and social injustices. My understanding of interbeing supports my conscious consumption that sustains a healthy understanding of differences, one that does not oppress or discriminate. This Right Insight will preserve peace, joy, and bring healing in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth. To assure that my descendants do not live in a racially, ethnically, and socially unjust world, I commit to diligently practicing with true welcoming on this path to nourish and heal myself, the sangha, and society.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings keeps us centered in life’s storms and joys and reminds us that life is a precious gift. The Trainings are a path to liberation and transformation.  Practicing these Trainings supports us toward racial and ethnic reconciliation and social change and heals deep suffering. The Five Mindfulness Trainings  helps us cross this shore of suffering and brings us to the side of true awakening and love

We are called forward.

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Engaged Practice Practices

Reading the News Mindfully

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.

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Engaged Practice Personal Story Practices Sangha

Serving The Ill And Dying

I began working as a healthcare chaplain in 2005, the same year I was ordained in the Order of Interbeing.  For those unfamiliar with the role, healthcare chaplains help patients cope with their changing lives using the patient’s own language of meaning, whether that language is religious, scientific, philosophical or based upon their life experiences.  This requires the chaplain to listen with compassion and respond appropriately, without proselytizing the chaplain’s own beliefs.  My chaplaincy and OI practices have grown and supported each other over the years and I’d like to share some insights into how they work together to help me serve the ill and dying. 

Precepts

Thay’s poetic and deep rendering of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings have been a constant source of inspiration, support, and correction for my chaplaincy practice.  I’ve recited the precepts every other week since becoming an aspirant, and with each recitation the precepts reveal something new, guiding me back when I’ve strayed or reminding me that, contrary to self-judgements, I’m doing ok. 

While all the precepts have at one point or another enlivened my chaplaincy, I’d like to mention a few that come up again and again. 

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Dharma Sharing Personal Story

Replanting A “Forest of Interbeing”: Spiritual Community As Food

light-forestSeveral months ago, four young friends living in three different countries embarked on a journey together to replant a deforested rainforest in the south of Mexico. The “Forest of Interbeing” project includes the purchasing of 9 hectres of land, roughly 900 acres, in Los Tuxtlas region, in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Formerly home to several varieties of trees, shrubs, and endangered wildlife. Now only 20% of this bio-diverse land remains, deforested for the production of meat through cattle grazing. What we have discovered in the process of creating this project is that replanting forests takes a whole community.

Our teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, talks of the Four Nutriments. The Four elements needed for life. These are Edible Food, Sense Impressions, Volition, and Consciousness. Community is also a kind of food. Community brings together many beings across genders, ethnicity, spiritual beliefs, sexual orientations, race, abilities, socio-economic status, and languages, to find where we meet. At the center of these differences is actually a common need for connection, love, and understanding.

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Practices Thich Nhat Hanh

Revised Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings – FINAL

Our Teacher released a final revised version of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in April 2012 and can be used for both transmissions and recitations. A few edits were made in the last 6-weeks and any previously distributed revision should be discarded and the versions below should be used in their place. They are made available here in English and Vietnamese.

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings (HTML or download Word Doc / PDF)

Giới bổn Tiếp Hiện tân (Download Word Doc / PDF)

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Dharma Sharing

Learning from Ordination

The newly ordained order members have been asked to share their ordination experience, and I am happy to do so. But in reality the experience was much less about me than about those around me. My experience was about the Deer Park staff family with whom I worked during the late summer. It was about my blood family and how they supported me. And it was about having my home sangha, Organic Garden, there with me and with the other brothers and sisters from our sangha who were also ordained.

I did not expect any of these things to be so important next to the joy of receiving the
fourteen directly from Thay. My greatest aspiration is to continue Thay; to embody
whatever small piece of him I can for others. But these parallel experiences taught me
lessons that might support that aspiration, so I am going to share them with you. And I
am also going to tell you a little about a lesson I learned during my year as an aspirant.

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Dharma Sharing

Happy Bodhi Day

This is about this very moment.  This wonderful moment.  Have you noticed? We are nearing the solstice: the 21st, to be precise. The shortest day of the year, and the longest night.

Typically, it’s a time of clarity and community, introspection and renewal. ‘Tis the season. Time to celebrate the light in darkness. As the Quakers remind us, “Where shalt thou seek the light if thou dost not turn within?” As the year turns, we turn with it. Such fact of life is so elemental, we often need reminding.

Facing this year’s solstice, it’s interesting to note that while so many people are still preparing their festivities, Buddhists around the planet have already observed their winter holy day. Two and a half millennia ago, a human being woke up. What is awakening but opening our eyes? Eyes open, as we were born with our eyes open. So here too light is key: seeing things as they truly are. Just because our eyes are open doesn’t mean we’re awake, truly intimate with our lives, engaged in a genuine life, with all its authentic wonder, living life to the fullest.

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Practices

Dharma Sharing

One of the most common practices in our community is dharma sharing or dharma discussion. This is an opportunity to explore our practice together in a group. There are many models for facilitating dharma sharing and here are some guidelines.