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.  Continue reading

Bumper Sticker Practice

Earlier this year I came up with a new mindfulness practice: bumper stickers! OK, let me explain. I like finding new and inventive ways to cultivate daily mindfulness. Being mindful means being mindful of something. And that something can be anything! Anything that allows us the opportunity to practice getting in touch and connecting with the present moment can be considered a practice of mindfulness. And it’s fun to find new ways in which to practice.

So in January, this idea of bumper sticker mindfulness came to me. For each month in 2016 I would practice noticing bumper stickers. In order to put a little extra weight on this new mindfulness practice, to help encourage me to do it, I would also write down the bumper stickers that caught my eye as being especially odd, funny or interesting. I then also resolved to write a blog post about it further into the year. And since I’ve recorded so many already I thought I’d stretch this bumper sticker practice into two blog posts, one now and one at the end of the year. As an FYI, my bumper sticker rules included only writing down bumper stickers I saw in action, meaning displayed on cars – so bumper stickers I saw for sale in a store didn’t count. I have a nice little notebook and an easily accessible pen in my car that I scribbled down all of the ones I saw, that I deemed worth noting. Here they are, in order of date seen:

Continue reading

A Road Back

A Road Back for Lapsed Order of Interbeing
Core Community Lay Members Who Wish to Renew

An offering from the North American Dharma Teachers Sangha

From time to time, Order of Interbeing (OI) Core Community members may fall away from their practice as brothers and sisters in the OI family. Some of these friends retain or rediscover their heart’s connection to the Order of Interbeing core community and practice, but finding a way back into practice with the OI community may be challenging for the practitioner and confusing for the local Sangha that was “left behind.” The Order of Interbeing Charter encourages OI members to develop appropriateness and skillful means, leading “to a capacity to be creative and to reconcile.” The North American Dharma Teachers Sangha offers this “road back” as a means to support local Sanghas and lapsed core community members who wish to renew their commitment to Plum Village practice and the OI core community. We hope it will help lapsed OI core community members reconcile with and rejoin their local Sanghas, reconnect with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and the OI core community, and renew their commitment to practicing as an Order of Interbeing core community member.

Read the Complete Document 

Forty Tenets of Plum Village

Introduction

The Forty Tenets were formulated and taught by Thầy in Plum Village during the Spring Retreat 2006, the Autumn Retreat 2006 and the Winter Retreats 2006, 2007. They serve as the foundation for the Plum Village teachings and practices and for our Mindfulness Trainings, whether they are the Five of the laity, the Ten of the novitiate, the Fourteen of the Order, or the several hundred of the monastics.

In the early 90’s, Thầy taught many courses about the history of Buddhist thought in a number of winter retreats, including “The Living Tradition of Meditation Practice,” “The Sutras of the Southern Transmission,” “The Sutras of the Northern Transmission” and in 2005, “The Wheel of the Different Schools Commentary” which discusses the different tenets held by the more than twenty early different Buddhist schools. These teachings give us an overview of the history of Buddhist thought.

These tenets are Thầy’s attempt to identify and define the teachings that we maintain, learn and transmit in Plum Village and capture our relationship to the various paths in the history of Buddhism. They are the result of Thầy and the Plum Village community’s study and practice of Buddhist teachings and methods, and deep looking into the evolution of the various Buddhist schools and their teachings.

Thầy has shared many times that as Buddhist practitioners we should, from time to time, return and bathe in the waters of source Buddhism. In Plum Village, we have “a deep desire to understand the original meaning of the Buddha, the teacher who began this lineage, and also a desire to study and practice so that, while being faithful to the original teachings, we can also respond to the needs of our times for spiritual practice and transformation. The different schools of Buddhism from the time of 140 years after the Buddha entered nirvana until the beginning of the Mahāyāna did just that and of course, our community should do the same.”

Thầy also reminds us: “It is possible that our way of looking today will change in order to adapt to a deeper and more relevant way of looking tomorrow. In being faithful to the open and undogmatic stance of Buddhism, Plum Village always holds the door wide open for change so never has a rigid and dogmatic attitude that only its way of seeing things is right. This way of looking is practiced regularly in order to remove the obstacle of knowledge (jñeyāvarana), and always to have the opportunity to go forward.”

“In this way Buddhism changes, adapts and progresses in the same way as science does in order to serve humankind more effectively all the time. We have too long been influenced by the maxim: “Repetition rather than creativity.” This attitude belongs to the pious religious believer more than it does to the scholar. We should have the courage to review what we have learnt in the light of our practice and reflection.”

During this 21 Day Retreat 2016, we will have a chance to reexamine some of the theses that Thầy has put forward; explore how they can inform our practice and how they can be a foundation for applying the Trainings of the Order of Interbeing as we actively engage with society. As practitioners, we invite you to read these theses of Plum Village with a critical, scientific attitude that is based on your own experience of the practice.

With love and trust,
Vulture Peak Team
May 20, 2016

The Forty Tenets

  1. Space is not an unconditioned dharma. It manifests together with time, matter and consciousness.
  2. In the historical dimension, every dharma is a conditioned dharma. In the ultimate dimension, every dharma is an unconditioned dharma.
  3. Nirvāṇa is the absence of ignorance (Avidyā) and the afflictions (kleśāh), but not the absence of the aggregates (skandhāh), sense spheres (āyatanāni) and domains of existence (dhātuh)
  4. Nirvāṇa is nirvāṇa. There does not need to be a nirvana with residue (sopādiśeṣa) or without residue (anupādiśeṣa).
  5. It is possible to touch Nirvāṇa in the present moment.
  6. Nirvāṇa is not a phenomenon, but the true nature of all phenomena.
  7. Not born means nirvāṇa and it is awakening to the truth of the deathless, the no-coming and no-going, the not the same and not different, the not being and not non-being.
  8. The concentrations on empitness, signlessness and aimlessness help us to touch Nirvāṇa and the Unconditioned.
  9. The Three Dharma Seals are: impermanence, non-self and Nirvāṇa. We can uphold Four Dharma Seals or Five Dharma Seals with one condition: that they include Nirvāṇa.
  10. The basic concentrations (samādhi) are the concentrations on impermanence, no-self, and Nirvāṇa.
  11. Mindfulness, concentration and insight are the essential practices that give rise to liberation.
  12. Precepts are mindfulness. (Śīla is smṛti). Precepts and mindful manners are concrete expressions of mindfulness.
  13. Right diligence is mindfulness trainings (morality, Śīla) and therefore is also mindfulness.
  14. Mindfulness, concentration and insight include each other. All three have the capacity to bring joy, happiness and liberation.
  15. The awareness of suffering helps us recognize the existing conditions of happiness and also helps prevent the creation of wrong actions and the planting of negative seeds that will bring about suffering.
  16. The Four Noble Truths are all conditioned. The Four Noble Truths are all unconditioned.
  17. The Third Noble Truth can be called the truth of happiness.
  18. Free will is possible thanks to the Three Trainings.
  19. You should learn to see the Second Noble Truth as the path of the eight wrong practices. The deep cause of ill-being is not just desire.
  20. A real Arahat is also a Bodhisattva and a real Bodhisattva is also an Arahat.
  21. As a human being you have the capacity to become a Buddha. As a Buddha you continue to be a human being. That is why numerous Buddhas are possible.
  22. The Buddha has many bodies: the body of a living being, the Dharmabody, the body outside of the body, the Sanghabody, the continuation body, the Dharma-realm body, and the true nature of the Dharma-realm body. Since human beings can become Buddha they also have all these bodies.
  23. We can talk of a person as a continuous and ever-changing stream of five aggregates. This stream is always flowing. It is in connection with, receives from and contributes to other streams of phenomena. We cannot speak of a person as an unchanging and permanent separate self.
  24. We can only understand the real teaching of rebirth (samsāra) in the light of impermanence, no-self and interbeing.
  25. Happiness and suffering inter-are. Affliction and enlightenment are both of an organic nature.
  26. The Sangha body, the Buddha body and the Dharma body inter-are. In a true Sangha you can find the true Buddha and the true Dharma.
  27. Since the afflictions (kleśāh) and the awakening (Bodhi) are of an organic nature, the practice needs to be constant in order for transformation to continue and for regression not to take place. Samsāra is a continuation and the beautiful and wholesome things need to be continued for as long as possible, while the not beautiful and unwholesome need to be transformed so that they do not continue. The compost has to be used to nourish the flowers.
  28. Liberation from samsāra does not mean putting an end to the personal self (pudgala), because that person is not a real entity anyway, nor does it mean putting an end to the precepts’ body and the spiritual life.
  29. Birth and death are only manifestation or non-manifestation. Both manifestor and manifested occur at the same time, the manifestation of one thing is the non-manifestation of something else.
  30. A dharma is not a thing, an entity, but a process, an event and above all an object of mind.
  31. Retribution consists of both body-mind and environment, and is both individual and collective. This land is the Saha land for living beings but Pure Land for Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
  32. There is no self but still there is the cycle of birth and death, there is inter-continuation and the nature of all inter-continuation is interbeing.
  33. Each generation of Buddhist practitioners has to resist the human tendency and need on the one hand to make the Buddha divine and on the other hand to try to find a principle to take the place of a self.
  34. Store consciousness has the capacity of learning, storing, protecting, responding, nourishing, healing and continuing. Its function is to establish a database and unconscious habits of responding to situations, which makes it possible for a human being to act on ‘auto-pilot’.
  35. Manas has the tendency to seek for security and long lasting pleasure. It is ignorant of the law of moderation, the danger of pleasure seeking and the goodness of suffering. It does not see the necessity for insight into impermanence, non-self, inter-being, compassion and communication.
  36. With the practice of mindfulness, concentration and insight, mind consciousness can learn and download its insights to Store consciousness and leave Store consciousness to do the work of maturation and then manifest the seeds of wisdom that are already innate in Store consciousness.
  37. The basic practice of Source Buddhism is the Four Domains of Mindfulness which has the function to recognize and transform the habit energies and fully realize the Seven Factors of Enlightenment and the Noble Eightfold Path.  The Mahāyāna practice of meditation including the Zen of the patriarchs needs from time to time to go back to take a bath in Source Buddhism in order not to lose the essential Teachings of Buddhadharma.
  38. The reality of the Pure Land or Nirvāna transcends both space and time. The reality of everything else is exactly the same.
  39. Conditions, feelings, skandhas, āyatanas, dhātus, vijñāna, etc. are different ways of presenting the teachings. These different ways of presenting the teachings are not in opposition to each other.
  40. The teachings on impermanence, non-self, interdependence, emptiness, signlessness, aimlessness, mindfulness, concentration, insight, etc. constitute the heart of the Buddhist wisdom. They can go together with the spirit of science, they can be used in dialogue with science and offer suggestions and be a support for scientific research. Modern science should try to overcome the tendency of double grasping and scientists should train themselves to develop their capacity for intuition.

Orlando and Beyond

Dear sangha, 
We are connecting with you at this time in order to encourage and support ways of practicing that can lead to personal and collective healing and transformation related to what is going on in the world. We wish to find ways we can be of support to each other as a community in responding to current events, to create loving connection rather than more trauma and fomenting fear.

The T​ransformation and Healing Committee of the Dharma Teacher Care Taking Council of North America would appreciate your sharing with the community your and your Sanghas response to recent events in Orlando. In particular, which teachings and practices are you using right now or did you use recently in your sangha in light of this event? For example we have heard that one sangha read from ​Thay’s book Calming the Fearful Mind – a Zen Repsonse to Terrorism.  Another sangha read out the names of the people who died at Orlando, sounding the bell after each name. Another sangha lit fifty candles. 

The ​Transformation and Healing Committee is charged with exploring and supporting engaged practice in the dharma teacher and OI communities. Orlando is a painful recent episode of violence. There have been many before, and given the conditions in the world now, there will be more. We can be more intentional about preparing ourselves to engage these kinds of situations by becoming more practiced in our Sanghas in processing current events, sharing the resources we use, learning skillful means from each other, and being a more active resource for the larger community. This message is going to Dharma Teachers Sangha and Order of Interbeing list with a request to forward to regional lists of Sanghas. We will also post on the OI website. 

With deep gratitude and joy in our practice together for collective awakening,

Signed.

John Bell
Richard Brady
Lyn Fine
Jack Lawlor
Kenley Neufeld
Leslie Rawls
Jo-ann Rosen

Ordination Ceremony

North American Ordination (2015 Only)

Dear Dharma Teachers, Dear Order Members, Dear Aspirants,

In 2015 there will be three opportunities for aspirants from North America to be ordained into the Order of Interbeing. In order to facilitate the process, the Care-taking Council of the Dharma Teachers Sangha of North America (including both monastics and lay) 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 his or her 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. Continue reading

Order Members Call to Ban Fracking in California

Feb 7, 2015
Dear Governor Brown,

We write to you today to support you to support a ban on fracking–hydraulic fracturing –in California, and to support you in your commitment to address climate change, as you stated in your inaugural: we need to take “significant amounts of carbon out of our economy.” As a Fourfold Community (monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen) in the Plum Village Tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, we practice mindfulness to nurture understanding and love. Our tradition’s teachings are ecologically founded – we are not here on our own, we interare with everyone and everything. It is from this awareness that we write to you today.

The deep and devastating impact of hydraulic fracking on humans, many species, and the water of our planet is now known. It is also known that with strong political will it is possible to move a fossil fuel economy towards an economy increasingly based on renewable energy. We have seen in New York State that with a combination of strong political will and clear awareness of the devastatingly destructive nature of hydraulic fracturing, it is possible to ban fracking. We can do this in California as well.

Today, we join with our sisters and brothers at San Francisco Zen Center in supporting you to sign a bill banning fracking. Help turn us away from the age of fossil fuels with its immeasurable and lasting damage to the biosphere. Help California continue to take the lead, as it has in the past, with its extraordinary implementation of energy-efficiency standards during your first term as governor, with Assemblywoman Fran Pavley’s emissions legislation in 2002 that set nationwide standards under the Obama administration, and with the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

We know that our actions today help create what kind of future we will have. As Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “We have to live in such a way that a future will be possible for our children and our grandchildren, and our own life has to be our message.” At Deer Park, our practice center near San Diego, CA, we have taken a vow to do our best not to deplete the energy of the land and her resources, but rather to contribute to the regeneration of this beautiful land. Our solar energy system covers 90% of our usage of electricity.

To take a next step to stop contributing to devastating climate change, and to protect the beautiful land of California, we support you in signing a bill to ban fracking in California. Such a ban will reduce the carbon going into the biosphere, thus reducing contribution to climate change from this source, and it will help protect the land, water, peoples, animals and plants of California, now and in the future. We support you to support this ban. Thank you.

For the well-being of all life now and to come. The following names are all Order of Interbeing members located in California.

Kenley Neufeld, Chân Niệm Hỷ
Marc Jantzi
Gael Belden, True Wonderful Eyes
John Salerno-White, True Peace on Earth
Brother Phap Ho, True Protector of the Dharma
Juliet Hwang, True Emerald Ocean
Quyen Haduong, Chan Huyen
Leigh Ann Lipscomb, True Mountain of Goodness
Meredith Klein, True Summer Garden
Jo-ann Rosen, True River of Understanding
Beverly Alexander, True Holy Insight
Jerome Freedman, True Precious Light
Terry Barber, True Moon Heart
Ngoc-Tan Phan, Chan Mat Giai
Karen Hilsberg, True Boundless Graciousness
Phil Stein, True Precious Eyes
Margo Doxakis-Stein, True Garden of Understanding
Jacqueline Kim, True Beautiful Garden
John Freese, True Dharma Awakening
Lananh Nguyen
Jim Scott-Behrends, True Recollection of Compassion
Lyn Fine, True Goodness
Laura Alderdice, True Spiritual Communion
David Ostwald, True path of Equnimity
Terry Helbick, True Original Land
Susan Murphy, True Good Birth
David Nelson, Truly Holding Equanimity
Bryan Ferry, True Recollection of Awakening
Blanca Arias, True Ocean of Purity
Zachiah Murray, True Lotus Ocean
Nathaniel Vose, True Land of Compassion
Brandy Sacks, True Spiritual Contemplation
Andrew Deckert, True Wonderful Direction
Karen Hostetler, True Mountain of Deep Vows
Lynda Louise, True garden of togetherness
Meena Srinivasan, True Seal of Peace
Louise Dunlap, True Silent Teaching
Gary De Foe, True Buddha Garden
Sophy Wong, Chan Hanh Nguyen
Harriet Wrye, True Precious Smile
Laura Hunter, True Ocean of Teachings
Alice Christine Dawkins, True Wonderful Mind
Hac Nguyen, Chan Mat Trieu
Susan C Terris, True Fragrant Ocean
Natascha Bruckner, True Ocean of Jewels
Polly Chu, True Garden of Realizations
Elizabeth Nguyen, Chan Tri Tinh
Alexa Singer-Telles, True Silent Action
Tam Le, Chân Lưu Phong – True Flowing Tradition
Nu-Ha Phan, Chan Dinh Qua
Lennis Lyon, True Silent Forest
Sharon Moy, True Mountain of Clarity
Debra Rodgers, True Chrysanthemum Garden
Birgitte Moyer-Vinding, True Path of Light
Maria Nicora, True Garden of Goodness
Joshua Kaufman, True Shining Ocean
Miriam Goldberg, True Recollection of Happiness
Keith Mesecher
Mary Gorman, True Ever Lasting Ocean
Peter Kuhn, True Ocean of Joy
Robert Speer, True Silent Light
Denise Bergez, True Silent Shining
Marge Wurgel, True Crane Garden

Sexual Harassment Policy

This is the most recent tool provided to us by the North American Dharma Teachers Harmony Committee. Here is an excerpt:

“Dharma Teachers have an ethical duty to prevent harm, including harm from intentional or unintentional sexual harassment. The Care-Taking Council offers this policy to increase Dharma Teacher awareness of and sensitivity to possible sexual harassment, minimize the risk of sexual harassment, and provide guidelines to help protect Sanghas and Dharma Teachers from the suffering caused by sexual harassment.”

Please read the entire document for additional insight.

View PDF Document

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Me

Happiness, the End of Suffering, and Recovery

Forty-six. That’s not so old — young in fact. He and I are both 46, with young children, and in a long term relationship. We both got sober very young and then maintained that sobriety for many years. Mr. Hoffman made it 23-years, and I’m about to reach my 25th year. This is where the story diverges into disbelief, tragedy, and sadness. Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead from a drug overdose in his own house and a needle in his arm.

How does this happen? Why am I still here and he’s dead? These are the questions on my mind today.

What is clear to me is that success, fame, and fortune do not equal happiness and recovery. Further, many men and women in their forties die everyday. Many probably die from alcohol or drugs. We can’t really blame the heroin, though it is gnarly and deadly, because we know that the drug is just a symptom of a deeper suffering, a deeper sadness, and an inability to cope with reality.

Here’s what I know about happiness, the end of suffering, and recovery.

Continue reading

A New OI Aspirant

0000042_be-beautiful-be-yourselfAs I walked with the Sangha through the Oak Grove at Deer Park last summer I heard myself say, “I am a good wife.”  I was startled and happy to hear that spontaneous belief.  For years, when I became irritated, impatient, or outright angry with my husband, I would say to myself, “What a lousy wife I am. He didn’t deserve that.  I was feeling bad about myself and took it out on him. Why does he stay married to me?”  It wasn’t that I had said or done anything really awful, and I knew that my own suffering was  the cause of my feelings and  behavior. Later that day, while listening to the Dharma Talk, I realized that the time was right for me to become an Order of Interbeing aspirant.  Enough of my own suffering had been transformed that I could aspire to the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in order to  build on my practice experiences and further transform my suffering. The source of my faith and enthusiasm for practicing mindfulness is the experience of transformation I have seen in my own life and the relief and joy that comes with transformation.  Before I started to practice in 2007, I acted in ways that were petty, vindictive, mean spirited, or judgmental. Each time, I would chastise myself  and vow to be a kinder, better person, but nothing changed.  What I didn’t see was the direct connection between my behavior and my own big melting pot of internal suffering.  I did see that feeling anxious and insecure about myself was the common antecedent to the behaviors that I wanted to change in myself.   But I didn’t know how to become less anxious and more secure.  I felt hopeless to change what I didn’t like in myself.

After a year or so of practicing mindfulness in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, I began to notice that I was less likely to act in ways that hurt others.  I was more patient and accepting of others.  Since I hadn’t done anything to directly change myself, I realized that the changes must be related to my daily sitting practice and from faithfully attending Sangha every week.  This was a stunning realization.  I realized that I didn’t have to try to change, but rather I could keep practicing and noticing my thoughts and feelings as I had been doing.  I decided to stop trying to purposefully change and just keep sitting.  What a relief! Continue reading