Our Teachers and Lineage
Our teachers are part of a lineage that has handed down the Buddha's teachings - the Dharma - in an unbroken chain since the lifetime of Shakyamuni Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. Our principal teacher, Fred Eppsteiner, teaches in the tradition of Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, whose lineage goes back to the ninth-century Chinese Chan master Lin Chi (known as Rinzai in Japanese) and ultimately back to the Buddha.
Our lineage emphasizes consciously integrating daily life and spiritual life so that our practice of mindfulness meditation and the development of wisdom and compassion can permeate and transform all aspects of our lives and relationships.
Fred Eppsteiner, a Dharma teacher in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh, has been a student of Buddhism and a practitioner of meditation for more than forty years and has devoted himself to teaching the Dharma (teachings of the Buddha) since 1996. Although Fred has practiced primarily in the Zen and Tibetan Buddhist lineages, he bases his teachings on the full breadth of Buddhist philosophical, psychological and meditative traditions.
In addition to his regular Dharma talks for FCM’s meditation groups in Tampa, Naples, and St. Petersburg, Florida, Fred leads intensive practice periods, days of mindfulness, and multi-day retreats as described in the Programs section of this website. He maintains relationships with meditation groups and students throughout Florida, North and South Carolina, and other parts of the US and Canada.
Fred began his Zen practice in the late 1960s at the Rochester Zen Center in upstate New York with Roshi Philip Kapleau, the first Japanese-trained Westerner to establish a Zen center in the United States and the author of “The Three Pillars of Zen.” In the mid-1970s, Fred developed a close relationship with Thich Nhat Hanh, who has become one of the most widely known, beloved and respected meditation teachers and authors in the West today. Fred became a member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing in 1983 and received Dharma Transmission and permission to teach from Thich Nhat Hanh in 1994.
Fred also has a long-standing relationship with the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. His teacher was Dzongnar Rinpoche, a profound Dharma practitioner in the Tibetan Nyingma lineage, from whom Fred received oral teachings in India in the Dzogchen (Great Perfection) tradition. As well, Fred has received teachings from other modern masters of Tibetan Buddhism.
Fred is the editor of two books on Buddhism: “The Path of Compassion: Writings on Socially Engaged Buddhism” and “Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism.” Many of Fred’s teachings have been recorded and are available in the Dharma Talks included on this website.
Before moving to the Tampa Bay area in 2005, Fred lived in Naples, Florida, where he practiced psychotherapy and where he founded the Naples Community of Mindfulness in 1998. Fred’s experience as a psychotherapist helps him to understand how to apply Buddhist psychology, mindfulness teachings, and meditation practices to the everyday lives of American practitioners. Fred lives happily with Angie Parrish in St. Petersburg, Florida. He has two grown children, Ty and Karuna, and a grandson, Leo. Fred’s 96-year old mother, Ruth, is a Dharma practitioner and an active member of the FCM community.
Thich Nhat Hanh
The FCM community practices in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, a living Vietnamese Zen master, Buddhist scholar, peace and human rights activist, and poet. One of the most tireless and beloved Buddhist teachers in the world, Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings and practices appeal to people from wide-ranging religious, spiritual, and cultural backgrounds. Known for the power and clarity of his teachings, and beloved for his personal serenity and his quiet, compelling presence, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches a practice of mindfulness and “engaged Buddhism” that helps us to become fully aware and alive within the present moment.
Born in 1926, Thich Nhat Hanh became a Buddhist monk at the age of 16. During the Vietnam War, he founded the School of Youth for Social Services, a grassroots organization based on Buddhist principles of nonviolence and compassionate action. The organization rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, resettled displaced families, and organized agricultural cooperatives.
Exiled from Vietnam for his activism, Thich Nhat Hanh traveled to Europe and the United States, where he continued his work for peace. He was nominated for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr., whom he had persuaded to publicly support ending the Vietnam War. Having seen the anger and inner turmoil within many U.S. antiwar activists, he turned his work toward teaching Buddhism to westerners in cultural terms they could understand.
In 1966, Thich Nhat Hanh founded the Order of Interbeing, a community of monastics and laypeople committed to living for the benefit of others in accord with Buddhist ethical precepts. “Interbeing” is a word he coined to represent the Buddhist principles of impermanence and the interconnectedness of all things.
Thich Nhat Hanh has established monastic and practice centers around the world, including Deer Park in California, Blue Cliff in New York and Magnolia Grove in Mississippi. [LINKS TO ALL 3] After almost 40 years of exile, he was allowed to return to Vietnam in 2005 and again in 2007. During these visits, he gave teachings at retreats attended by tens of thousands of Vietnamese. His most recent tour of North America is in 2013, when he and his monks, nuns, and members of the Order of Interbeing lead retreats and give public talks in Ontario, New York, Massachusetts, Mississippi and California.
Between teaching tours, Thich Nhat Hanh lives at Plum Village in southwest France, a monastery and retreat center visited by thousands of people annually. [LINK] Thich Nhat Hanh has written more than 100 books, many of which are published in English by Parallax Press. [LINK] His life and teachings have deeply influenced and inspired many millions of people around the world.
Zen and Mahayana Buddhism
Zen is based on the practice of sitting meditation, on direct non-conceptual awareness of our everyday lives, and on a belief that we all have “Buddha minds” that are clear and perfect just as they are, if we will only drop the veil of thinking and delusion that obscures them.
Introduced into China about 1500 years ago by the Indian monk Bodhidharma, “Zen” comes from the Chinese “Ch’an,” which in turn is based on the Sanskrit word “dhyana,” meaning sitting meditation. Zen is practiced in Japan, China, Vietnam, Korea and now in many western countries as well. Despite Zen’s reliance on direct experience rather than a more theoretical study of Buddhist sutras and writings, there are many wonderful Zen stories and anecdotes of teacher-student dialogues and wordless interactions resulting in sudden enlightenment.
Zen is a form of Mahayana Buddhism, as is Tibetan Buddhism. “Mahayana” is a Sanskrit term meaning “the great vehicle”; its practitioners do not seek enlightenment and liberation only for themselves, but they seek it for all sentient beings. The Mahayana wisdom teachings emphasize the inter-connectedness and unity of all things – called “interbeing” by Thich Nhat Hanh - and the non-existence of a separate self. Thus, our practice includes selfless service. We practice for one another and for all beings, to diminish suffering and increase happiness for all, including ourselves, but not putting ourselves above anyone else.
Thich Nhat Hanh and his monastic community have incorporated many of the Mahayana teachings into the Five Mindfulness Trainings, based on the five ethical precepts of the Buddha, as expanded and applied to today’s world. Many members of our FCM community have received transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings from our teacher, from other teachers, or from Thich Nhat Hanh himself. Our sanghas and retreats include regular recitations and study of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.