By JAN KERNIS
In a 2018 wisdom intensive Dharma talk, our teacher, Fred, told us about resting in mindful awareness: "It is best to approach this as if you knew, learned and understood absolutely nothing."
The recent workshop, Buddhist Wisdom on Death and Dying," emphasized the "don't know mind" of which Fred spoke was the wise and compassionate approach to the process of death and dying -- both our own death and that of others. It was clear that the fundamental Buddhist teachings of mindful awareness that we learn and practice at FCM to eliminate our suffering in daily life are also those helping us at death.
What made this workshop valuable for me was the completeness of the offering: its supportive atmosphere, reflections and guided meditations, poetry, Dharma, practicality, references and opportunities for experience, healing and transformation.
The workshop had a guided meditation to help us look at how our priorities shifted as we saw our time of death become closer. Daily busy-ness and “to do” lists dropped away as death was imminent.
We reviewed some common aversions and anxieties of death and how Buddhist understandings can help us think about them. Much as we try, "magical" thinking that "death doesn't apply to me" is not reality. The Parable of the Mustard Seed was offered to shed light: Kisa Gotami, grieving the loss of her baby, learned from Buddha's skillful teaching as she went from house to house in search of a family untouched by death, that life ends for all living beings. The Five Remembrances and Nine Contemplations were shared and seen as part of daily practice to keep this awareness and presence fresh.
A reminder that “our attitude is our freedom” was offered to suggest to us to find meaning and purpose in being, no matter the circumstances. In view of the loss of control faced at death, what attitude can we cultivate now in preparation for our death and those of our loved ones? We learned that Buddhism advises us to go toward adversity, as in Lojong saying to use adversity as a path of transformation and awakening. As Thay says, "Hello, anger, my friend." We were shown how to use Tonglen, a Lojong practice, to help transform pain and afflictive emotions.
There were meditations that structured opportunities for us to look deeply beneath the surface of our “cultured” responses and to gently and safely reveal our fears and insights of death and dying. The dissolution of the story of fear of pain at death that I had been telling myself created space for compassion and understanding to flow to others. I was able to see how much suffering I had been causing myself, a reminder that deep openness of awareness to impermanence and death are the key features of life as well.
We were reminded that "we are going to the Mystery" and, with reference to Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, "This is not like an Agatha Christie mystery where we investigate and find out who did it in the end." While the mind thinks it's got it all together, be ready, it's going to be a surprise, and the best preparation is being able to be with awe and wonder, grow in confidence and trust of the process, and rest in mindful awareness.
The point was made that our practice has deep purpose in death as well as in life -- familiarizing us with our natural awareness, our "don't know mind," our presence in each moment. This familiarity mitigates the panic and fear at death (as it does in life). The reality is that we do not know how we will react. The whole is a mystery -- life and death -- and it is the practice of remembering to rest in our awareness and becoming familiar with this that enables us to be truly present with compassion and wisdom.
The profound Dharma teachings, the mystery of life and death that we are, as presented in this workshop, point to the essential Buddhist teachings on emptiness, the "don't know mind," resting in our awareness, that we have been cultivating in our daily practice and intensives at FCM. I left feeling at home, at greater ease with death, and with deep gratitude for this offering by our Dharma sister and brother Marilyn Warlick and Alex Lerner, with profound inspiration from our Dharma teacher Fred.
Jan Kernis, a member of the FCM Tampa Sangha, is a newly ordained member of the Order of Interbeing.
By ANDA PETERSON
Work with what you are.
If you are a fawn
stand still as wood
in a field of tall green grass
at the edge of a forest
your dark eyes wide open
flit and fly home
through the twilight.
your soft brown ears
upright will catch sounds
of wind through the pines.
If you are a field mouse
scurry, slipping between
If you are a human
see the fawn, the pines, the wildflowers
feel your breath as wind,
how your heart beats as
bird, mouse, fawn
then and only then
your tender work
By GABBY BETAGGLIO
Gabby Betagglio and Gerry Stinnett vacuum meditation cushions at a recent Selfless Service work day.
I wanted to be more involved in my Wake Up community, so when Bryan Hindert approached me about leading the Selfless Service aspect of Wake Up in the hopes of getting more people involved in doing altruistic work, I accepted his invitation.
On my end, I was motivated by the thought of being more involved in a community that I was growing to love and to become attached to. In other words, it felt a bit selfish -- rather than selfless -- for me at the time. Since then, I have learned that these feelings are normal. Altruism, selfless service, the act of giving is something that can be cultivated. Props to Bryan for that lesson.
Just because the motivation initially isn’t “I want to be of service to others” does not mean that it cannot eventually become that. So long as our intention is to be more altruistic, more grateful, more geared towards thinking of others rather than ourselves, practicing at events such as the work morning will cultivate that virtue inside of us. At least, that is what I have noticed for myself.
At first glance, I can’t say that I am ecstatic about thinking about others before myself. This is because I have personal goals, I am constantly feeling like there isn’t enough time to do what I want and the thought of giving my time on a Saturday morning definitely clashes with a lot of my motivations. But if I think about it…thinking about myself too much causes me suffering. It really does.
Of course, goals are important and I will continue to work towards reaching them. However, I have found that these work mornings help grow an essential quality that I wish for myself…an altruistic quality that will, among many other things, benefit my mind and nourish my life.
To talk a bit about the actual time spent at the selfless service mornings…let’s just say there is a curve. During the morning meditation and group powwow to decide the day’s jobs, I feel peaceful and grateful to be there, healthy, on a Saturday morning.
Then the work begins. It begins, and so does my mind. Thoughts about what else I could be doing pop up. Sometimes even anger! “Why am I here? I need ‘me’ time after the long week I had at work! This isn’t fair!” All sorts of thoughts… “I should be cleaning my own house. I should be doing the thing that I have been avoiding for months anyway…” All of this comes up as if on cue when the work begins.
I don’t have much to say about it except that the reality is that these work mornings last three hours and no more…and really, there is much more to be gained than there is to complain about.
So, I will say a bit about how, again, Bryan, suggested I deal with this yuckiness.
One way is by shifting my perception. Instead of hanging out in anxiety-world as described above, I, we, can think about how much others will benefit from the work that we are doing. How people will come to the beautiful center, beautiful in part because of our work, and maybe even transform their lives.
Another way is to shift the mind toward gratefulness. “I am so grateful to be here with my community. Not everyone has a loving community such as this. I am working, and so is everyone else around me. They care for me and want peace and happiness for me just as for themselves.”
So those are strategies that I have recently learned and I am looking forward to using at the next work morning I attend.
Going back to the curve, after the work finishes we have our closing circle. That is where all the gratefulness and bliss sets in. I truly enjoy this time, sharing about my experience with everyone else while sipping tea and enjoying some healthy snacks.
Here is where it’s obvious to see that we are not just working…we are doing much more that is of huge benefit to ourselves. The altruistic act of doing service is of benefit to ourselves. Just had to reiterate that, in case you, like me, need the reassurance. :)
Thanks to Wake Up member Gabby Betagglio for this thoughtful article!
By ANGIE PARRISH
FCM Executive Director
Fred and I recently returned from a wonderful week of practice and connection with both the Zen Center of Oregon (ZCO) and the Oregon Community of Mindful Living.
In this article, I’ll share about our experience with ZCO, with a follow up article about the Community of Mindful Living.
Heart of Wisdom Zen Buddhist Temple in Portland, OR
By way of background, several years ago Fred reconnected with Roshi Hogen Bays, a Dharma brother from the early 1970s at the Rochester Zen Center (RZC).
Both left RZC as young men in their 20s, and although each followed his own spiritual and personal path, their lives today are similar in that both Fred and Roshi Hogen have founded and now lead Buddhist communities. Seeing the benefit to both communities of sharing teachings and experience, each enthusiastically invited the other to visit and teach at his Dharma center.
As a result, Roshi Hogen visited the Florida Community of Mindfulness (FCM) in March for a week of talks, a weekend retreat, and informal get-togethers with various members of our community. Those of us who had the opportunity to hear and interact with Roshi Hogen were touched by his teachings and his generosity in sharing his years of experience in creating the Zen Center of Oregon, which includes both an urban Heart of Wisdom Zen Buddhist Temple in Portland and the Great Vow Zen Monastery in rural Clatskanie.
In turn, Fred and I were invited to visit the Zen Center of Oregon (ZCO) this month, where Fred shared his Dharma wisdom in many creative ways and we had a very rich exchange of experience with Roshi Hogen and his community.
Visit to ZCO’s Urban Heart of Wisdom Temple
We began our visit at ZCO’s Heart of Wisdom Temple in Portland, where we participated in meditation followed by Fred offering aDharma talk to ZCO’s lay community. As with FCM, there was a mix of ages and experience, and the audience engaged with Fred around several topics related to the Seven Points of Mind Training.
At the annual meeting held by ZCO’s Board of Directors and membership, we enjoyed hearing about their programs, community and plans, both for Heart of Wisdom Temple and Great Vow Monastery.
While ZCO follows many traditional Japanese forms in terms of meditation and chanting, we learned that their programs are very similar to FCM’s in many respects. For example, they place strong emphasis on the Buddhist precepts, setting aspirations, developing concentration, practicing the Four Immeasurables, mindful eating, and more.
And, similar to FCM, their community is nurtured and supported largely by selfless service from many warm and dedicated lay individuals.
Visit to Great Vow Monastery
After several days in Portland we traveled to Great Vow Zen Monastery, ZCO’s residential community of lay and ordained people engaged full time in Buddhist practice. The practice heritage of the monastery is the Soto/Rinzai lineage of Taizan Maezumi, Roshi.
Great Vow offers residencies, retreats, and workshops that are open and available to everyone. The monastery was created 20
years ago through the purchase and conversion of a discontinued public elementary school, and is located 80 miles northwest of Portland on twenty forested acres overlooking the Columbia River flood plain.
It includes a large meditation hall, guest and resident dormitories, dining hall, and a large organic vegetable garden. Within the forest is Great Vow's famous Jizo Garden, a memorial garden for people who have died, and the newly dedicated Shrine of Vows, a place where people leave tokens of their deep aspirations.
Roshi Hogen and his wife, Roshi Jan Chozen Bays, are the spiritual directors and head teachers of the monastery with teaching assistance from other ZCO teachers, both lay and ordained. Roshi Chozen is a physician and has written a number of highly regarded books on various aspects of mindfulness and Buddhism, including two books that we have used for FCM classes and practices: Mindful Eating, and The Vow-Powered Life.
During our stay at Great Vow, we were able to fold into the daily practice and routine of the ZCO residential community. There are currently 13 women and men in residence – mostly in their 20s and 30s – with a daily schedule of silent meditation (“zazen”), chanting, Buddhist study, work practice and community living. The experience of this group ranges from lay members who are exploring this path to fully ordained Zen priests.
Great Vow conducts at least one seven- to ten-day retreat (“sesshin”) per month in the monastery’s formal Zen tradition. When not in sesshin, each day typically begins with wake-up bells at 4:50 am, followed by zazen, chanting, temple cleaning and breakfast, which is often in the Oryoki tradition. Many of you may be unaware of what Oryoki means. Often translated as “just the right amount,” Oryoki is a highly choreographed ritual of serving and eating food. It was certainly a new experience for me, and despite a few “I love Lucy” moments, with the help of the residents I participated in and enjoyed this ritual, which also is a very efficient way and non-wasteful way of feeding a large group of people.
Work periods and short chanting services continue throughout the day, with zazen and chanting closing the day. We also were treated to a lovely soft chant by the residents when they performed “lights out and closing rounds” each evening at 10 pm.
During our time with Roshi Hogen, Roshi Chozen and the residents, Fred and I had a number of very interesting and meaningful exchanges about the development of Buddhism in America. Over the past five or so years, Great Vow has invited teachers in other traditions to lead retreats on topics such as Dzogchen and Mahamudra. As well, more secular teachers such as Byron Katie have conducted workshops and retreats on topics that are often related to emotional healing.
The group was very interested in the three-path developmental model that Fred has created for FCM, and there was a rich discussion around the inclusion of teachings from different lineages and traditions within one community.
Our stay at Great Vow was both very simple and powerful for me. With no outside distractions and such a strong container for practice, one can appreciate the capacity for deepening that is offered by monastic living. And, being a practitioner who lives in the wider world of beings, I am very happy to bring the fruits of this experience back to our lovely lay community at FCM.
Seeing the Knot as One Thread at a Time Was Helpful
By ELLEN OBERLIN
From the moment I signed up for the Untying Anger workshop I was thrust into awareness of anger arising.
I was feeling smug about having enrolled myself and my husband, David, in the workshop, thinking I was finally going to get a handle on the anger thing.
That feeling didn’t last long as I quickly received an email detailing the homework. Homework, my mind reacted? I felt exhausted just from confronting the issue enough to have signed up for the workshop!
I thought I wouldn't have enough data in the log we were asked to do regarding our anger since it was only two days until the workshop.
Not so, I was surprised at the multitude of opportunities I had to log my annoyance, irritation, frustration and plain anger in so short a time even over insignificant things. It seemed I was on the anger spectrum for long stretches of time. That alone was a big wakeup call.
I had known this was true, but seeing it in black and white on the log made it undeniable. I could no longer pretend.
I had managed to not entirely coerce my husband into doing the workshop with me by asking that it be considered my birthday celebration. What better way to have a lasting positive effect on our lives than to gain a framework we could work with together? He agreed although I didn’t think he would join me since he is not an FCM member.
Once we got to the workshop I felt ill at ease because David was there with me. I noticed worry arising about how his experience would be. Noticing it, I was able to let go because I knew from past experience that I would later find myself having missed the workshop if I didn’t let go.
Betsy Arizu and Bill MacMillen, the facilitators, were great oceans of calm for me. They had us work in experiential exercises with someone we didn’t come with at first. What a relief to me, since David and I had been dealing with anger arising, often unskillfully, for over 30 years. We didn’t have to jump right into the deep end.
The course, designed by Angie Parrish, was well thought out and proceeded methodically to look calmly at the issue of anger. I wanted to jump right in to “what to do,” so I had the opportunity to practice patience, a vital skill for dealing with anger, from the beginning of the workshop.
I also felt great support from the other attendees in the workshop. They looked normal, not someone you’d think had an “anger problem,” and I felt my heart opening to our collective courage to confront this challenge head on. Most spoke quite frankly about the pain they’d suffered surrounding their experiences of anger.
One thing I won’t forget about this workshop is the slide Betsy showed with a knot of threads enlarged to show that there were distinct threads within.
That knot is how anger felt in my heart; it really resonated with my experience.
So, I could relax and trust that this path had a way to sort out the strands and untangle my feelings successfully.
I won’t attempt a summary but will end instead by expressing my deep gratitude to the entire Sangha for their contribution to me and my husband as we work to engage more skillfully with each other and the world.
Thanks to Ellen Oberlin for sharing her experience in this important workshop!
Thirty people joyously received transmission of trainings at three different levels March 17 at FCM's Tampa Center and made vows to follow the path toward compassion and awakening.
"Today the community has gathered to give support to those who will vow to go for refuge to the Three Jewels and receive and practice the Two Promises, Five Mindfulness Trainings, and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings," our teacher Fred told the three groups.
"You have had the chance to learn about and observe the way of understanding and love that has been handed down to us by teachers over many centuries," he said.
Ten senior aspirants received transmission of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings in preparation for ordination to become members of the Order of Interbeing (OI) community, 17 persons received the 5 Mindfulness Trainings, and three young people made the Two Promises.
The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing are expanded ethical guidelines that the members of the Order take as their aspirational lodestar for a life of understanding and compassion, the life of a bodhisattva dedicated to relieving suffering.
Receiving OI transmission were Brandy Kidd of Naples, Chris Lee-Nguyen of Fort Myers, Beth Schroeder of Naples, Jan Kernis of Tampa, Diana Fish of St. Petersburg, Evelyn Haseman of Temple Terrace, Eleanor Cecil of Tampa, Lindsey McCaskey of Naples, Tony Pollitt of Naples and Maria Sgambati of Tampa.
Their next step will be to receive full ordination later this year from monastics at one of the Plum Village centers in the U.S. or at Plum Village in France. At that point, they may wear the brown jackets signifying the humility of service to FCM, the Plum Village community and to sentient beings everywhere.
In addition to the OI aspirants, 17 students took the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a public commitment to taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
They were Bobb Hart, John Renner, Tracy Walter, Dana Mooney, Allon Bell, Maggie Tudor, Rita Greenspan, Misti Oxford-Pickeral, Teresa MatassiniFernandez, Ellen Mefford, Raven Dreifus-Kofron, Scott Nissensohn, Courtney (Cici) Claar, Mary Periard, and Jose F. Rodriguez, all of the Tampa Sangha; and Noreen Haines and Sheila Ludwig, both of the Naples Sangha.
Three children/young people renewing the Two Promises were Sophia Cabra-Lezama, Emmy Stepp and Luke Dluzneski, all of the Tampa Sangha.
Photo #1: Fred leads ceremony under watchful gaze of Thay (the Vietnamese word for teacher; Thich Nhat Hanh was Fred's teacher).
Photo #2: OI aspirants do prostrations as they receive 14 Mindfulness Trainings.
Photo #3: 17 adults receive 5 Mindfulness Trainings, take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and receive their dharma names. Three young people, front row, left, renew their vows in the Two Promises.
Photo #4: Fred gives certificate with new dharma name to Jose Rodriguez of Tampa Sangha.
Photo #1 is by Nancy Natilson.
Fred, seated, center, leads transmission ceremonies before a packed house, while Bryan Hindert, left, serves as bell master. OI aspirants are at right.
More than 135 people watch as 30 people receive transmission March 17.
Fred explains the dharma foundation of the commitments being made in the ceremonies. Angie Parrish, FCM executive director, looks on at right.
Photos #5, 6 and 7 are by Alex Lerner
Big Vows by Young People Challenge Adults
Three Students Renew Their Commitments
The Two Promises made by children and teens commit to develop deeper understanding and compassion -- big vows, indeed.
One wrote in the application to renew vows that they wanted to renew their promises because they wanted to become a more understanding and compassionate person: "I believe it will help my relationships with people, animals, plants and minerals, and help my meditation practice."
"I want to have a larger comprehension of understanding and compassion," wrote another.
"I want to renew my vows to become a better person," wrote the third young adult. "The promises help me to stay on the path to be patient and grateful."
As Fred said in the ceremony Sunday, "Go out there and show the adults how it's done!"
The students are, from left, Emmy Stepp, Luke Dluzneski and Sophia Cabra-Lezama. Photo by Sam Warlick
New Members Thoughtful About Commitments
Finding a Sangha, Helping Others Played Big Role
Two new members, Noreen Haines and Sheila Ludwig, both of the Naples Sangha, were thoughtful about their reasons for taking refuge in the Three Jewels and receiving transmission of the 5 Mindfulness Trainings in a discussion after the ceremony. Both joined FCM this year.
"Standing up in front of people and making a commitment to following the path makes it so much more real," Sheila said. "Also, there was something about the linking of Fred to Thich Naht Hanh that goes all the way back to the Buddha that struck me. They brought out a picture of Thich Nhat Hanh and put it on the altar, and I thought, 'This is kind of big'."
A retired music teacher who spends part of her year in Naples and the rest in Medina, Ohio, Sheila said she was thrilled to find a sangha that offered community in Naples, where she felt "embraced." She has searched for a home sangha in Ohio, but hasn't been able to find one, so when she is in Ohio for the summer, she plans to stay connected to FCM during intensives via Zoom and to maintain communications with new sangha friends.
Sheila has a cousin who is a Soto Zen priest and, for many years, has been discussing Buddhism with him and reading Buddhist books that he recommended, but at FCM, she found "the last jewel," she said. "I added sangha."
Noreen, an avid hiker and massage therapist who spends half of her year in Naples and half in Salida, Colorado, said she can't imagine a life without helping others. She saw joining FCM and committing to the practice as an opportunity to get support while following that purpose.
"It was a turning point when I heard Fred say that (Buddhism) is an easier way to live, and I thought that feels very practical. You need to figure out how to be present and awake and how to communicate to help people, and if somebody can help me understand that, I'm all about it.
"I found this treasure (at FCM). Give me a shovel. I'm all about it. Give me more!"
OI Provides Core Community Services to FCM
Building Strong Sangha is Key Role Outlined by Fred
In a recent talk before the Naples Sangha, Andrew Rock of Tampa, FCM's OI Coordinator, and Nancy Natilson, OI member from Tampa, described the OI program as "connective tissue" that binds the community together.
Nancy said the brown jackets work by ordained OI members are a symbol of humility, a statement that "we are here to serve you." OI members perform service tasks of all kinds for the FCM and Plum Village communities, with particular emphasis on sangha building.
The Order of Interbeing was originally founded by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) in Vietnam in 1964 during the Vietnam war to provide support and guidance for a handful of his closest students and associates engaged in providing aid to their suffering people, often at risk of their own lives. Thay reopened membership in the Order 15 years later, and our teacher Fred was among the earliest of the new members.
The OI includes both monastics and laypeople, and there are now thousands of members around the world, including 52 aspirants and ordained OI members in FCM, perhaps the largest OI chapter within a sangha in the country.
In an informal discussion with the OI group last weekend, Fred described the history of OI, his own involvement with the opening up of the Order in the West and editing of Thay's book, Interbeing, and how he has emphasized OI's development as a "core community" within FCM, which strategically uses its cadre of lay volunteers to offer a wide array of services to its 300 members scattered up and down the west coast of Florida and, increasingly, into farther cities and other states, as well.
Andrew orchestrated a symphony of OI members and aspirants and coordinated with selfless service volunteers and leaders in the FCM community to produce a retreat that flowed smoothly. Nancy led the catering operation for the retreat.
Above, Andrew Rock and Nancy Natilson model symbolic brown jackets. The green ribbons signify membership in the Earth Holders Community, a Buddhist group concerned with issues relating to climate change. Photo by Carol Green
Thanks to Andrew Rock, a member of the Tampa Sangha, for this article on FCM’s Order of Interbeing.
On the morning of Sunday, March 17 we will have a wonderful and inspiring transmission ceremony for two groups at FCM’s Tampa practice center.
Our teacher Fred will transmit the Five Mindfulness Trainings to a happy group of his students who are ready to make the public commitment of taking refuge in the three jewels of Buddhism – the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha – and to take the Five Mindfulness Trainings as the ethical guiding lights for their thoughts, words and actions.
In addition, ten senior aspirants in FCM’s Order of Interbeing (OI) community will receive transmission of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, expanded ethical guidelines that the members of the Order take as their aspirational lodestar for a life of understanding and compassion, the life of a bodhisattva dedicated to relieving suffering.
The Order of Interbeing was originally founded by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) in Vietnam in 1964 during the Vietnam war to provide support and guidance for a handful of his closest students and associates engaged in providing aid to their suffering people, often at risk of their own lives. Thay, now resident at Plum Village Monastery in France although he is currently staying at his root temple in Vietnam, reopened membership in the Order fifteen years later, and our own teacher Fred was among the very earliest of the new members.
The OI includes both monastics and laypeople, and there are now thousands of members around the world, including fifty aspirants and ordained OI members in FCM, perhaps the largest OI chapter in the country. As stated in the OI Charter, the aim of the Order is to actualize Buddhism by studying, experimenting with, and applying Buddhism in modern life with a special emphasis on the bodhisattva ideal.
Aspirancy to the Order is opened in December of each year to members of FCM who have practiced diligently for at least two years, and are willing to commit themselves to service and to their healing and transformation for the benefit of all beings. Aspirants are assigned a mentor to guide their study and practice of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and help them develop the skills and experience to serve as sangha builders.
The diverse FCM group, like other OI members, is geographically diffused among the various FCM sanghas and beyond, but it has regular monthly Zoom calls to recite the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and to discuss how we can best serve our sangha and develop our practice. We have annual OI retreats; the 2019 FCM OI retreat will take place in Tampa next weekend and will include Sunday’s transmission ceremony.
Fred, our teacher and respected elder OI brother, often says that the OI is the core of the FCM community because its members may be found serving the sangha in many ways, although Fred is always quick to point out that there are many deep and dedicated practitioners who are not members of the Order of Interbeing.
But the Order is not only, or even primarily, a subset of FCM: the Order of Interbeing is an integral part of the worldwide Plum Village community created and led by our root teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. There are also annual OI retreats at the North American Plum Village monasteries at Deer Park in California, Magnolia Grove in Mississippi and Blue Cliff in New York, and of course at Plum Village itself in France, where members of the Order, many of whom live in places where they may be the only OI member, gather to practice and renew their sense of community. In many ways the OI members, as well as the ordained Dharma teachers and monastics, are the “connective tissue” that holds the international Plum Village community together, particularly within lay communities such as FCM.
Full ordination into the Order of Interbeing is conducted by Thay’s senior monastics – formerly by Thay himself – at OI retreats and at retreats of the bi-annual Plum Village North American tour for those aspirants deemed ready by their teachers, OI mentors and themselves. Once ordained, they receive a new Dharma name and a brown jacket to wear on ceremonial occasions such as transmission ceremonies -- not as a mark of attainment, (as the Heart Sutra famously says, there is nothing to attain), but rather as a mark of humility and dedication to a life of service.
At the very heart of the Order of Interbeing are the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh as embodied in the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, and in the profound insight that indeed everything is interconnected. More even than interconnected, we inter-are with all that is. We truly are not separate selves, and with that heart-realization come the compassion and love that power the members of the Order of Interbeing to commit their lives to deepening their understanding and service.
True Collective Healing
The practices offered during the retreat and the confidence and authenticity of the Roshi sparked in me a sense of life flowing as both form and formlessness."
~ Charlie Stewart, FCM Tampa Sangha Member
“Mindfulness of the body in the body” is the First Establishment of Mindfulness offered by the Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta.
Mindfulness of the body is an entry level practice for beginning practitioners and a foundation practice for experienced practitioners for opening and sustaining each session of formal practice. In this retreat, the Roshi demonstrated to the participants, through very skillful guided meditations, how mindfulness of the body in the body can be a portal for mindful living, understanding Dharma teachings, and cultivating wisdom.
The Roshi began by guiding us to awareness of our two hands as objects of meditation with the key instruction being to feel our two hands simultaneously from the “inside” while setting aside ideas about the construction of our two hands that have been formulated by observation from the “outside.”
Taking us step by step into experiencing our hands, he led us into noticing the difference between the experience of our two hands and the anatomical view of our two hands. The “inside” experience is one of formlessness, while the anatomical view that has grown out of looking at our hands from the outside is that our two hands are made of concrete elements, such as fingers, hair, and bones.
Completing an exercise and listening to participants’ experiences of each meditation step, the Roshi would decide what to explore next. Taking us deeper into the experience of the body, based on the same foundation of deep awareness of our two hands, he led participants in practicing acceptance and gratitude for our bodies. He encouraged the participants to develop and hold the attitude toward the body as that of “our beloved.” He pointed out that because the body holds the imprints and summation of all our past experiences, embracing the body in this way heals all wounds from the past.
Always starting with the simultaneous awareness of the two hands, the Roshi continued to take us through the hands, the face, the eyes, and the world around us to experience the formlessness of each phenomenon. This he said is the formlessness (emptiness) that is the subject of the chant in the Heart Sutra. Form is emptiness (formlessness) and emptiness (formlessness) is form. Neither one is negated or eliminated by meditation, but meditation reveals and allows us to experience the formlessness and change our relationship of attachment and grasping with regard to the form.
Some participants shared experiences of feelings or views of the world that were reminiscent of experiences they had earlier in life, especially as children or young adults. The Roshi pointed out that since we are uncovering the clear reality of what we are and have been all along, such experiences from the past can be kinesthetic anchor points for what we are uncovering in the present and gives us confidence to look deeper.
The Roshi cautioned that the profound openings and insights that came from our experiences in this retreat would fade and be forgotten unless we intentionally cultivated and applied our insights in life off the cushion. He shared that in square dancing with his wife they had learned more than 200 different movements that could be performed in different combinations. These movements, which are the basis for a smooth and enjoyable performance, must be taken to dance floor and practiced continuously to retain them and to be proficient. So the participants of this workshop must continue to practice touching the formless to know it clearly and to reflect on how its presence changes our understanding and approach to the formed, i.e., the conditions of our body and the views, stories, and attitudes of our mind.
As I reflect on the personal impact of this retreat, I can feel something was stirred in my consciousness, the formulation of insight, but at this time it is not complete. As I write this, I see that insights come from the formless and their arising is known by a feeling. Conceptualization comes later. From past experience, I know that if I cling to the conceptualization of an insight, I stop the unfolding and get stuck. Holding an insight loosely and examining it by looking into the feeling, allows the insight to deepen and evolve.
The practices offered during the retreat and the confidence and authenticity of the Roshi sparked in me a sense of life flowing as both form and formlessness. Also the boundaries and barriers we experience in ourselves and in the world are constructed (imagined) and can be deconstructed.
For me, the Roshi’s teachings, guided meditations, and practices brought the ideas of Dharma into actual experience, such as the form and emptiness of the Heart Sutra. I can also sense more of an experiential understanding of the practices and the Dharma I studied with Fred in the recent wisdom intensive. (It must be noted that participants of all levels of meditation experience were getting insights about their lives and practice.)
The retreat confirmed for me the closeness and straightforward presence of truth that all of us can readily experience when we open and dissolve the boundaries of what we think is true. Compassion and connection are also experienced through the opening of these boundaries.
As the Roshi foretold, these exercises brought memories of past experiences when I was especially concentrated and open and could sense a deep connection with my surroundings and the people present. At these moments, I felt in perfect harmony with all that was happening, knew exactly what action was appropriate, and felt free to act. These moments were no accident, but at the same time they were not created by thinking about them or planning for them.
Finally, I will take away a renewed intention for continuous practice. Only continuous practice of these meditations, reflection on the insights, and action based on the insights will bring true healing and transformation. It all starts with “mindfulness of the body in the body.”
I bow with respect and gratitude to Roshi Hogen Bays.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Roshi Hogen Bays offered a retreat on March 1 and 2, 2019, for “open minded practitioners who are interested in exploring their identification with the body” and “stepping into the Great Mystery.” A group of 70 practitioners ranging in experience from beginners to those with many years of experience undertook the journey. The Roshi was a Dharma brother of our teacher Fred as they began their Dharma study together under Roshi Philip Kapleau at the Rochester Zen Center in 1968. Both left the Rochester Zen Center in 1975 to continue with Dharma study and practice on separate paths. In recent years Fred re-established contact with the Roshi and invited him to visit FCM and offer teachings. Roshi Hogen Bays is the co-abbot with his wife, Roshi Chozen Bays, of Great Vow Zen monastery near Portland, Oregon, and has been a leader in the Zen Community of Oregon since 1985.
In my 10-year relationship with my dear husband, I’ve spent maybe nine and a half years of it battling about the dishes. Having higher standards for tidiness, I would find myself time and again resentfully washing dishes, repeating phrases to myself like:
When I started coming to Selfless Service work mornings, I learned to watch my automatic reactions to cleaning and began to transform them. I brought awareness to my practiced negativity and was able to be with the work I was choosing to do. Noticing that I was choosing to do it for the benefit of my community, and was not being forced, I was able to generalize those patterns to my work at home:
I practiced in this way for several months at home, and it changed my life drastically:
I have deep gratitude for the opportunity to continue practicing at Selfless Service work mornings to reinforce these patterns and would recommend it to anyone. These mornings do not feel like a morning of chores. They feel like joyful mornings with community, caring for the Center and each other, and learning about ourselves through practicing mindfully.
Dana is a member of the FCM Tampa Sangha.
Beth Schroeder, Naples Sangha member, writes of her experience of the recent retreat and Sunday dharma talk at FCM by Ben Connelly, visiting teacher and priest at the Minneapolis Zen Center.
Ben Connelly, a Soto Zen priest, loves the unlikely word “cool.”
It’s a youthful, fun, easy-going word -- just like Ben. He brought this attitude to us as a guest teacher from the Minneapolis Zen Center as he taught the Dharma using the “Song of the Grass Hut Hermitage” poem as a template. He is also the author of the book, Inside The Grass Hut, which deeply explores the poem’s meaning, line by line, showing his love for the poem with careful analysis and discoveries that he shared.
We followed Ben in exploring how this little 1,300-year-old poem written by a monk living in a grass hut on a rock -- an impermanent dwelling in which “no one of importance” lived calmly and happily teaching the dharma to others -- could be so important in the 21st Century.
“Song of the Grass Hut Hermitage” dates back to around 700 and was written by Shitou, a monk who lived and taught dharma in a remote mountainous area of China. While other Buddhist teachers at the time lived in more comfortable large monasteries, Shitou chose to live in conformance with what he taught. At the time, people tended to be named after where they lived, so the name Shitou literally means “one who lives on the rock.”
Cool also is a word used to describe jazz. Ben, also a jazz musician, used music to help us understand how to listen, connect and be with what is. Music has many subtleties and layers to its meaning. Music/sound/vibration speaks to me almost as much as visual art. So it was a delight that one of the first things we did during the retreat was chant the entire text of “Song of the Grass Hut Hermitage.” We chanted it again several times during the retreat, following Ben’s resonant tones.
Read, let it sink in and then reflect, he told us. First, read the poem/song, letting the words wash over us, not striving to understand them. Next, allow the blended sound of our voices to penetrate our bodies, then read it both softly to ourselves and then allow one phrase to bubble up in our awareness. Then, we were asked to examine that phrase.
For me, words crystalized and feelings followed, allowing an easy connection to the ancient wisdom. It all became very fluid as he directed us to notice how it felt as the sound flowed through our body, mind and consciousness. “Remember to feel,” he reminded us. “Emotions are part of the experience.” He pointedly directed us to not leave anything out. “Let yourself be immersed in it,” he said.
Do you recognize the Four Foundations of MIndfulness? Here they are, as explained in an article in Lion’s Roar:
More than 2,600 years ago, the Buddha exhorted his senior bhikkhus, monks with the responsibility of passing his teachings on to others, to train their students in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.
“What four?” he was asked.
“Come, friends,” the Buddha answered. “Dwell contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, unified, with concentrated one-pointed mind, in order to know the body as it really is. Dwell contemplating feeling in feelings… in order to know feelings as they really are. Dwell contemplating mind in mind… in order to know mind as it really is. Dwell contemplating dhamma in dhammas… in order to know dhammas as they really are.”
The brilliant way Sensai Ben led us into deep Dharma was inspiring. He said things like “Let go and loosen the thought,” helping me to cling less to the intellectual and engage my body, mind, feelings and consciousness more fully with the wisdom of the song. We came back to this theme many times during the retreat -- when chanting, when sitting, when eating, when doing anything -- let yourself be immersed in it, have a relationship with it, let yourself be steeped in the practice (like a tea bag steeping in a cup of water).
Today we live in a culture that leads us away from significant immersion. We are privileged, lucky and wise to have found a path that leads us to connection and liberation from the damage our culture can inflict.
Ben reminded us the very first night of the retreat to take care of our Buddhist lineage. To take care is a sacred action. By hearing these very words, and allowing them to merge with our being, we come back to this sacred path and the great line of Bodhisattvas who stepped onto it eons ago. Our actions bring the practice and lineage into this world and the evolution of how we will evolve as a species, as a world and as beings.
It is doubtful we will retreat as Shitou did -- more likely we will stay in the midst of it all. However we look at it, we are part of it. We are in it. When we practice for ourselves, we practice for others. We inter-are. We are part of Shitou now, we are part of the chant, we bring it to where we are with it in each step.
Awesome, yeah, and daunting. We have the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) as our vehicles. With the Sangha we can travel on a true path and support each other.
Ben brought us his warm, light, wise Dharma touch traveling from chilly Minnesota. We may only need to walk to the mailbox and say good morning to the post person to continue this great gift of Dharma he brought to us. But when we walk with the lineage in our hearts, we take the dharma transmission with us. Who knows what effect it will have, but it certainly deepened my understanding of how to practice the Dharma in my little hut off 3rd Street North in Naples.
It’s all cool, right, Ben? Hope you visit again soon.
Beth is a professional artist and art teacher whose paintings on silk scrolls grace the FCM Meditation Center in Tampa.
Florida Community of Mindfulness, Tampa Center
6501 N. Nebraska Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
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