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Lions Roar : July 2010
in Vietnam; to establish a Buddhist institute that would teach the country's leaders to act with tolerance; and to create a center for training social workers to help bring about nonviolent social change. But the council offered support only for the institute, which opened in February 1964 under the name The Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies, and which later became Van Hanh University. The remaining two points the council deemed the unrealistic dreams of a poet. Nhat Hanh, however, was undaunted and, without the sanc- tion of the UBC, he went about establishing the first of several experimental villages to serve as models for social change. The villagers were encouraged to develop their own local economy and provide their own health care and education, and young people were trained to help them become self-reliant by teach- ing them modern farming methods and ways to improve pub- lic sanitation. When the UBC saw Nhat Hanh's successes, they agreed to endorse his idea to train young people to serve the poor, though they offered no financial assistance. In September of 1965 Nhat Hanh announced that the School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS) would be founded as a pro- gram of Van Hanh University. The response was overwhelming; more than a thousand young idealists applied for the three hun- dred places in the program. But in 1966 the Unified Buddhist Church revoked its endorsement because they feared Nhat Hanh was in league with the Communists. SYSS, however, was able to Newly ordained nuns at Bat Nha Monastery before it was violently closed down by the Vietnamese government. The stone behind them reads: "To be is to interbe." stand on its own two feet by that time and-among other good works-the program participants risked their lives helping peas- ants to rebuild villages that were being bombed again and again, all throughout the Vietnam War. In February, 1966, Thich Nhat Hanh ordained six SYSS lead- ers as members of a new religious order, which he called the Order of Interbeing. This order, which still thrives today, is a community of Buddhist practitioners-men, women, clergy, 42 SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2010 It frightened the Communist govern- ment of Vietnam that so many people, particularly young, educated people, were drawn to his teachings. and lay-who are committed to doing service, practicing at least sixty days of mindfulness per year, and adhering to the fourteen mindfulness trainings. These mindfulness trainings, composed by Thich Nhat Hanh, were intended to be the modern version of the hundreds of traditional precepts that monastics have fol- lowed for millennium. Yet they were not meant to buck Buddhist mores, but to get to the heart of the dharma. The first three trainings are aimed at overcoming ideological divisiveness, fanaticism, and political or religious self- righteous- ness. The fourth training urges practitioners to not only con- template suffering but to actively diminish it. The fifth involves consumption-living simply and avoiding intoxicants-and the sixth concerns finding an antidote to our individual anger, since it has far- reaching social consequences. The seventh training-at the core of all of them-teaches the importance of mindfulness of the present moment, and the eighth and ninth trainings teach right speech. Then the last five trainings involve the body in the broadest sense, urging us, for instance, not to commit violent acts or engage in harmful sexual behavior. The ordination of the first six members of the Order of In- terbeing was a celebration. Each ordinee was given a lamp with a handmade shade on which Thich Nhat Hanh had calligraphed Chinese characters meaning "Lamp of the Full Moon" and "Lamp of Wisdom," etc. Of these six ordinees, three were men and three were women, including Cao Ngoc Phuong. The women chose to be celibate like monastics, though they did not shave their heads. The three men, on the other hand, chose to marry and practice as lay Buddhists. Due to the disruptive nature of the war, no one else was permitted to join the order's core community until 1981, but today there are more than a thousand core members. '"d ::r: o """Ì o 0:; >-< I":: """Ì t"rJ (J e s;:: s;:: ...... z CJ C/J IN MAY, 1966, THICH NHAT HANH left Vietnam for what he thought would be a few short weeks. It turned into forty years of exile. His purpose was to give a seminar on Vietnamese Buddhism at Cornell University and to go on a speaking tour promoting peace and expressing the views of the Vietnamese who were neither communist nor anti-communist. During this trip, Nhat Hanh met with various notable figures, including Thomas Merton, Senator William Fulbright, and Robert McNa- mara, Secretary of Defense, as well as with Martin Luther King Jr., who later nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. But on June I, the day he presented a peace proposal at a press conference in Washington, the South Vietnamese government