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Lions Roar : September 2007
of the god Bacchus than of the Buddha. We sat inside his cot- tage, which overlooks a patchwork quilt of rich, green vine- yards interspersed with radiant yellow sunflowers—a scene that would have made Van Gogh run for his easel. He had accepted my request for an interview for an article I was writing for no less prestigious a magazine than National Geographic on one condition, a condition he requires of all journalists no matter how prestigious the publication. First, I had to sit his retreat, then I could conduct the interview. I welcomed the chance to sit. I was exhausted from a twenty-week road trip following the footsteps of the growing worldwide Engaged Buddhism move- ment, set in motion by Thich Nhat Hanh, and I needed a place to collect my wits, to marinate in meditation. I got there as a retreat was in progress for the Vietnamese Diaspora, which was very much a cultural in-gathering of families and friends who had settled in far-flung Western countries after 1975. I tried to let go of my disappointment that my own schedule had made me miss the previous week, when Thay and Sister Chan Khong led conflict-negotiation workshops for Israelis and Palestin- ians. The journalist in me knew that would have generated sensational dynamic tension, the stuff on which reporters thrive. As it turned out, I was at precisely the right place at precisely the right time with precisely the right people. Though I have attended close to twenty retreats over the years, I had not participated in one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s. But that was not why I felt like a fish out of water. I felt little in common with Vietnamese people. I had never been to Vietnam. I knew little to nothing about their culture, except that I loved their spring rolls. Though I had protested the war in Vietnam, had been tear gassed at Dupont Circle in Washington in 1969, had seen them on tele- vision through the sixties and early seventies, their faces speak- ing the international language of grief and terror, I had never actually met a Vietnamese person. But over several days, the Vietnamese at Plum Village won my heart with their warmth and compassion; with their good humor, curiosity, and intelligence; with their friendliness after some initial shyness (and with their still-delicious spring rolls). They exemplify the human condition, of both the dark and the light side: they have suffered immeasurably, yet they continue to have hope. Between the sitting sessions, Thay’s dharma talks took me somewhat aback, to be honest. Knowing his influential role in spearheading a more socially and politically relevant Buddhism, I was surprised that his talks were about everyday mundane re- 1. Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth. 2. Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is change- less, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times. 3. Do not force others, including children, by any means what- soever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassion- ate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness. 4. Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suf- fering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, images, and sound. By such means, awaken your- self and others to the reality of suffering in the world. 5. Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual plea- sure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings The mindfulness trainings of the Order of Interbeing, first enumerated by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1966 at the height of the Vietnam War, expand on the traditional Buddhist precepts. Going beyond individual behavior, they serve as a guide for political and social action. 64 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 The first six members of the Order of Interbeing SEPT 58-65.indd 64 SEPT 58-65.indd 64 6/25/07 5:04:59 PM 6/25/07 5:04:59 PM