Offering incense in the dark of early morning
I’m not sure how long ago I started this practice I call Mindful Morning Saturday, maybe a year or so. I’ve posted about it before but I was inspired to post about it again, simply because it’s adds so much benefit, energy, and joyfulness to my weekend.
As an ordained OI member (Order of Interbeing), I am asked to partake in a certain amount of Days of Mindfulness every year – 60, to be precise. And this particular OI requirement often poses some head scratching for folks, both before and after they ordain. True to form, we are not given any specifics as to how to manifest this and are left instead to use our own intelligence and insight in developing our own relationship with how to put this into active practice.
I ordained in 2007. For the first few years after that, I simply continued to attend our locally held retreats twice a year, as well as any locally held special events and days of mindfulness organized by my sangha. Then, in 2014, I started going on retreat to Deer Park Monastery for 3-4 weeks at a time every January. So for the past five years I’ve been closer than ever before, in terms of meeting the required 60 days of mindfulness.
For years, I’d wanted to figure out a way to insert a Day of Mindfulness into my home life routine once a week but I hadn’t known a good way to do it. I think like many of us OI members who are perplexed by this requirement of ordination, I was caught in thinking that a Day of Mindfulness had to be a WHOLE entire day, which seemed impossible if I was interested in doing it every week.
Then, just last year I think it was, I started thinking about the Days of Mindfulness I would participate in while I was staying at Deer Park. Most Sundays at Deer Park are an open Day of Mindfulness, where folks are welcome and encouraged to come to the monastery for a day of practice. The Days of Mindfulness there generally start at 9:00am and end after lunch, around 1:00pm. They aren’t a WHOLE entire day. They typically last about 4-hours. Once I realized this, I started thinking about my own 60 Days of Mindfulness differently.
When I clacked in the title of this post: Three Roads Converge, I thought I’d tie in three threads that have been thrumming through my life as of late. But then as I started thinking more about it, I realized that it’s more like 5 of 6 threads that have woven themselves together in the past week, prompting my call to pen this post.
On Monday, I had a meeting with an OI (Order of Interbeing) pre-aspirant friend of mine, where we decided to start a practice of working closely with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings together, which serve as the foundation of our Buddhist tradition. I shared with her that prior to my having been ordained into the Order – back in 2007 – I took it upon myself to work with each one of the trainings for the span of one-week. I read one training every day for 7 days and then would go onto the next one, equating to a 14-week practice. After reading each training, I would then journal about my thoughts/practice/experience with the training. This practice was very nourishing for me and allowed me the opportunity to look and work deeply with each training, one at a time.
Since she liked this idea and was interested in doing it, I extended the offer of having her and I do it together. Our plan is to focus on one training every 2-weeks, so that when next we meet, which will be once a month, we’ll share with each other our journal entries and what came up for us, centered around two of the trainings.
Since this was week #1, here’s the first of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings that I’ve been working with this past week, and will continue practicing with through the next week:
The First Mindfulness Training: Openness
Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.
To read all 14, please click here.
In the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, the three jewels in Buddhism (the buddha, the dharma, and the sangha) are emphasized not as something outside of ourselves. We are encouraged instead to practice taking refuge in them from deep within our own being. In this spirit, I have written the following verses, which may serve as a guide on our path of practice:
Taking refuge in the Buddha in myself – the one who shows me the way in this life – I am committed to cultivating mindfulness, concentration, and insight in order to strengthen my sovereignty, stability, ease, and joy. I will be diligent in continuously training in the art of knowing, befriending, and caring well for myself with kindness.
Taking refuge in the Dharma in myself – the way of understanding and love – I am committed to cultivating skillful and useful thoughts, speech, and actions in order to create as little harm as possible for myself, others, and the Earth. I will be diligent in continuously training in the art of developing, deepening, and extending compassion towards all beings.
Taking refuge in the Sangha in myself – the community that lives in harmony and awareness – I am committed to cultivating the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood in order to move beautifully into the future. I will be diligent in continuously training in the art of relationship building, firm in the understanding of how our inter-connectedness navigates our path in practice and in life.
When we “practice wholeheartedly, we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our loved ones and for all species.” And this is my fervent hope.
The Buddha and the crow sit together
near a council fire, tall and splendid.
Their faces aglow, postures sturdy.
In the charter of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing (OI), ordained members are required to:
Only in the past 4 years, since I’ve been going on extended retreat stays at Deer Park Monastery each January, have I been coming even remotely close to meeting the last requirement of “observing 60 days of mindfulness each year.” Between attending local retreats and days of mindfulness and going to Deer Park I estimate having around 30 or 40 days of what I figure qualifies as a “day of mindfulness.” Up until recently I haven’t given too much thought about this aspect of the OI charter, choosing instead to focus on the spirit of the practice and not get caught in the form of having a certain amount of specific days in which I can refer to as a “day of mindfulness.” But, like everything else, my practice changes. Over the past few months I’ve been brainstorming about ways in which to start implementing a weekly Day of Mindfulness. Of course, applying mindfulness in everyday life is what Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition is all about, but a set aside Day of Mindfulness is an opportunity to “up our game,” as I heard it explained recently by an OI aspirant. It involves more intention, more focused practice energy. Looking deeply, I see now that I used to let myself off the hook in regards to this one, saying to myself: “Mindfulness is the aim of my life, I’m practicing everyday. So every day is a mindfulness day.” And this sentiment is both true and not true, at the same time.
I’ve been preparing for the next teaching talk I’ll be giving in a couple of weeks at my local sangha Be Here Now. I’ve decided to base my talk on the topic of nonself, which is proving to be a good stretch for me. Since my last talk was on the nature of impermanence, specifically the Five Remembrances, I’ve decided to have my next two talks continue to form around the theme of the Three Dharma Seals, which are: impermanence, nonself, and nirvana. The Three Dharma Seals, as stated in Thay’s (Thich Nhat Hanh’s) book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, are described as follows: “Any teaching that does not bear these Three Seals cannot be said to be a teaching of the Buddha.” The Three Dharma Seals are essentially the marks which indicate any true teaching offered by the Buddha.
Another way to phrase nonself is to say no self, to which I then like to add the word “separate” in between, for clarity of purpose, as in: no separate self. And yet another way to say this would be to use Thay’s word “interbeing.”
Nonself is easy to misunderstand. Nonself is not a nihilistic approach to life’s human construct or some fancy metaphor explaining how everything is just an illusion and doesn’t really exist. Nonself speaks to the simple truth of how we cannot exist by ourselves alone. We are a collage of our blood ancestry, experiences, relationships, and interactions. There is no separate self we can point to as being disconnected from the whole of everything else. We are because everything else is. Just as a tree cannot exist without the influence of the sun, air, water, and soil we cannot exist without the collaborative entirety of our past and present influences. As Thay states, in the same book as mentioned above, “Nonself means that you are made of elements which are not you.”
An OI member is someone who’s been ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh, or other monastic Brother or Sister in our community, into the Order of Interbeing. To borrow directly from the orderofinterbeing.org website:
The Order of Interbeing, Tiep Hien in Vietnamese, is a community of monastics and lay people who have committed to living their lives in accord with the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, a distillation of the Bodhisattva (Enlightened Being) teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. Established by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh in Saigon in 1966, the Order of Interbeing was founded in the Linji tradition of Buddhist meditative practice and emphasizes the Four Spirits: non-attachment from views, direct experimentation on the nature of interdependent origination through meditation, appropriateness, and skilful means.
The first six members of the order, ordained together on February 5, 1966, were colleague and students of Thich Nhat Hanh who worked with him relieving the suffering of war through projects organized by the School of Youth for Social Service. In joining the Order of Interbeing, they dedicated themselves to the continuous practice of mindfulness, ethical behavior, and compassionate action in society.
Yesterday, I put together my first OI mentorship meeting with three of our sangha members (plus my husband) who are considering whether or not they either want to become an official aspirant (which we often refer to as pre-aspirants) or want to proceed to fully ordaining and becoming an OI member. An official OI aspirant is someone who has formally received the Five Mindfulness Trainings in our tradition, and has practiced with them for at least one year thereafter, and acquired the necessary components for OI aspirancy to begin, namely: specific paperwork, writing a letter to Thay, getting approval from a Dharma teacher, and finding a mentor (usually another OI member).