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The following is an interview of Minh Tran, a senior member of Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing. Tran's "dharma name" is Chan Huy. The interview was conducted by the Kansas City Star's "Faiths and Beliefs" columnist, Vern Barnet ( Chan Huy conducts a retreat Oct. 3-7 at Conception Abbey, Conception, MO. For information about the retreat, phone (816) 333-3043.

BARNET:  What is the Order of Interbeing?

CHAN HUY: The Order of Interbeing is an engaged Buddhist order founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in 1966. It is a community of laymen, lay women, monks and nuns who have made the commitment to live according to the 14 Mindfulness Trainings, a very concrete expression of mindfulness in daily life. Its members seek to change themselves in order to change society in the direction of compassion and understanding by living a joyful and mindful life. Its aim is to actualize Buddhism by studying, experimenting with and applying Buddhism in modern life.

The Order has the 4 following principles at its foundation:
* non-attachment from views (to be free of all attachments is the most important teaching of Buddhism)
* direct experimentation: using our own life to experience truth, and to avoid losing ourselves in philosophic speculations
* appropriateness: the teachings must reflect the need of people and the realities of society
* skillful means: to adapt these tools to life situations as appropriate

BARNET: Is there a particular appeal Buddhism offers to those in the West as distinct from Asian cultures?

CHAN HUY: Buddhism is a part of Asian culture, where it is deeply rooted and has become a natural way of life. Asians will do things the way their parents and grandparents have taught them, or have learned to do themselves. Consequently, the specific effects of Buddhism have become blended into day-to-day Asian life; it would be difficult to define specific effects on our culture.

For westerners, Buddhism is a new <trend> that answers their search for a form of spirituality. It offers Peace, serenity, and joy in a society that they perceive as turbulent, uncertain, and violent. It promotes simple living in a culture that values success as measured by material possessions and sensual pleasures. It is non-dogmatic, and it holds each person responsible for his or her own fate. Many westerners have found themselves alienated from their traditional religions because many of these religions dictate what to do and what not to do without fulfilling the need for spirituality. Buddhism is an answer to this need, and Buddhism can be the bridge that will lead them back to their own tradition.

BARNET: Is Thich Quang Duc's immolation regarded as a turning point in the development of "engaged Buddhism"? How is this so, or not so?

CHAN HUY: Master Thich Quang Duc immolated himself publicly in 1963 to protest against the repressive measures of the Diem regime against the Buddhist institutions in Vietnam. His act was a demonstration of a Bodhisattva's heart to make known to the world the sufferings brought about by this American-backed regime. He embodied the lotus in a sea of fire, compassion in the midst of suffering, and even in the heat of the flames he could remain peaceful because of the compassion he carried within himself.

This accelerated the fall of the Diem regime, but the war escalated with the military governments that followed. Engaged Buddhism took form during that period of war escalation, with the founding of the Unified Buddhist Church in 1964, and the founding of the School of Youth for Social Services by Thay (as Thich Nhat Hanh is affectionately addressed by his students) to repair the social damage of the intensifying war. Students of the SYSS were sent into villages to serve people in the four areas of health, organization, education, and economic development. Thay personally taught them how to establish communication and work with suspicious villagers, who did not trust either side of the warring parties.

Thay originally wrote the 14 Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing for the students of the SYSS to help them in their social work and practice.

BARNET: How does Thich Nhat Hanh seek to bridge the gap between Vietnamese refugees and their Americanized children?

CHAN HUY: The generational and cultural gap that Vietnamese refugee families live with is a great source of their suffering. The parents carry with them a long heritage and many deep wounds from their suffering from the war. They escaped in search of a better life for their children, and they have a lot of expectations for their children. Their children are growing up in a culture that is very different from what they have known. They are also so busy working to rebuild a new life that they do not have time to be with their children, to see them grow, to learn what they are learning, and to understand what they are living for.

Thay teaches grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren what he devoted his entire life for: peace! Peace starts with each and every one of us and peace in our families can not be possible if we do not have peace inside each of us. We stop, we breathe and we smile. We meditate, we listen, we speak in order to understand. When there is understanding, love is.

In retreats for families, Thay teaches the participants the art of mindful living to allow restoration of peace inside each of us. Parents are invited to sit together and share the sufferings that they think are caused by their children, about the expectations that they have, to reflect on their own behavior to see where and how they may have hurt their children because of their beliefs, of their habit energies, and of their expectations. Children also sit together and discuss the sufferings that they find in their families, and ways to make them better understood. Parents and children in their respective groups find out that they are not alone in their situation, and they feel supported. Each group is then allowed to speak out about their findings and the other group listens carefully. In a retreat setting, loving speech and deep listening are possible. And understanding, forgiveness, acceptance are feasible. Very deep reconciliations have occurred.

Thay always very lovingly reminds us to give ourselves more time for our families; to try to have at least one meal a day all together; to practice breathing and smiling; and to restore and maintain communications between family members. I believe that American families can do this too!

BARNET: Why do you participate on the Inter-faith Council of Montreal, how do you regard other faiths and other Buddhist groups, and what issues do you see as primary in interfaith explorations?

CHAN HUY: I participate on the ICM because I have a great pleasure meeting my good friends there. We meet once a month -- we have been doing this for more than 10 years; we sit together for a short silent meditation and a prayer; and we have a time of sharing and the subjects are very diverse. We share on our own beliefs, customs, on family education, on marriage, on death, and each meeting has always been a very enriching experience for me.

When I sit in those meetings, I can see the beautiful garden of mankind with its multitude of flowers and jewels, each reflecting all the others. As my teacher says: Buddhism is made of all non-Buddhist elements. And in learning about other faiths, I am learning more about Buddhism.

I also feel so privileged sitting in this group of wonderful men and women and to remember that peace is always possible between people with a good heart and it is so wonderful to see Jewish and Muslim, Catholics and Protestants, converse, share, laugh together. We are often invited to talk in schools and universities and other peace events where it is with great pride that we share the wonderful experiences we are living together.

The primary issues here as in every other relationship are openness to others' views, communication, understanding and love.

BARNET: What might a person attending the Kansas City area retreat experience or learn? What attitude should a person bring to it? How would you describe the methods or activities you will employ?

CHAN HUY: Time to time, to remind ourselves to relax, to be peaceful, we set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we were the happiest people on Earth.

It is our wish to share this <treat> (this is what the regular participants to our retreats call it: it is not a retreat, it is a treat) to our retreatants: a time of genuine joy, of deep peace in a secure environment filled with true love and compassion. The best attitude a person should bring may be no attitude at all -- ie, a free mind, without expectations, and an open heart.

Through the practice of mindful living -- mindful breathing, mindful walking, silent meal, sitting meditation,
* we will learn from our own experience in the retreat that peace and joy are possible
* we will be confident in our own ability to be calm and peaceful when we have the tools and a favorable environment and we will bring these tools back to our daily life.

We will also take the time together to reflect on our life, on our own sufferings and the sufferings of those we love, on the violence in ourselves and in society and explore ways to bring more peace into our daily life, in our families, in our children schools, in our work place and in society.

Most of all, we wish that the retreatants will live a true experience of deep peace during the 4 days of the retreat.

A lotus for you,

chan huy