By Michael Trigilio
On October 10, 1998, North American Order of Interbeing members gathered for a three-day retreat at Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont. Seasoned practitioners and "rookies" like me traveled from all over the continent to share the joy of being together.
One of the first things Sister Annabel told us upon our arrival was that Thay wanted us to relax and just have a good time. Throughout the weekend emphasis was placed upon simply "being wonderfully together." As the New England foliage was transforming from summer green into autumn splendor, being wonderfully together was a simple and delightful task.
Though scheduled events were regularly delayed or displaced, the days were spent with ease and necessary detachment from expectations. I am very grateful to Sister Annabel, Barbara DiPietro, Richard Brady, and the many others who worked hard to organize our beautiful weekend together.
On Sunday, Thay called from Plum Village and gave a teleconference Dharma talk. Through the phone-link between Green Mountain and Thay's hermitage, we sang songs together and invited the bell to sound its call to mindfulness across the ocean. Much of Thay's talk was in response to questions we had formulated the evening before in Dharma-discussion groups. He focused on the importance of practicing with great solidity and diligence, and healing the conflicts within our Sanghas and within the Order itself. "I'm not saying you don't have a right to suffer," Thay instructed us. "But, you don't have a right not to practice."
The Tiep Hien gathering was, in many ways, like a very large and uncharacteristically constructive family reunion. Friends who see each other rarely had the opportunity to greet, hug, and smile together in beautiful Vermont. The weekend was not, however, simply a three-day pat-on-the-back-practice. Significant grievances and reservations were aired during Dharma discussions, as well as in private conversations. We carefully examined the constantlychanging role of lay Order members in the United States and Canada, especially in regards to the new responsibilities of the monks and nuns at Maple Forest Monastery. Though this retreat was not a business meeting, the fact that such topics were broached in a relaxed, weekend environment certainly encouraged many of us to discuss these issues with one another and with our Sanghas for many weeks to come.
This gathering was one of the most supportive retreats in my practice within the Order. As many as 85 Order members from many different parts of the continent traveled to be together and to discuss issues of great importance to them and to the international Sangha. As many others have in the past, I had been very curious about my place in the Order and the Order's place in North American Buddhism. Coming together this way allowed me to see that the most essential elements of our practice and of our community are already within us. The words "I have arrived, I am home" never sounded so beautiful.
Michael Trigilio, True Birth of Peace, is an activist, artist, and student in San Antonio. He practices with the Sangha del Corazon in San Antonio, Texas.