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Be Yourself

How Rainbow Sanghas Are Offering a Warm Refuge Across the World

By Simone and Ida

Rainbow Sangha on Zoom

Over the last few years, the space for the LGBTQIA+ community1 to come together and practice Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings has grown significantly. Although maybe not visible to all, people from the Rainbow community have been part of the Plum Village Sangha since its origins and have often met informally.

More recently, LGBTQIA+ practitioners have been able to come together visibly as families in affinity Dharma sharing sessions at general retreats and specific LGBTQIA+ retreats in different Plum Village centres. We have come to realise that not everyone may be aware of this wonderful development. It is therefore a pleasure to be able to share information about the growth and importance of these practice spaces with the wider Sangha and extend a warm welcome to all queer and questioning practitioners to join this colourful community.

Finding Refuge in the Community

Thay has offered us the gatha “Be beautiful, be yourself.” This gatha can hold special importance to LGBTQIA+ people, because the seeds of exclusion, nonacceptance, and shame have often been watered heavily in them throughout their lives. Being yourself becomes much harder when you live in a society that
tells you there is something wrong with you for being the way you are or who and how you love. Sadly, this message is regularly communicated to LGBTQIA+ people through such things as overt discrimination, subtle comments, underrepresentation in films and books, or even physical assault. Specifically in religious and certain “spiritual” settings, LGBTQIA+ people have historically,
up to this day, been shamed and excluded.

In our tradition, Thay has been very supportive of LGBTQIA+ practitioners. Nevertheless, without an explicit invitation of welcome, it can be hard for our Rainbow friends to feel safe in any community. Many queer friends who have been practicing in the Plum Village tradition have therefore withheld or hidden parts of themselves from the Sangha. They weren’t sure whether those parts had a place or would be accepted in the spiritual community. We know of friends who have been unable to speak from the heart during Dharma sharings or consultations to avoid revealing the gender of their partner when talking about a relationship. They found that by joining Rainbow sessions, they could finally bring all of themselves to the practice.

“The Rainbow sessions offer me the gift of meeting like-minded people who can help me feel better about myself and about the world. Through this gift of connecting, I can understand that I am not as alone as I thought, as ‘weird’—or even that our weirdness is beauty and doesn’t need changing.” (Friend from Bretagne, France)

Others have found their way into the world of mindfulness and Plum Village through the Rainbow Sanghas because of their explicit LGBTQIA+ nature. It has been the easiest or safest door for them to enter into a meditation practice and community. The organisers of the North American Chrysanthemum Sangha shared with us that many of their Sangha members, though never having
practiced in the Plum Village tradition, joined simply to practice mindfulness in a safe space with other queer people.

Both long-term practitioners and newcomers have found refuge in the Rainbow Sanghas. Here they can nurture their practice and support each other in healing from the harm that has happened both within and outside of the mindfulness community. When we feel safe in a space, we can relax. When we relax, we can go deep in our practice. As two friends from Germany share:

“Within the LGBTQIA+ Sangha I can share without having to explain. And when I listen deeply, it feels like my siblings are sharing something about me. There is easiness, kindness, and deep understanding in connecting
with queer friends.

The Rainbow Sangha offers me a safe space that allows me to nourish my spirituality while empowering me to love myself as I am. Because of the way LGBTQIA+ people are treated in this society, there is a need for specific flower watering within the community.”

We understand Rainbow-safe spaces as an essential part of the long journey to a more inclusive society and Sangha, alongside efforts like increasing visibility, education, and ally advocacy.

The Joy and Magic of Being Queer

Many LGBTQIA+ people dedicate a lot of time and energy to create awareness in those around us of the discrimination and violence that is still aimed at our community. But it puts us in a position where we rarely get to tell people about our joy and the magic of being queer. In Being Peace, Thay reminds us that “to
suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.”

We personally have found that the Rainbow Sangha allows us to be in touch with lots of wonder and joy: The joy of being oneself without fear of rejection. The joy of meeting other people like oneself. The joy of celebrating one’s own and others’ strength and vulnerability. The joy of venturing out of conventions. The joy of failing society’s often absurd standards. The joy of revelling in the diversity of people’s expressions of love and gender. The joy of caring for each other.

“I find a lot of beauty and courage—to act and to speak out for us and for others—in the LGBTQIA+ community. A lot of concern about each other, a form of warmth, deep understanding, and care. It brings me joy when I feel surrounded by this love.” (Friend from Bretagne, France)

A Year of Distanced Togetherness

The past year has denied us the possibility of meeting face to face and, for most people, it has been a time of isolation and worry. Luckily, there has been a variety of online offerings for Rainbow practitioners. For instance, the Rainbow Sangha UK offered the “Be Calm, Be Happy” mindfulness course in Autumn 2020. As a friend from Melbourne, Australia shares:

“This was the first mindfulness training I ever had in my life, as well as the first LGBTQIA+ mindfulness organisation I ever heard of. The UK Rainbow Sangha’s six-week mindfulness course was very satisfying, and they very kindly accepted me into their regular weekly meetings.”

We have also been lucky to receive blessing and support from many Dharma teachers and Order of Interbeing members. One example is the beautiful Dharma talk by Brother Phap Hai on the practice of self-love and resilience, specifically given for the international LGBTQIA+ Sangha. Another example is
monastic Brother Treasure and other friends from Plum Village supporting Rainbow Ireland in a sharing of the Seven Miracles of Mindfulness. These possibilities for people to be part of regular LGBTQIA+ Sangha meetings regardless of geographic location is surely one of the most wonderful things to emerge from the digitalization of our Sanghas. It may be different to create community through computer screens, but there is no denying the closeness
and joy we feel every time we see our Sangha light up the screen in a mosaic of faces from around the world.

Gathering Under the Rainbow

Here are some of our colourful community gatherings in 2020 and 2021:

  • The international LGBTQIA+ Sangha’s New Year’s Eve mindful dance celebration and Valentine’s Day panel on the Third Mindfulness Training, “True Love,” from a queer perspective (besides bimonthly practice gatherings).
  • A small in-person retreat at Dharma Mountain centre in France and another one hosted by the Berlin LGBTQIA+ and People of Color Sanghas.
  • An online mini-retreat allowing people to participate from many different time zones.
  • The American Chrysanthemum Sangha’s half Days of Mindfulness on Thanksgiving and during the week of Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
  • The webinar series “Making-Visible” by the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community in Washington, D.C., focused on LGBTQIA+ issues (available, along with many resources, at www.making-visible.org).

At the time of this writing in May 2021, we know of the following Plum Village LGBTQIA+ Sanghas: Paris (France), the UK, Ireland, Berlin and Freiburg
(Germany), Indonesia, the Chrysanthemum and Cosmic Body Sanghas (US), and the international LGBTQIA+ Sangha. Many of these Sanghas have weekly or monthly meetings open to friends from other locations. Those who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community and who would like to practice with other queer friends can find more information about the different Sanghas and their meeting times at plumvillagerainbow.org.

1 LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, intersex, and agender/asexual. It is seen as an inclusive and accepting way to refer to the Rainbow or queer community and people who don’t identify as heterosexual or cisgender. The plus sign is widely taken as a symbol to represent self-identifying members of the community who are not included in the LGBTQIA acronym.

Simone (she/her), Luminous Resolve of the Heart, is a farmer, an environmental scientist, an educator, and a community organizer based in Germany. Practicing with Wake Up and other Sanghas since 2014, she deeply enjoyed living and working with the monastics of Plum Village for two years as one of the Happy Farmers.

Ida (they/them) is a Scandinavian traveling
craftsperson who does woodworking and farming and loves introducing spoon
carving to other queer people. They came to Plum Village for the first time in January 2016 and have been returning regularly to connect to the practice, work at the Happy Farm, and
build things.

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Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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