Your dāna is a key power source for a new global online course and also helps ensure that monastics’ critical needs are met.
The online course Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet (ZASP) is a new global learning journey from the Plum Village International Community. The course has had two cohorts and will continue to run multiple times each year, offering participants of all ages and backgrounds a mindful and supportive path for living and acting skillfully during our turbulent, uncertain times.
The course is good, urgent medicine for a people and a planet that are suffering deeply. It is the latest manifestation of Thích Nhất Hạnh’s vision for a global online monastery.
ZASP’s learning management platform was built from the ground up and supplied with rich content by a dedicated team of monastic and lay Dharma teachers, volunteers, and staff. It offers recorded and real-time video teachings by monastics and longtime Plum Village practitioners, mindfulness practices, and space for reflection and deep conversation. One hope is that participants will walk away knowing how to use their unique gifts and deepest aspirations to cocreate a more mindful and compassionate world.
Two sources continue to help power the course and its innovative “Dharma delivery” system: dāna in the form of donor financial support, and the Buddha’s teachings as embodied and transmitted by Thầy and his Dharma teachers. These power sources are deeply intertwined.
Dāna, a Sanskrit word for generosity, is the first of the Six Pāramitās offered by the Buddha as a path for crossing over to the Other Shore of well-being, non-anger, joy, equanimity, and love.
A practice within the lay and monastic Buddhist community for more than 2,600 years, dāna includes the sharing of not just material resources but also the gifts of the Dharma. Offering the Dharma supports freedom from fear; the courage that comes from true wisdom illuminates the path of meeting life’s difficulties with a calm and peaceful heart.
In the opening pages of Thầy’s book, Old Path White Clouds, which recounts the life, Sangha, and teachings of the Buddha, we learn about King Bimbisāra’s generous gift of the Bamboo Forest Monastery in Magadha, India (the present-day state of Bihar) to the Buddha and his community.
Later in the book, we read more about King Bimbisāra’s motivation for this generous offer. “Master,” the king tells the Buddha, “you have shared an important lesson with young and old alike. … Our kingdom is blessed to have you among us. I would now like to present you and your Sangha with a gift, if you agree.”
Recognizing that his monastics needed a place to stay in the rainy season, the Buddha accepted the gift. The king, Thầy writes, “was overjoyed. He knew that the presence of the monastery would mean that the Buddha would spend more time in Magadha.”
From the beginning of Buddhist practice, the relationship between the monastic community and the manifold Sangha has been one of loving and mutually beneficial support. That’s why dāna is extolled in the Pali canon not only as a great virtue but also as the beginning of the path to liberation. Brother Pháp Hải, a senior monastic, shared this teaching during a Dharma talk several years ago at his home practice center in Australia, Mountain Spring Monastery. “Generosity softens the ground and eradicates fear, which comes from the root of ill will towards ourselves or towards others,” he said. “Ill will manifests as a closing down of the heart towards another or towards ourselves.”
The dāna of your regular contributions to our global community is incredibly important and so greatly appreciated. It helps not only to support courses such as ZASP, but also to cover the costs of food and health care for our monks and nuns, provide resources to run and broadcast retreats year-round, and keep the lights on, quite literally, at our eleven practice centers.
Our monastics have additional, critical needs that we will share about in the months to come. Many of our monasteries were founded on properties with pre-existing buildings. Monastics used these buildings as long as possible, but they are no longer up to modern building codes. In some instances, they are even uninhabitable. Also, and more happily, the number of aspirants and monastics is outpacing available housing at some of our monasteries, which means new buildings need to be constructed.
Practice centers aren’t just event venues for retreats. They are the homes and refuges of more than six hundred monastics. They are the places where monastics rest, study, care for one another, and deepen their individual and collective practice. The centers are incubators where ideas like the ZASP online course and teaching tours are born, books are written, and fresh ways to present the Dharma are conceived. Most importantly, they are training grounds for aspirants and monastics who aspire to receive Lamp Transmission and become Dharma teachers themselves, a process that takes as long as twelve years.
Even if you’ve never visited a practice center or attended an in-person retreat, you have likely benefited from the provision of a safe and supportive space for monastics to rest, steep themselves in the practice, and bloom as Thầy’s continuation.
You may have encountered Thầy through video and audio recordings of his monastics’ Dharma talks, freely available to anyone through the popular Plum Village app; by reading The Raft newsletter; through The Way Out Is In podcast, hosted by Jo Confino and Brother Pháp Hữu; through one of Thầy’s books; or by attending a teaching tour or road retreat.
However you benefit from the beloved community’s offerings, only your loving and generous support makes these possible.
“You can make one person extremely happy—you can make many, many people extremely happy—if you know how to practice dāna pāramitā,” Thầy says. “You need only to go back to yourself, practice mindful breathing, and recognize that you have a treasure of happiness, a treasure of elements that can be used to make people happy.”*
We know that you are there, and we are very happy.
Your Thích Nhất Hạnh Foundation Family
* Dāna: The Practice of Giving, short teaching video from Thích Nhất Hạnh