Frequently Asked Questions

 

 

Q.   In what tradition do you practice?

A.  We practice mindfulness in the tradition of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk.

Q. What is Mindfulness?

A. Mindfulness is being aware and awake in the present moment. It is the practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing.

Q.  What do you do during your practice each week?

 A.  We usually have two sessions of sitting meditation and one session of walking meditation, with a break for tea and discussion.  (For a more detailed description of a typical practice, scroll to the last Q&A.)

Q. What is a “sangha?”

 A.  In our tradition, "sangha" means a community of persons who support each other in the practice of mindful living. 

Q.  What are the benefits of meditation? 

A.   In addition to reducing stress and tension, regular meditation practice supports us in developing a deeper understanding of the causes and conditions of happiness and unhappiness.  The present moment is the only time we have to live.  By paying attention to what is going on in each moment of the here and now, we can identify and develop beneficial qualities of mind such as kindness, joy, peace and happiness in ourselves and in others, and we can avoid watering the seeds anger, greed, and despair in ourselves and in others.  

Q. Do I have to become a Buddhist to join this practice community?

A. Although we practice in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, it is not necessary to be a Buddhist in order to enjoy this practice.  The benefits of mindfulness do not depend on one's particular spiritual path, and our members come from a multitude of faith traditions.   The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings encourage us not to be bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones, and to be open-minded to others' insights and experiences.  

Q.  Can anyone learn to practice mindfulness meditation? 

A.  Yes.  The basic techniques of meditation are accessible to everyone.  Cultivating a regular practice, however, can be challenging.  This is due in part to the general "busy-ness" of our lives.  In addition, we may encounter many influences that encourage us to engage in unmindful ways of living.  Meditation practice requires commitment and diligence in the presence of so many conditions that can lead in the opposite direction.  

Q.  Does mindfulness meditation focus just on the individual’s happiness?

A.  Although meditation practice has an individual component, our practice is not about focusing on oneself as opposed to others.  According to the insight of “non-self,” there is no separate, unchanging, permanent part of a human being.  Our true nature is interdependence, or "interbeing" with everything else in the cosmos.  As we become more aware of the bond that unites all beings, we cultivate deep love and compassion and come to realize that happiness is not an individual matter.

Q.  How do you know if you have realized “inner peace” and how long does it take to get there? 
 
A.  As our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, has said that there is no path to peace; peace is the path.  When we meditate, we are practicing peace; we are being the peace we wish to see in the world. Inner peace comes from calming the mind and learning not to get caught in the pushes and pulls of internal or external conditions that otherwise can disrupt our lives.  If we are diligent in our practice, this state of inner peace is available to us with each breath, in every moment, and does not depend on external conditions. 

Q.  What is “Buddha nature?”

A.  "Buddha nature" refers to the awakened nature that each of us has the capacity to develop.  The word “buddha” means one who is fully awake.  The historical Shakyamuni Buddha was able to remain fully awake in this deeper sense during all of his waking hours.  Most of us only attain “part time Buddha" status.  The more we develop our concentration, mindfulness, and insight, the more we water the seeds of our inherent Buddha nature.

Q.  How do Buddhist principles relate to those of other religious or spiritual traditions?

A.  In its ethical guidelines, Buddhism shares many of the fundamental principles as other spiritual traditions, including the value of cultivating unconditional love and compassion for all living beings.   By whatever names these principals may be called, they represent wise guidelines for living in a way that produces more peace and happiness.  Buddhism is distinctive in also offering practical skills to transform and reduce the suffering in our families and society.     

Q.  Does one have to become a monk or nun in order to become enlightened? 

A.  No. Everyone is capable of growing in the capacity for mindfulness, concentration, and insight.  Mindfulness meditation enables us to liberate ourselves from unwholesome patterns of thought, speech, and action.  Few people are able to practice without concern for earning a living or supporting a family.  Members of the monastic community deserve our gratitude and support in their role as teachers, but it is up to the rest of us to carry the fruits of our practice from the meditation hall to the workplace, to our homes, and to all of our relationships as we practice mindful living in each waking moment of our lives.  This is "engaged Buddhism" as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh.  

Q. What can a visitor expect when they attend practice for the first time?

 

A. There will be some variation from week to week.  On the first practice of the month on Sundays and Wednesdays, the first hour will usually consist of 40-45 minutes of silent sitting meditation and a 15-20 minute period of walking meditation.  Typically, the other weekly practices will look like this:

 

Upon arriving, we remove our shoes at the entrance to the meditation hall, then take a seat on a chair or cushion in the circle facing the center.  The facilitator welcomes everyone, and for newcomers, may offer a brief explanation of what will be happening during practice. The bell master then invites the bell to begin practice.  

 

In the first hour of practice there are usually two periods of sitting meditation and one period of walking meditation.  Sitting meditation may be silent or may be a guided meditation led by the facilitator.  The walking session is ordinarily silent.

 

For sitting meditation, we are invited to sit in a comfortable position, with our backs as straight as possible, and to bring our attention to our in-breath and out-breath, maintaining awareness of the entire length of each breath. 

 

As we sit, we notice if our breath is short, or long, if it is shallow, or deep.  We don't try to change it - we simply observe the quality of each breath just as it is.  When other thoughts or feelings arise, we simply notice them and then let them go - and we gently return our attention to our breath.   

 

A guided meditation is similar, except that the facilitator suggests a focus for the mind, such as:

 

"Breathing in, I am aware of my in-breath"

"Breathing out, I am aware of my out-breath."

 

or

 

"Breathing in, I see myself as a flower"

"Breathing out, I feel fresh."

 

For indoor walking meditation, we start by standing behind our cushions.  Then, the walking meditation bell master invites a small hand-held bell, at which time we are invited to bow as an expression of our awareness of and gratitude for the support that each of us receives from the presence of the others.  It also expresses our desire to offer support to everyone else by our mindful presence. 

 

Next, everyone turns to the left, and begins slowly and mindfully walking in a circle around the cushions and chairs.  While maintaining awareness of our breathing, we also bring our attention to the physical sensation of each step that we are taking. 

 

With one step, we may silently, to ourselves, say "I have arrived," and with the next step, "I am home."  This practice helps us to become firmly rooted in this present moment.

 

The bell master will bring the walking meditation to a close, at which time everyone bows again and resumes their seats.  

 

Outdoor walking meditation will vary, depending on the weather and location, with appropriate guidance by the facilitator.

 

After the last sitting period we will have an opportunity to practice mindful sharing and deep listening.  This part of the practice is an opportunity for each member to share from their heart something with the assembled community.  The subject may relate to an experience that they have had in which they were able to see the benefit of their practice.  Or, it may be a joy or a sorrow that they are having.  There is no obligation to share, but when a person wants to share they bow to let the group know, and the group bows back.  Then after the person has finished sharing, he or she bows again, and then someone else may share if they wish to do so.  

 

Here is an explanation of this practice of deep listening and loving speech by Susan:  

 

The sharing session lasts for thirty minutes, after which the bell master invites the bell three times to conclude practice.  

 

In addition to our usual practice, we organize mini-retreats, or "days of mindfulness," at different times during the year, and occasionally sponsor residential retreats.

 

On the last Wednesday and Sunday of each month, we share in reciting the Five Mindfulness Trainings.  These trainings are guidelines for living an ethical life.  On  each fifth Sunday of the month we enjoy a vegetarian/vegan pot luck dinner after practice.