I’m sitting on a plane, the first moments before my 30 hour journey to Bordeaux, France. I greet the woman who sits down next to me and exchange the usual pleasantries. She asks what I’m going to do when I get to France. I’m visiting a Buddhist monastery in the countryside for a mindfulness retreat, I tell her. Her response: “Well, we have absolutely nothing in common.”
I’m taken aback. What an assumption to make upon meeting someone. She explains that she is a Christian so there is no way we could possibly have a single shared belief.
“I happen to have a lot in common with ‘Christians’”, I say, and we launch into a 5 hour discussion.
The Plum Village monastery promotes a community of joy, compassion, peace, and mindfulness, not far removed from my experiences with the Community of Christ. My attraction to the Community of Christ above other churches is because of its mission. Not because I was raised in the church (which I was not), or have friends in the church, or lived near an active congregation. These ideals are the most important in my life, and I can find no fault in a community or person which espouses them, be them Christian, Buddhist, or Atheist.
The woman sitting next to me disagrees. The Lord will only bless me if I practice this lifestyle in His name, she says.
In Plum Village, women from all over the world, of all ages, speaking many different languages, from countless backgrounds, gather to create a joyful, peaceful, community and practice mindfulness and compassion toward one another. Many of them happen to be Christian. No one ever asks if we are Buddhist. No one tries to convert us. No one says that practicing this lifestyle means nothing if we are not attempting to attain nirvana. During dharma talks, the merits and ideals of Jesus are discussed as regularly as those of Buddha. We celebrate Christmas and sing Christmas carols.
Toward the end of the retreat, one brave, Christian, man (the only man in our hamlet) shares his story. He had accompanied his fiancé to the retreat thinking he could gain little from a Buddhist monastery. He found that the experience was not only fulfilling, but he was a better Christian for it.
I feel that the Lord blessed each and every person at Plum Village this winter. We had a unique opportunity to embark on a mission to further our practice of peace, compassion, joy, and mindfulness, in a peaceful and loving community. I can think of no better definition of “blessed”.
“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community—a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living.
This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the Earth.”
—THICH NHAT HANH