Monday Night Book Club – One Buddha is Not Enough
by the facilitators: Armando, Debbie, Patrick
“It’s time to find and become the Buddha within ourselves. No one can do it for us … We must abandon the hope that Thay, or anyone else, will hand it to us, or be it for us. It’s up to us. It’s up to me.” These words were written by one of the attendees at the 2009 Colorado Plum Village retreat that Thay was unable to attend. This insight, along with writings from numerous other retreatants, became part of the book, One Buddha is Not Enough.
When Midwest Moon Sangha selected this book in November 2021 for our book study, we had no idea how apt this sentiment would become for us. We began our meetings in early February of 2022, just a few weeks after our beloved teacher’s continuation. We found ourselves in much the same place as those nearly 1000 retreatants, wondering how we could possibly continue in our practice without Thay’s wisdom, gentle guidance, and light. However, just as the retreatants and monastics learned to recognize the presence of the Buddha and Thay in one another, our book group members realized that Thay was present within our sangha. To be sure, some of us expressed doubts that we could embody Thay with all our imperfections, but we leaned on the idea that Buddhism is a practice, not a perfection. We found comfort in interbeing with one another, the retreatants, the monastics, Thay, and the Buddha.
Our book study was far different from any other book club most of us had experienced, as we didn’t discuss the book. Instead, each week, we prepared by reading one chapter and making use of the excellent study guides provided by the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. In the TNHF guide, a monastic or lay dharma teacher shared favorite quotes from the chapter, perhaps offered a short recorded talk about the content, and wrote a few open-ended questions. During our meetings, we went around the Zoom “room,” and each participant reflected on a question of their choosing. In this way, we always stayed on topic and never got into debates about how to interpret a particular section of the book.
Several beautiful things occurred during these sessions. First, our members were so open and vulnerable, sharing deeply to provide their perspectives and listening deeply to widen their perspectives. Second, if several people chose the same question, they each answered it differently. Thus, within 45 minutes, we received three or four tag-team dharma talks, allowing us to revel in the multi-faceted beauty of the dharma and the wonder of going as a river which allowed for the deepening of our practice. Third, occasionally, a participant voiced disagreement with the book, and this was ok! As the First Mindfulness Training in the Order of Interbeing says, “we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones.” Finally, we all greatly benefitted from hearing from our sangha sibling Win Grace, who had been at that Colorado retreat and shared her experiences with us, helping to bring the retreat off the pages and into our imaginations and hearts.
We had decided at the outset that we would call our book study a success even if some sessions were attended by only the three facilitators. We were so pleased that 29 people joined at least one session, and no session had fewer than 13 people. Moreover, ten people were so enthusiastic that they came back for an extra “recap” session to share thoughts on what they liked, what they would like to change, and what book to consider for the Fall of 2022.
Overwhelmingly, our sangha members expressed how much they appreciated the prepared study guides from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. The only changes suggested were to extend the meetings from 45 minutes to an hour so that everyone can share fully and to include a brief meditation at the start. We look forward to incorporating these suggestions into our following book study, which will occur in the Fall.
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