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Abstract

This is a critical account of the author's experience at a meditation retreat associated with the Vietnamese Buddhist Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. "As the retreat came to a close my questions were unanswered. Flesh was absent, dairy and eggs plentiful; Thich Nhat Hanh appeared simple and humble, yet a nun picked up after him, and Sister Khong was denied special recognition offered only to Thay; alcohol was forbidden but leather shoes popular; silence was indeed golden, but food-waste common; the nuns and monks were dedicated but not above an unfriendly response to a sincere but critical inquiry. Participants similarly reflected the inconsistencies of the Colorado retreat: some greedily grasped at what they might gain, others extended their mindful practice outward. I had learned much that I might share with students, such as silent meals and hugging meditation. I had also bumped into spiritual adepts who lacked both compassion and understanding, and inconsistencies in Thay's religious practice. While no one had answered my questions, I am reminded that nothing and no one is perfect, but all religious paths offer something of great value. Thich Nhat Hanh, the monks and nuns in his presence, and their work with Westerners, would all likely have benefited from considering my questions mindfully. Instead, by their choice, the learning was all one-way, and only I am the richer."

[A response to this commentary was provided in this issue of Human Architecture (vol.6, issue 3) by Bhikshuni Chan Tung Nghiem (Barbara Newell) (titled Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World: The Real Heart of Engaged Buddhism--A Response to Lisa Kemmerer, pp. 145-147). A later issue of Human Architecture (vol. 7, issue 3) included a reply by Lisa Kemmerer, “Engaged Buddhism in Retreat” Revisited: A Reply to Barbara Newell’s Response, pp. 221-227.]

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