The Tiep Hien Order or Order of Interbeing was first established by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1964, during the Vietnam War. At this stage it comprised a small number of dedicated followers who were involved in social work and were committed to the principles of Engaged Buddhism. The Order was founded on the Fourteen Precepts or, as they are now known, Mindfulness Trainings (see Chapter 4.2) and a Charter was written by Thây which outlined the constitution. This Charter is amended from time to time and is shown below.
Since Thây and Sister Chân Không moved to France, they have offered retreats both at Plum Village and throughout the world. An ever-increasing number of practitioners, from all parts of the globe, have received the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and joined the Core Community. So the Order of Interbeing has become a widespread international Sangha and many of its members have gone on to be ordained as monks and nuns. (All monks and nuns receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, during if not before taking monastic vows, and are members of the Order of Interbeing.)
The International Order of Interbeing has convened conferences at Plum Village in France and at Deer Park Monastery in the US, during which members of the Core Community have come together and discussed how best to organise within the international context. The first such conference was held in June 1992.
One general theme to emerge from discussions of the Core Community is the importance of the relationship between the monastic and lay communities of the Sangha. For this reason, developmental activities within the Order always involves both monastic and lay practitioners.
Clearly much work needs to be done within the International Community as it continues to grow. New forms of organisation and communication between members are developing to meet these needs. In this context the newsletter, The Mindfulness Bell (see this Chapter 5.6), is an important source of information about activities Worldwide.
In recent years Thich Nhat Hanh has stressed the importance of Sangha building as the key to creating a stable foundation for our practice. Sanghas have evolved in many different countries, often reflecting the distinctive flavour of their local and national cultures. Centres of practice, sometimes with residential communities, are emerging as groups formalise their wish to share mindfulness practice together and offer it to others in their locality.
The increasing number of Dharma teachers, in both the lay and monastic orders, has promoted the transmission of the practice, teachings and precepts. Teaching is flourishing throughout the wider Sangha, without Thây needing always to be present at ceremonies and retreats.
The emergence and strength of the particular form of Buddhism inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh and represented by the Order of Interbeing and many Sanghas in many countries, demonstrates the great benefits of the practice.
Interbeing – Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book contains and explains the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and the Charter of The Order of Interbeing.
Joining the Order of Interbeing
A Sangha member is accepted into the Order of Interbeing (The Tiep Hien Order or Core Community) when he or she formally receives the Fourteen Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings. This is an important step for the practitioner and is taken only after much reflection on the significance of the mindfulness trainings and the Core Community in their life. In general, someone who applies to receive the Fourteen Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings will have been involved with the practice for a sustained period. He or she will have already received the Five Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings, at least a year before, and will have maintained a continuous practice, probably for several years. In addition, an aspirant is likely to be an active member of their local and/or national Sangha and be known to a number of people in their Sangha.
As the international community of practice has grown, it has become increasingly difficult for Thây to know personally everyone in the Sangha who wishes to receive the Fourteen Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings. Therefore, he has requested that the national and local Sanghas in each country be responsible for recommending practitioners to him for ordination. Existing Core Community members in each Sangha have a particular (though not exclusive) responsibility in this regard. For this reason, members who are considering applying to receive the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings are encouraged to have good contact with at least one core member, if at all possible.
In order to fulfil their responsibility of recommending people for ordination, The Community of Interbeing in the UK has established a group of four of its Core members(elected by rotation) to co-ordinate the application process. This process will ensure that all relevant Core members are informed and consulted about each practitioner’s request for ordination. It also provides clarity for anyone in the UK Sangha who wishes to be considered for ordination into the Core Community.
Guidelines for joining the Core Community and the basic steps in the application process for UK Sangha members is as follows:
Guidelines for aspiring UK Order members
When considering an application, the aspirant, local members and Order members should be guided by the following:
¨ An applicant should have a regular practice and feel a close connection to the tradition of Buddhism as transmitted by Thich Nhat Hanh, The Order of Interbeing and Plum Village.
¨ An applicant should already have received the Five Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings. There should, in general, be a period of a year between receiving the Five Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings and the Fourteen Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings, although an application can be made before this period is complete with a view to receiving them after the period is complete.
¨ An applicant should practise in harmony with their local Sangha. Some experience of practice with the community is usually expected – eg on retreat.
¨ An applicant should have a commitment to Sangha building and be aware of the responsibilities which accompany this. If there is already a local group this does not mean that the applicant has to organise a group elsewhere. Rather, the applicant should be making a positive contribution to the life of the Sangha.
¨ The applicant should be able to explain to other people, from their own experience, basic teachings including the Mindfulness Trainings. Applicants should consider whether they have taken them sufficiently into their own life that they can share them with others.
¨ If an applicant is in a long-term relationship, they should ensure that receiving ordination will not threaten the harmony of that relationship. Ideally, they will have the support of their partner/spouse. If they are a member of a family, they should consider the effects of ordination on the happiness of the family.
¨ An applicant should be able to demonstrate the ability to change by having made some progress or breakthrough in their own lives.
The UK process for applying to join Order of Interbeing
After discussion with members of their local Sangha, and others they may know in the national Sangha, a practitioner registers an interest in receiving the Fourteen Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings and join the Core Community – the Order of Interbeing – in the UK, by writing to the Precept Facilitation Group of the UK Sangha [see 1 below].
The Precept Facilitation Group then writes back to the applicant acknowledging their request and sending the applicant the guidelines and a form for application to join the Order [see 2 below].
After meditation and reflection on the guidelines and conditions for application, as well as further consultation with Core members of the Order of Interbeing and other Sangha members, the applicant completes the form and letter, and sends a copy to each of the four members of the Precept Facilitation Group [see 3 below].
On receiving the completed application form members of the Precept Facilitation Group confer on the application, and consult with other Core members of the Community of Interbeing as appropriate, including those who are sponsoring (generally their local Sangha) or know the applicant. The result of this consultation process is one of two outcomes:
b) the applicant is requested to wait and deepen their practice and links with the Sangha [see 4 below].
In the event of outcome (a):
¨ the Precept Facilitation Group advises all Core members of the successful application, and on behalf of the entire UK Order, sends a letter of welcome to the new member expressing the delight of the Sangha at their decision to join. A letter is also sent to Plum Village expressing the UK Sangha’s endorsement of the application, and giving details of the applicant [see 5 below].
In the event of outcome (b):
¨ a letter is sent to the applicant outlining the UK Order’s request that they take more time to deepen their practice and strengthen links with the Sangha. This letter specifies the concerns of the UK Order, and offers support to the applicant in this process (eg through the support of individual ordained members who know them). Further consideration of the application will be offered by the Precept Facilitation Group after an appropriate period. [see 5 below].
Notes on the process of Core Community application
 The Precept Facilitation Group is comprised of four members of the Core Community of the UK Sangha all of whom are actively engaged in Sangha activities. Membership of the Precept Facilitation Group is rotated by the election (and resignation) of one new (and one existing) member, on an annual basis.
 The first two steps in the application process (see above) are essential in order to give the Core Community notice of an applicant’s intentions, and also to allow the applicant to register an interest without, at this stage, committing themselves totally. An important aspect of the application form/letter and guidelines is the need to discuss the application with other members of the community, and for an applicant to obtain the support of their local Sangha of practice (if this exists). These documents, sent to the applicant, also include useful information describing the experiences of some existing core members and their thoughts on receiving the mindfulness trainings.
 On behalf of the Core Community as a whole, the Precept Facilitation Group is invested with the decision-making authority for accepting and welcoming applicants into the Core Community in the UK, and for communicating with applicants and core members with regard to the application process.
 The Precept Facilitation Group is responsible for communicating to all existing Core members, details of the outcome of all applications to join the Core Community of Interbeing in the UK.
 In general, if an applicant satisfies the conditions necessary to receive the Fourteen Wonderful Mindfulness Trainings and join the Order of Interbeing UK, their application will be considered favourably. Good reasons, clearly expressed to the applicant, will be needed to arrive at outcome (b). In these circumstances, the Core Community will accept the responsibility to support and work with an applicant on their practice, to a point where their application can be endorsed.
Correspondence should be addressed to:
The Precept Facilitation Group, UK Community of Interbeing
c/o Martin Pitt
Devon TQ13 8AR
The Charter of the Order of Interbeing
CHAPTER I: Name, Aim, Tradition
A Buddhist community is formed with the name Order of Interbeing.
The aim of the Order is to actualise Buddhism by studying, experimenting with, and applying Buddhism in modern life with a special emphasis on the bodhisattva ideal.
The Order of Interbeing was founded within the Linji School of Dhyana Buddhism. It is grounded in the Four Spirits: the spirit of non-attachment from views, the spirit of direct experimentation on the nature of interdependent origination through meditation, the spirit of appropriateness, and the spirit of skilful means. All four are to be found in all Buddhist traditions.
CHAPTER II: Basic Scriptures, Teachings, Methods
The Order of Interbeing does not consider any sutra or group of sutras as its basic scripture(s). It draws inspiration from the essence of the Buddhadharma in all sutras. It does not accept the systematic arrangements of the Buddhist teachings proposed by any school. The Order of Interbeing seeks to realise the spirit of the Dharma in early Buddhism, as well as in the development of that spirit through the history of the sangha, and its life and teachings in all Buddhist traditions.
The Order of Interbeing considers all sutras, whether spoken by the Lord Buddha or compiled by later Buddhist generations, as Buddhist sutras. It is also able to find inspiration from the texts of other spiritual traditions. It considers the development of original Buddhism into new schools a necessity to keep the spirit of Buddhism alive. Only by proposing new forms of Buddhist life can one help the true Buddhist spirit perpetuate.
The life of the Order of Interbeing should be nourished by understanding and compassion. Compassion and understanding, radiated by the Buddhist life, can contribute to the peace and happiness of humankind. The Order considers the principle of non-attachment from views and the principle of direct experimentation on interdependent origination through meditation to be the two most important guides for attaining true understanding. It considers the principle of appropriateness and the principle of skilful means as guides for actions in society. The spirit of non-attachment from views and the spirit of direct experimentation lead to open-mindedness and compassion, both in the realm of the perception of reality and in the realm of human relationships. The spirit of appropriateness and the spirit of skilful means lead to a capacity to be creative and to reconcile, both of which are necessary for the service of living beings.
The Order of Interbeing rejects dogmatism in both looking and acting. It seeks all forms of action that can revive and sustain the true spirit of insight and compassion in life. It considers this spirit to be more important than any Buddhist institution or tradition. With the aspiration of a bodhisattva, members of the Order of Interbeing seek to change themselves in order to change society in the direction of compassion and understanding by living a joyful and mindful life.
CHAPTER III: Authority, Membership, Organisation
8. To protect and respect the freedom and responsibility of each member of the community, monks, nuns, and lay-people enjoy equality in the Order of Interbeing.
9. The Order of Interbeing does not recognise the necessity of a mediator between the Buddha and lay disciples, between humans and ultimate reality. It considers, however, the insight and experiences of ancestral teachers, monks, nuns, and lay-people, as helpful to those who are practising the Way.
10. Members of the Order of Interbeing are either in the Core Community or the Extended Community. The Core Community consists of those who have taken the vow to observe the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order and the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and who have been ordained as brothers and sisters in the Order. The Extended Community consists of members who, while trying to live up to the spirit of the Order of Interbeing, have not formally taken the vow to observe the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, nor received ordination in the Order of Interbeing. The members of the Core Community accept the responsibility to organise and support a local Sangha, and help sustain Mindfulness Training recitations, days of mindfulness, and mindfulness retreats.
11. The Extended Community lives in close relationship with the Core Community by attending the recitation of the Mindfulness Trainings every two weeks and by participating in spiritual and social events sponsored by the Core Community. Long-standing members of the Extended Community, those who have participated regularly for one year or more, should be consulted on an advisory basis on the application of individuals to become members of the Core Community, whether or not these long-standing members of the Extended Community have received the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
12. Dharmacharyas (Dharma Teachers) are members of the Core Community who have been selected as teachers based on their stability in the practice and ability to lead a happy life. They function to inspire joy and stability in the local Sanghas. Local Sanghas are encouraged to suggest potential Dharmacharyas.
CHAPTER IV: Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing, Conditions for Ordination
13. The Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing reflect the life of the Order, which considers spiritual practice as the basis of all social action.
14. The Mindfulness Trainings are the heart of the Charter. Members are expected to recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings every two weeks. If there is a three-month lapse in the recitation, their ordination is considered nullified.
15. All persons eighteen years old or older, regardless of race, nationality, colour, gender, or sexual orientation, are eligible to join the Order if they have shown the capacity of learning and practising the Mindfulness Trainings and other requirements of Core Community members of the Order of Interbeing, and have formally received the Three Jewels and the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
16. A candidate begins the application process by announcing his or her aspiration to become a member of the Core Community of the Order of Interbeing. The announcement should be in writing to the local Sangha Core Community members, or if none are located nearby, to the appropriate Dharma Teacher(s). A candidate must have received the Three Jewels and Five Mindfulness Trainings. One or more Core Community members shall then mentor and train the candidate for at least one year, until the candidate is happy and steadfast in the practice and practices in harmony with the Sangha. These steps enable the aspirant to get to know Core Community better. Similarly, they enable the Core Community to get to know the aspirant better, to offer guidance and support, especially in areas of the practice where the aspirant may need additional guidance, and to train the aspirant in the role of Order member. When appropriate, the Core Community members and Dharma Teacher(s) will decide, after making an advisory consultation with long-standing members of the extended community, whether or not that candidate is ready to receive ordination into the Order of Interbeing. The work of a Core Community Order member includes Sangha building and support, explaining the Dharma from personal experience, and nourishing the bodhicitta in others while maintaining a regular meditation practice in harmony and peace with one’s family, all as manifestations of the bodhisattva ideal.
17. When the Core Community and the Dharma Teacher(s) make a decision on an application, they will strive to use their Sangha eyes and take care to nourish the bodhicitta (mind of love) of the aspirant, even if a delay in ordination is suggested. Local Sanghas are authorised to embellish the application procedures in this Charter in a manner that reasonably addresses local culture, geography, and circumstances, provided that the goals and aspirations of the Order are not defeated. The application provisions set forth in the Charter respecting an individual’s ordination may be waived in individual cases under special circumstances such as medical hardship, provided that, as appropriate, the coordinators of the Executive Council and most appropriate Dharma Teacher(s) are consulted first, and, if time permits, the local or most appropriate Core Community members. When it has been indicated that the candidate is ready to receive the Order ordination, his or her name shall be reported to the person designated by the core community Assembly. When an ordination ceremony has taken place, it shall be declared in writing to the Secretary of the Order, giving the name, lineage name, and Dharma name of the ordainee; date and place of the ordination; and the name of the presiding Dharma Teacher.
18. Members of the Core Community are expected to observe at least sixty days of mindfulness per year. It is recognised that this sixty-day requirement may be difficult for some members to achieve at times, due to family or other responsibilities, and the requirement is intended to be flexible in such cases, if it is agreed upon by the Sangha.
19. All members of the Core Community are expected to organise and practice with a local Sangha.
20. Provided they are consistent with the spirit of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, all lifestyles (whether in a committed relationship or celibate) are considered equally valid for Core Community members. To support both partners in a relationship, it is helpful if the partner of a Core Community member is a member of the Core Community, a member of the extended community or, at the minimum, live in harmony with his or her partner and that the member’s partner supports and encourages the member’s practice.
CHAPTER V: Leadership, Community Properties, Accounting
21. At regular intervals, an Assembly of all Core Community members should gather for a council. All members shall be notified six months in advance of the date and location of the meeting. Any member unable to attend can appoint a proxy to speak for him or her. The process of consensus shall be presented, reviewed, and revised at the beginning of the meeting. Rotating teams of facilitators, one woman and one man, each of different nationality, shall conduct the meeting. Minutes of each meeting of the Assembly will be kept as an ongoing record of the life and work of the Order of Interbeing. They will be made available to members on request.
22. At the Assembly meeting, the Core Community will select members to serve on an Executive Council to organise and guide the work of the Order of Interbeing between Assemblies, and to approve coordinators of the Executive Council from among the members of the Executive Council. The Assembly will decide on the specific structure and organisation that will best support the goals of reducing suffering, realising the bodhisattva ideal, and maintaining a strong Sangha network. The Core Community will draw on the life maturity and practice maturity of its elders and on the freshness of its younger members for assistance and support, and encourage and benefit from an ongoing Council of Elders and Council of Youth.
23. In order to facilitate interaction with the Worldwide Sangha, local Sanghas are encouraged to organise in a manner compatible with the spirit of this Charter.
24. To be member of the Order Core Community one is not required to pay financial dues, but dues may be suggested by the Executive Council and the Assembly as Dana (donation) to support the work of the Order. All Order of Interbeing monies, including contributions and dues, are to be held in a separate fund under the name “Order of Interbeing”. A detailed financial report prepared by the Treasurer(s) shall be presented to the membership annually. After administrative costs have been covered, funds of the Order may be used to help local Sanghas offer scholarships to members to attend Order retreats and in their work to relieve suffering.
25. Any community properties of the Order should be held under the national and local regulations of its site. To protect those who may be responsible for the management of community properties, all assets, including bank accounts, currency, real estate, vehicles, etc, are to be accounted for using common accounting practices. If and when local Sanghas hold funds for the international Order of Interbeing, accounting will be kept separately and detailed reports sent yearly to the Treasurer(s) of the Order.
CHAPTER VI: Amending of the Charter
26. Every word and every sentence in this Charter is subject to change, so that the spirit of the charter will be allowed to remain alive throughout the history of the practice. Previous versions should be preserved and made available for consultation by later generations. All versions are to be clearly dated for future reference.
27. The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and this Charter are to be re-examined at each Assembly of the Core Community members.
28. This Charter, consisting of six chapters and twenty-nine items should be revised and amended at each Assembly of the Core Community members in order to keep it relevant to today’s societies.
29. In keeping with the tradition of the Sangha, all changes must be made by consensus and not just by simple majority.