Engaging with Suffering in the Present Moment

Brother Chân Trời Bảo Tạng

I feel privileged to have Thay as my teacher and to have the opportunity to be fully trained as a monastic in the Plum Village monastic order. I have learned a lot since I arrived in Plum Village in October 2009. I left behind my professional life in Indonesia and aspired to live a contemplative life with a very inspiring teacher and a very engaged practice community. I have been learning and relearning many things such as meditation, the way to love and to reconcile with myself and my blood family, community living, monastic training, applied Buddhism, and how to engage with the world outside of the monastery.

I am happy that my community is turning 40, because it is capable of continuing the legacy of our teacher, Thay, and of creating peace through the path of understanding and love in many aspects of life: youth, families, leaders, teachers, health, science, climate and social injustice. I have been enjoying the many teachings given by our elder monastic siblings and I am inspired by how they bring their deep insight into society.

The Rainbow Family of Plum Village

Since the Wake Up Retreat in 2016, I have been part of a Plum Village community who call themselves the “Rainbow Family.” It consists of people with diverse gender indentities and sexual orientations, LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and also includes the diverse spectrums of gender and orientation). People who identify as LGBTQIA+, until today, still live with different degrees of suffering. These range from discrimination from the unconscious judgements of family and society, to living under the threat of death by law in many countries. Meanwhile, they are simply doing their best to be beautiful, to be themselves, and to love each other. As a Rainbow monastic, at the beginning, it was also very hard for me to practice “Be beautiful, be myself” because the Rainbow Family has not yet been fully accepted in the collective consciousness of humans. Seeing the suffering in the rainbow community, I felt the urge to come out, to offer my practice and my presence, with my aspiration to learn together and to understand more deeply.

Joyfully together as a Rainbow Family

Today we have many “Rainbow Families” around the world, such as the sangha Queer Paris and Marseille in France, Rainbow UK, Rainbow Ireland, Rainbow Sangha Indonesia, Chrysanthemum, and Cosmic Body sanghas in the United States, and International LGBTQIA+ Sangha. All of these communities are spaces for practicing mindfulness in the Plum Village tradition and a refuge for lay and monastic practitioners that identify as LGBTQIA+. Some monastic siblings and I have participated in many of these sanghas’ activities. It is very inspiring to see people of all ages with very diverse gender and sexual orientations come together to share the practice, enjoy each other’s transformation, and nourish each other, whether in-person or online.

Rainbow lay practitioners, Order of Interbeing members and monastics work hand in hand to build a spiritual family. Family is a safe space and a refuge. There are many allies who also come and help to build the community because they have been supporting their loved ones, their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, cousins, friends … who might be suffering because they identify themselves as LGBTQIA+ and face discrimination.

I have been able to participate in multiple LGBTQIA+ retreats in Plum Village, in EIAB, in Montagne du Dharma, and in online retreats. Every retreat or Dharma sharing always brings healing to people, lay or monastics. This is because everyone of us faces more or less the same difficulty in being ourselves and being happy.

Watering the seeds of awareness in the monastic community

For me, continuous right diligence is necessary to water the seeds of understanding, compassion, and awareness, so that there is more understanding in our monastic community about LGBTQIA+ concerns. I really hope we shall continue to be a refuge for this family.

During the 2021 Rains’ Retreat, I was invited to offer a workshop on “Understanding LGBTQIA+” on a Monastic Day. It was a very joyful moment. More than 60 monastics came with their open hearts, with the aspiration to understand and find ways to support the LGBTQIA+ practitioners. I was touched by the presence and curiosity of my monastic siblings.

In the bhikshu community, there have been several sharings on this topic with the same spirit of openness. Upper Hamlet, where I live now, has been very supportive in allowing a Rainbow Dharma sharing once a month. This is with the full support of the Upper Hamlet Dharma Teacher Council, who has witnessed the struggles we sometimes experienced in making such a Dharma sharing possible.

Deep looking

Human beings, when we find ourselves different from the majority, and see that people in our environment do not show acceptance and understanding, can find life very tough. This is especially so for young people (children and teenagers) who have never received any information that it is fine to be different. They have to figure out alone what is happening to them, and at the same time, to face their family and society that may not be very kind to them. Out of despair and pain, many take their own lives or suffer alone for a very long time. I, myself, went through that kind of shock when I discovered that I was not heterosexual, until my school teachers told me that it was fine and that I could still love and be loved like everybody else, and that I would be fine. Without these people, I would not have been able to find peace in myself, especially since I am from Indonesia.

I have been asking myself why I want to be engaged with the Rainbow community, and I have not been able to find the exact answer, as I am not a LGBTQIA+ activist. What is clear is that I have the aspiration to relieve suffering and contribute to the growth of humanity. The Plum Village Rainbow Family is a safe space for Rainbow practitioners, lay and monastic. It is where we can share who we are and how we are without external pressures. The community provides the space where we can look deeply into ourselves and also into what is happening in society.

LGBTQIA+ people are not the enemies of anyone. We are just unfamiliar friends to family and society. This is the insight that I have in my practice. This has given me the freedom to allow people to be homophobic, to allow people to have prejudice, and to allow them to take their time to transform. The existence of the Rainbow Family will help to transform homophobia and prejudice, especially within the Plum Village Community worldwide. Our Teacher always taught us to take care of ourselves first, so the Plum Village community needs to transform itself first before we can reach out fully to others. The existence of the Rainbow Family also familiarizes it to many people. This will bring peace and happiness to oneself, family, and society.

Planting seeds for future generations

My aspiration, as a Rainbow monk, is first to live a life of freedom and help others do the same. We all have Buddha nature, we all have beauty within us. I would like to see Rainbow people live happily and free and love according to who they are. I also would like to support my Rainbow monastic siblings to live happily and free as monastics, to be able to practice the precepts and cultivate merit and virtue so that we can continue the legacy of the Buddha and our teacher, Thay.

In Plum Village I have had the chance to study the classical Vinaya, both Pali and Chinese translated into English. Surprisingly I discovered that in the time of the Buddha, the topic of gender was part of sangha life. I came across a paragraph in the VinayaDharmaguptaka Vinaya: Ordination Skandhaka, part 5. Taisho Vol. 22 pp. 812-816, Bodhi. stating that when a monk who had been ordained as a bhikshu for some time, became a woman, the Buddha said that she should join the bhikshuni sangha and keep her place in order of ordination. The same happened for a bhikshuni who became a man. I felt light at heart because a man can be female and a woman can be male and it does not mean that that person has to be expelled from the sangha. These accounts give me confidence in the Buddha’s teaching, in his community, and also in the inclusiveness of the Plum Village monastic community.

When I contemplate the future Plum Village monastic community, I would love to see that we will continue to practice the monastic mindfulness trainings (Pratikmoksha), mindful breathing and walking, to build togetherness and siblinghood. To be a community that continues to contribute peace and healing to society and transform suffering. To be a community that has more diversity in terms of nationalities, ethnicities, people of color, gender, and diverse sexual orientations.

One day, LGBTQIA+ people will be familiar friends to ourselves, our family, society, nation and the world. And in the end, we will not need the labels anymore because we are just humans–not seen to be different from anyone else. This is my deep aspiration.