Deer Park Monastery lies on 400 acres in the Chaparral Mountains about 50 minutes north of San Diego, California. It was officially created in July 2000 as an extension of the four-fold sangha led by Thich Nhat Hanh, nicknamed Thây. A four-fold sangha encourages participation by both monks, nuns and laypeople regardless of gender in the community.
Thich Nhat Hanh founded Plum Village, his first monastic community in Bordeaux, France after being exiled from Vietnam. Thich Nhat Hanh has created established sister monasteries in New York, Mississippi as well as Germany, Australia, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Thich Nhat Hanh was born in central Vietnam in 1926. He was trained in Mahayana as a bhikku at the Tu Hieu Temple. In the midst of the Vietnam War with America, he founded the Engaged Buddhism movement which encourages activism for social justice issues through a peace centered lense of Buddhism. His message of “peace and reconciliation, rather than victory” over America led to his exile from Vietnam. (order of interbeing)
His message of peace inspired Martin Luther King Jr. to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, calling Thay an “apostle of peace and nonviolence”. Thay has written over 100 books on mindfulness, meditation as well as poetry.
What does the monastery do?
Deer Park describes itself as a “mindfulness practice center and monastic training center”.
Visitors are encouraged to join the sangha on Sunday Days of Mindfulness or overnight retreats. You can participate in a day of outdoor walking meditation, mindful eating, dharma talks similar to Christian sermons and dharma recitations. All meals provided are vegan. (come for the day)
Retreats show participants how the monastery operates on a daily basis. You are offered either a space in a dorm or the option to use a tent on their designated campgrounds. Laypeople can opt for a 90-day retreat. If after a week the monks believe you “are able to live in harmony with the community”, then they will allow you to complete the 90-day retreat. (join a retreat)
Becoming a Monk
Those who seek to become a monk or nun under Plum Village practice must be under 50 and if under 18 must have parental consent. Joining the monastic community requires celibacy and a life-long commitment to Plum Village sangha. As part of the sangha you “live, practice and teach as a community and not as individuals”.
Prospective monks and nuns must not have a “serious medical condition”, must not have “debt or financial ties”, and past relationships must be “settled” and “in harmony with them” to “not be an obstacle” to monastic training.
Prospective laypeople are suggested to stay at the monastery for “at least three months” to determine whether a monastic way of life is appropriate for you. Novices like lay people on retreats will start with practicing mindful walking and mindful breathing. Deer Park as part of Thay’s network of monasteries believes that every serves to build the Sangha and the peace and happiness to everyone in the community. (becoming a monastic)
After you are certain of your desire to continue monastic life, you must compose a letter to Thich Nhat Hanh and the whole Sangha explaining how you came to desire becoming a bhikshu or bhikshuni and “aspirations for becoming a monastic”. After acceptance, the Sangha considers you an aspirant with a “monastic mentor who will further assist you in your training”.
After three or four more years you may be ordained as a novice and “invited to move into the monastic residence to live with the other monks or nuns”. Novice training is based on the books Stepping Into Freedom and Joyfully Together. Plum Village monasteries balance the four pillars of “practice study, work and play”. Monks and nuns “train to slowly develop mindfulness concentration and insight”. After another year a novice may be fully ordained into the Bhikshu Sangha. (monastic training)
Mindfulness is at the heart of every action in the Deer Park Monastery who describes it as “the energy of being aware and awake at the present moment”. Washing dishes, eating, sitting are simple daily acts Deer Park strives to engage with “an awareness that we are doing them” rather than going through the motions. Deer Park lays out a long bullet point list of mindful activities at the monastery that include, “Touching the Earth”, “Tea Meditation”, “Taking Care of Anger” and “Hugging Meditation”.
Living Together is value of mindfulness that encompasses respect for others by keeping a clean living space as well as taking “the time to get to know the people around us. We have neglected our neighbors for too long”.
A “Bell of Mindfulness” is any sudden sound such as a “telephone ringing, the clock chiming” of which monastics are conditioned to respond by relaxing the body. Often sudden sounds are disturbing to our mind, but even for laypeople Deer Park suggests responding to a baby crying with “bells of mindfulness”. (be mindful in daily life)
Happiness is another valued essence in Thich Nhat Hanh’s monasteries.
Plum monasteries strive to adhere to:
The Five Mindfulness Trainings
1. Reverence for Life
2. True Happiness
3. True Love
4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening
5. Nourishment and Healing
…and The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing (the basis organization for the Engaged Buddhism movement)
2. Non-Attachment to Views 8. True Community & Communication
3. Freedom of Thought 9. Truthful and Loving Speech
4. Awareness of Suffering 10. Protecting and Nourishing the Sangha
5. Compassionate, Healthy Living 11. Right Livelihood
6. Taking Care of Anger 12. Reverence for Life
7. Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment 13. Generosity
14. Right Conduct