This Pride month, Brother Bao Tang and Rainbow Family Sangha members share heartfelt reflections on nurturing inclusiveness in the Rainbow Family.
[The Rainbow Family provides spaces for practitioners who identify as LGBTQIA+. LGBTQIA+ is an acronym standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual and many other terms (such as non-binary and pansexual)]
Building an Inclusive Siblinghood
Brother Troi Bao Tang (He/Him)
Plum Village Monastery, France
I have witnessed the struggles and suffering of LGBTQIA+ individuals and groups throughout my life. While discrimination and prejudice against the LGBTQIA+ community have persisted for centuries, it is inspiring to see, at the same time, society’s growing acceptance and inclusion. However, the wounds of the past still run deep, and the oppression faced by many LGBTQIA+ individuals is not easily forgotten. These individuals often experience feelings of isolation, fear and rejection due to their true identities. They struggle to be seen for who they truly are and to find acceptance in their personal, spiritual, and professional circles.
The Revised 3rd Mindfulness Training
The movements to be inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community’s existence need to be consistent across all fields: politics, science, and spirituality. The Plum Village Rainbow Family Sangha offers the spiritual aspect for the LGBTQIA+ practitioners. Plum Village Monasteries strive to provide a safe environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals to gather, meditate, practice, and heal together. We offer a space where people can come as they are, without facing rejection. Together, we practice mindfulness, compassion, and understanding toward one another, fostering a sense of community and belonging. We also emphasize the practice of ethics, which brings us to the other shore through our 5 Mindfulness Trainings.
We are deeply grateful that gender and orientation identity is included as objects of our mindfulness. Everything illuminated by the light of mindfulness will bloom, like flower buds receiving sunlight particles. Personally, I do hope that the Plum Village Dharma Teacher Council for the Asia-Pacific region, together with local sanghas, can also find a skillful way to update the 3rd Mindfulness Training soon, because of the significant oppression and injustice toward LGBTQIA+ individuals in the region.
Of course, I recognize that our work in Plum Village is far from done. There are still injustices and discomfort faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals practicing with us, but our sangha continues to work towards change. Sadly, at this moment, our siblings who have transgender experiences, are non-binary, or gender non-conforming are not able to ordain as monastics because the Buddhist monastic order is still considered as two orders: Bhikshu for cisgender men and Bhikshuni for cisgender women. I truly wish that the Buddhist monastic order can expand beyond these two categories. We must learn that the women’s order (bhikshuni) was formed by the women’s own power at the time of the Buddha (Maha Prajapati and a significant number of her community of women).Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh Chapter Forty-Five: Opening the Door. Mahapajapati and women comrades demonstrate their intention and ability to lead the homeless life. Eight Rules are created as a prerequisite for women to be ordained. Ud. 111, 2; Vin. Cv. Kh. 10; A. VII, 51-53; Tchong 116 (T. 26); Tchong 130 (T. 26); Sseu Fen Liu (T. 1428); Wou Fen Liu (T. 1421). Detailed accounts of Mahapajapati and her women comrades’ efforts to be accepted into the sangha are recorded in Vin. Cv. Kh. 10; T. 1428 and T. 1421.The Bhikshu order did not initiate the formation of the Bhikshuni order. I guess that our next orders won’t be formed by either the Bhikshu or the Bhikshuni order.
Meanwhile, I have witnessed the great efforts of the Bhikshu and Bhikshuni Council of Plum Village to improve inclusivity for LGBTQIA+ retreatants. Hours of discussions, multiple conversations, investment of our emotional energy, and compassionate listening have been dedicated to this cause. Each monastery has done their best. I have experienced that some of our centers are starting to host retreats that welcome individuals beyond the traditional gender binary, such as Plum Village Monastery in France, Magnolia Grove Monastery in Mississippi, and Deer Park Monastery in California. We strive to raise awareness, educate one another, and promote acceptance for all individuals. In our sangha, we value diversity and inclusiveness. We acknowledge that every individual’s journey is unique and offer support to all who seek it, not only regarding gender identity and orientation but also ethnicity, culture, language, and more.
Time Can Heal
In the Plum Village tradition, brotherhood, sisterhood, and siblinghood form the basis of our understanding and love. As a queer monk, I have not experienced discrimination from the other monks or nuns, at least not to my knowledge. I feel the same love that I received when I was first ordained as a novice monk. This is because we have a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, and our Monastic Precepts also play a crucial role in maintaining our freedom and respecting each other’s boundaries. Being a happy person within the community has been vital to my journey. I do not have a need for absolute acceptance from others, and if there are people in the community who cannot accept me, I can only offer them freedom and space to be, recognizing that they may just need time.
Beyond Humans, Animals, Plants, and the Earth
As a queer monk in the Plum Village Rainbow Sangha, my aim is to contribute to a world where every person, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, is recognized as valuable and deserving of respect and love. In several interviews in the spring of 2023, I was asked, “Can LGBTQIA+ individuals be included in Buddhism?” My response has always been, “The Buddha’s teachings are about the transformation and healing of suffering. All human beings deserve to recognize, take care of, and transform their suffering, and to enjoy happiness and freedom in life, regardless of their identity. If we embrace humans, animals, plants, and the Earth, why would we question the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ individuals?”
In conclusion, I strongly believe that creating a world that embraces diversity is within Human’s capacity. We can achieve this by accepting and celebrating each individual’s uniqueness and by providing safe spaces for people to be themselves and find support. Through our various Rainbow Sanghas, we are working towards creating a more compassionate and mindful world, where the suffering of LGBTQIA+ individuals can be transformed into healing and joy. To do this we do not need to be identified as LGBTQIA+ activists, everyone can contribute to this cause.
Our sisters, brothers, and siblings from different Rainbow Sanghas are happy to share their stories below. Happy Pride Month 2023 to everyone!
Hands of Friendship Extended
True Pure Earth, Member of the Order of Interbeing
Rainbow Sangha – Ireland
Happy Farm Manager, Upper Hamlet – Plum Village
June has arrived again we have the opportunity to celebrate Pride month in Plum Village once again. I am a queer, cis gendered male lay friend who lives, works and practices in Plum Village, Upper Hamlet, France. I have been living here since 2015. It is really important for me to stop and take a moment to reflect on the growth of our Rainbow Family in the context of our global Plum Village Community.
In the years that I have lived in Plum Village I have witnessed our Rainbow Family blossom and grow. I have seen the hands of friendship and allyship extended again and again from within our global Sangha. Just like in the rest of the world we still have a lot to do to ensure that all our queer siblings can feel safe, loved and understood. As a queer cis male in Europe I know the work for liberation for those who identify like myself has nearly been completed. But we will not ‘pull up the ladder behind us’. We will stay with all our queer siblings until every last one of us can reach the other shore safely. This month I speak out for and stand beside all our trans and gender non confirming siblings especially.
I want to celebrate some manifestations of love, understanding and respect of our beloved Rainbow Family in recent years. I celebrate the updating of our 5 and 14 mindfulness trainings. I celebrate recent gender non-conforming accommodation options, and gender-neutral bathrooms in our practice centers. I celebrate how the upcoming Wake Up Retreat in Plum Village France will welcome a record number of queer young adults, highlighting our community’s commitment to providing a safe and welcoming space for spiritual nourishment for all.
There is so much to celebrate. Yet we have a lifetime of work still to do together. As a lay friend here I wish to live in harmony and with a deep and reciprocated respect, love and understanding with our monastic community. Yet I also feel a personal responsibility to advocate for and represent our Rainbow Family when and where appropriate here on home soil. I feel that is a privilege and an honour.
Building a Queer Community Together
Inclusive Embrace of the Heart – Tâm Dung Xả (She/Her)
Rainbow Sangha – UK
I come from a Catholic background and I had negative preconceptions about “spirituality”. But when I visited Plum Village back in 2004, I changed my mind — to the point that in 2018-19 I became a long-term lay friend and lived in Plum Village for a year. I personally never saw a conflict between my practice and my queerness, but I kept them separated, making assumptions about reciprocal acceptance. Then I found out that many other people in Plum Village not only happily identified as queer, but were also willing to be out and proud. I know many lay friends did a lot of foundational and preparatory work, for which I’m grateful. Eventually an interest group on sexuality was announced. The monastics gave queer people a space to meet, raise our consciousness, and become visible. At first it was only lay people, but then monastics also started to come to our Dharma sharings.
The process was gradual, and there were a few stumbling blocks such as different degrees of knowledge and awareness in such a multicultural place as Plum Village, and wrong perceptions. But we pushed on: I’ll never forget their tears of joy when someone in my Dharma sharing group realized they could be both queer and practitioners. The queer rainbow community took off through a combined effort of lay people and monastics. I personally think we’re not there yet; there is still work to be done in terms of awareness, visibility and above all gender, but I trust the multi-fold sangha to progress in Thay’s spirit of openness and loving kindness. In 2020, Covid quarantines sparked a number of online queer sangha initiatives – I offered to contribute to the Rainbow Sangha UK and I’ve been happily doing so for three years now.
Keeping Aspirations Alive in a Difficult Environment
R. Dimas (He/Him)
True Forest of Communication
Member of the Order of Interbeing
Sangha Rainbow Indonesia
Living as a queer person in a society that has not fully implemented equality for LGBTQIA+ is very challenging. Not only do I experience alienation from society, but I also feel disconnected from myself. I had a really hard time embracing myself. There were times when I hated being myself. Through mindfulness, I was able to slowly connect with myself and was able to embrace myself for who I really am and identify my aspirations.
Receiving the 14 Mindfulness Trainings nourished me to understand the best way to live life as a queer person, including well-being issues. Even though acceptance is still very difficult in Indonesia, through mindfulness and practice with the community, I can develop the best way to appreciate life; how to love, how to maintain sexual energy, and how to transform the wounds of discrimination that have been residing within me. Through mindfulness, I have enough courage to build Rainbow Sangha in Indonesia and help many queer friends practice loving their identity amidst the face of fear and discrimination.
Deep trust of the heart
Germany – International Rainbow Sangha
From the sharings in our queer sangha and for myself, I feel like the perceptions of sex and gender are often more the focus of mindfulness and insight for queer practitioners.
Queer-Theory states that our gender and our sexual identities are but something we create and perform with our actions, speech and thinking in every moment – we are doing gender. These actions are repeated in societies until certain normative views on gender ripen, that often also are related to structures of power. Queer-Theory focuses on the destruction of binaries like for example male / female with the aspiration to question fixed normatives and turning dualistic discrimination towards inclusiveness and diversity.
Buddhist traditions have been teaching non-dualism for a very long time and also the idea that there is no permanent self that is independent from the surroundings. We might perform to gender identities in the historical dimension and be attached to views on what is normal (and often this is a heteronormative view), but in an ultimate dimension male and female interare, are fluid and empty of a separate self.
I believe in our practice we are also invited to let go of characteristics of the self and body that we have held onto so tightly and also code us into a conventional, binary definition of gender. Deep reflections on this topic is a flower the queer sangha can bring to the larger sangha. There is a lot of freedom and beauty to be found in the spaces in between.
Facilitating Queer Sanghas
Queer Sangha Paris
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the other facilitators in Queer Sangha Paris, such as Laurent and Emmanuel. Despite having known the Plum Village tradition for many years, I still consider myself a beginner. I began my journey with the Wake Up Sangha in 2020 and subsequently joined the Queer Sangha. Surprisingly, I was entrusted with a facilitation role quite quickly.
Facilitating our dear Queer Sangha’s sessions has been, and continues to be, an amazing and enriching experience. Even during our online sessions, the atmosphere remains very special, and newcomers are always warmly welcomed. Each time I facilitate, I strive to be creative and use the book “Un lotus s’épanouit” (The Blooming of A Lotus) as a guiding resource for the various themes that participants generally enjoy exploring. Additionally, Dharma sharing is a powerful practice within our sangha. Regardless of the topic being discussed, there is always a great deal of kindness present, and I can always sense a nourishing energy. Personally, I find in-person sessions to be refreshing as we often share tea or have dinner together. And recently, we have been arranging walking meditations in Paris and its surroundings. I am confident that our dear sangha in Paris will continue to thrive for many years to come.
Supporting Those of Transgender Experience/A Parent’s Perspective
LoAn Nguyễn – Member of Interbeing
Chân Quỳnh Uyển -True Compassionate Garden
Pronouns: Cô, She, Her, Hers
QT Viet & Viet Allies Sangha
My name is LoAn Nguyen and I use the pronouns cô/she/her. Just this statement alone brings me into allyship for friends in the LGBTQIA+ community where my queer daughter with transgender experience finds the most belonging and acceptance. The pronouns my child uses are she/they. The Plum Village tradition of Mindfulness has sustained me into who I am today. This journey of understanding and love has been supported greatly by Thay’s teaching of coming back to self for solidity and freshness, for calm and ease, and for being aware of the present moment, wonderful moment. Presently, there are Sanghas for LGBTQIA+allies to practice with community members, and having co-founded the Chrysanthemum Sangha, I went on to co-found QT Viet & Viet Allies Sangha to offer practice spaces for our friends.
While life continues to be a juggling act of navigating the daily challenges, they include recognizing moments of joy. I am grateful to have this path to help me help my child find our raft. Actually, my daughter has always been my teacher with her mindful and intentional way of being while I only came into this mindfulness practice in 2011. Together, we have been to Deer Park and Blue Cliff Monasteries, and it is my aspiration to see my child attending a Plum Village Retreat. I will close with this quote from Thay as the beacon into my 6th decade, “Our own life has to be our message.”
Joy and Pain are One
Linds R (They/Them)
Inner Wings of the Heart
I had the good fortune to be able to practice with the sangha at Deer Park Monastery for the 90 Day Retreat in fall 2022 and to be able to stay as a long-term practitioner in the spring of 2023. Spending a total of about six months at the monastery, I touched moments of deep peace in the collective energy of mindfulness and with the loving support of the monastic and lay communities. Practicing living in community felt beautiful and vulnerable, to let people see me and know me as a transgender person living in a binary practice center. There were times when fellow practitioners would misgender me or make assumptions about my gender identity, or try to lovingly direct me to use certain bathrooms or sit on one side of the meditation hall. These moments were painful, at times, and were places where I could lean into self-compassion and compassion for others. I realized that I could not control others’ perceptions of me or behavior towards me. And I could hold and love and see myself for who I am. From that place of softening inwards, I could then feel the strength to show up as I am in the community.
I also deeply appreciated the monastic and lay friends who supported me and other gender diverse people at the monastery. I met many friends who shared their own stories, and who listened deeply to understand experiences that were different from theirs. There were also friends who practiced inclusive language, such as using the term “siblings” and “multifold sangha,” and these felt like moments of grace and growth. For me, gender and sexuality have been a dharma door. And like other human experiences and identities, I am grateful for the ways they offer moments of waking up, individually and collectively.
On Gay Marriage
Rogelio (He/him) – Member of Interbeing
True Ocean of Freshness
Rainbow Mexico city
Couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, share love and affection, and many of us seek to establish a committed, long-term relationship. Marriage serves as a means to formalize and celebrate this love and commitment. Besides offering legal protection and benefits, it also fulfils a desire for social and family recognition, granting us a sense of belonging, acceptance, legitimacy within society and our own families.
In Mexico, my home country, the legalization of same-sex marriage has marked a significant milestone in achieving equal rights for LGBTQIA+ individuals, even though it remains contrary to the teachings of the dominant Catholic religion.
To me, it is essential to have a spiritual practice that embraces all aspects of my humanity, just as I am. Along my Buddhist path, I discovered that there was room for both myself and my partner, as true love transcends sexual orientation. Instead, it is based on cultivating qualities such as loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and inclusivity, which are known as the four immeasurable states of mind, emphasized in the Third Mindfulness Training. Whenever these qualities are present, love thrives.
During our wedding, our families and friends played a significant role in the Buddhist ceremony we conducted, pledging their support, care, and nurturing. The beauty of this ceremony lies in its inclusivity, extending beyond queer couples to any partnership seeking to cultivate mindfulness in their relationship and receive the support of their loved ones. The third mindfulness training grants us the freedom to love all beings and transcend concepts such as sexual orientation.
As a Member of the Order of Interbeing, I take pride in my husband, as we both practice together and contribute to our sangha. My husband, Miguel, has been instrumental in establishing the Rainbow Mexico Sangha, enabling me to channel my energy into supporting the broader Mexico City sangha.
Being Beautiful, Being Ourselves
Dancing Roots of the Heart
Rainbow International Sangha and Queer Sangha Paris
The Rainbow Sanghas that I am part of are spaces of community, friendship, joy, and ongoing support. It’s precious to be able to reach out to siblings who share many of the same experiences, and to find understanding and compassion without needing to explain who I am or my journey. Together we practice, we share, we sing, we cultivate joy and harmony ; we ground together in our shared practice so that we are better able to untangle our knots and to “be beautiful, be ourselves.” I am grateful both for our queer sangha community and for our place within the wider multi-fold sangha. We continue to flow together as a river.