The Deep Spiritual and Practical Links Between Quakers and PlumVillage

3rd January 2024

When I first came to Quakers I found a warm welcome and an open acceptance of other faiths and paths. I have an Anglican faith from childhood and had been exploring and practising with Insight Meditation for many years. I loved the simplicity and directness of the Quaker way and was drawn to the testimonies and their application. I felt I had really found a place to explore and extend my spiritual and life path. This has been true for more than seven years.

By a happenstance I came across a Plum Village Sangha locally and felt a strong draw towards it and the directness of the practice drew me in. Plum Village was founded by Thich Nhat Hanh and this school of Buddhism is known as Engaged Buddhism and from the Mahayana perspective that draws elements from Zen and Theravada. I still felt a real belonging to my Local Meeting but I found a clearer path for me personally to deepen my spiritual path. The Plum Village tradition asks that whatever spiritual background you have you retain and bring it into your Plum Village path. This is known as co-belonging and feels right for me.

After first meeting other Quakers within Plum Village I began to become aware of the number of people who were in both traditions. I then attended a Woodbrooke course exploring the spiritual links between the two communities. This was a joy and a revelation and a course that has been running for many years. What I came across only very recently was a little book called ‘Contemplations of Shared Insights’ and more affectionately as ‘The Little Brown Book’. This was compiled by a cooperation between the two communities and is an introduction to and celebration of the two communities taking The Five Mindfulness Trainings of Plum Village and with some of the Advices and Queries. The two pathways have many similarities of practice and ethics and both communities are active in worldwide and local ethical issues.

To look at the differences between the two I think the most significant is that Quaker Worship is centred in waiting in the light whereas in meditation it is the practice of Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight. I have found that both paths enhance each other and deepen my spiritual life. The Buddhist teachings are vast and deep but there is also so much that is easily accessible and can be put into practice in any and every moment of everyday life. I have found that Buddhist meditation and practices has further deepened my spiritually and enriched my life and my relationship to the present moment.

Both paths intertwine in my life and bring a greater depth and understanding to my life than either could alone. The heart of my Quaker life is worship which I find challenges my assumptions and makes me more aware in the gathered silence.

Quote from Little Brown Book - Ethics for the 21st Century

The little brown book is offered as an introduction to and a celebration of, the diversity and similarity of the two Spiritual traditions and ethics, one with its roots in Asia, in Vietnam, and the other with its roots in the West, in England.

Jenny Morse