SITTING UP STRAIGHT in tall Shaker-style chairs, the members of Lilac Breeze Sangha follow their breath to the tune of Quaker silence. Like many other Westerners, they’ve taken to Buddhist sitting practice without giving up their religious roots, combining traditions for a customized spiritual experience. For math teacher David Shen, who combines Catholicism, Taoism, Quakerism, and Buddhism in his practice, mixing faiths works to their mutual enrichment: “In Quaker meeting,” he says, “when people speak, I now listen deeply, the way Buddhists would listen.”
Lilac Breeze Sangha gathers at Friends Center, the Quaker meetinghouse in Center City, Philadelphia. It is here, in the town that William Penn built, that members of the sangha follow their breath in Buddhist sitting meditation while communing directly with God in the tradition of their Quaker predecessors, blending faiths with each in- and out-breath.
Lilac Breeze has traditionally been a haven for those who identify themselves as some combination of Buddhist and Quaker, although, as in Shen’s case, the full range of faiths represented is broad. Formed by Lynne Shivers in 1991, the group was established in the tradition of the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Shivers, a member of the Quaker group, Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, has been a Quaker since her teens and a follower of Thich Nhat Hanh for nearly forty years. In 1992 she took the Fourteen Precepts, or Mindfulness Trainings, of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing.
“I’m clear that my feet are in Quakerism and probably always will be, but it’s also very true that I believe that Buddhism, particularly the order that I belong to, has some spiritual insights that Quakerism has not yet figured out,” Shivers said.
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