Featured Story – Magnolia Grove

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Vietnamese nun: we can ‘feel love’ of community

By John Howell Sr.
Sister Boi Nghiem of the Magnolia Grove Monastery on Red Hill said that when she and other monastics visit Batesville for shopping errands she “feels the smiles from the eyes” of people she meets.

The sister, with another nun and two monks from the monastery along with Pete Murry of Hot Springs, Arkansas, a “permanent lay practitioner” of the engaged Buddhism espoused by the community, visited Batesville Rotary Club Tuesday to present a brief informational program about Magnolia Grove.

Magnolia Grove’s history dates back at least to 2002 when Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh came to Memphis for a Peace Walk, Sr. Boi Nghiem said. Master Hanh is a revered Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was exiled from his homeland early during American war. He went to Paris where he founded the Unified Buddhist Church in Paris in 1969 and eventually the Plum Village Meditation Practice Center there.

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When Vietnamese friends from Oxford, Clarksdale and Corinth saw the level of interest at the Peace March, they wanted to establish a monastery in the South, Sr. Boi Nghiem said. Their land search eventually led them to purchase the old Towles place at 123 Towles Road. In 2005, Master Hanh officially accepted Magnolia Grove as a “mindfulness practice center,” according to its web site, www.magnoliagrovemonastery.org, used by area Buddhists during visits for weekends and retreats.

In 2010, the facility became the Magnolia Grove Monastery with resident monastics, she said.
The present community includes 10 monks and 22 nuns, Brother Radiant said, whose practice of “mindfulness” is taught and shared with international and local visitors. Most of the monastics are under age 30. The monastery will accept monastics as young as 12 or 13 with parental permission, Brother Radiant said. The monastery won’t accept monastics over age 50.

The nuns and monks eat a vegan diet. They share three vehicles and none own personal cell phones, he said.

“Every weekend we receive guests,” Brother Radiant said, describing a typical weekend schedule for visitors that begins late Friday afternoons and continues through Sunday. There is orientation and discussion, Brother Radiant said, but also silence.

Recent visitors have included students and staff from Batesville’s Finch-Henry Job Corps Center, he said.

“We don’t talk a lot, but we apply and practice our mindfulness,” he said.
Master Hanh’s desire to “go out and reach young people” has evolved into the Wake-Up Movement that instructs using “the language of young people,” he said. Emphasis includes “how to handle stress and emotions. “Meditation is one of the ways to help this.”

“We are lucky to be in Batesville,” Sr. Boi Nghiem said. “I am able to feel the love of the people of Batesville.”