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Newsletter 1.4: Forms of teacher support, Spanish Dharma, hospital chaplaincy, and a few more of the sanghas that BIN connects.
Buddhist Insight Network Newsletter
Vol. 1, Issue 4 **** Feb 2012

Support for Teachers: Local and Overarching

 
In insight practice, we learn to simplify our perception of experience from a cacophony of diverse impacts to a manageable set of six sense contacts. Refining further, we discern the three universal qualities of all conditioned experience. Approaching it the other way, we can be amazed and awed at the kaleidoscope of different manifestations we see in the Universe, given its simple building blocks.
 
A foundational structure in Buddhism is the mutual support between practitioners and teachers. The teachers offer the Dharma while the community provides for some of their livelihood needs. A well-known Asian model of this is the monastic-lay relationship. Here in the West, with teachers who are themselves laypeople, the model looks quite different and is quite locally varied.
 
Insight Meditation sanghas may provide their teachers with anything from a little cash income in the weekly dana bowl to a full livelihood including insurance coverage. A number of communities are deeply engaged in the exploration of what it means to support a teacher.
 
While financial support is a necessary piece of dana, it is possible to look beyond money to other ways that teachers' lives are simplified in order to clarify their Dharma practice and teaching. Can we imagine that the administrative support provided by sangha volunteers is part of this web of mutuality? Creating healthy organizations, well-managed programs, and smoothly functioning physical facilities are beautiful offerings to a teacher, enabling them to simply step in and teach. Perhaps this is the Western version of the monastic-lay arrangement.


 
 
"Fragmentation: So three-dimensional, so convincing! Even more convincing than an IMAX movie. But is it possible that I might hold it in my practice as 'just that' -- some magnificent, terrible illusion?"
-- Pascal Auclair

Did you miss the prior newsletters?
Here are the archives of the first, second, and third issues.
Click here to subscribe.

InterSangha 2012 meeting
Aug 9-11 at IMC. Please mark your calendar!

BIN Board (evolving)
Kim Allen, IMC
Kristin Barker, IMCW
Harrison Blum, MovingDharma / CDL
Gary Born, London Insight
Wynn Fricke, Common Ground
Diana Clark, IMC
Mary Stancavage, Against the Stream
Lori Wong, Insight Meditation Modesto

BIN Advisors
Jack Kornfield
Sally Armstrong
James Baraz
Tara Brach
Noah Levine
Rodney Smith
Gil Fronsdal
Phillip Moffitt

Contact
BuddhistInsightNetwork@
gmail.com

In the longer term, BIN aims to provide a number of overarching support mechanisms that are best done at a higher level than local sanghas. A key vision is to offer group health insurance to Insight teachers, who otherwise must purchase this individually. Other top-level supports include arranging teacher conferences or administering websites and virtual meetings that help teachers connect with each other. And perhaps BIN can offer financial assistance for teachers to go on retreat or to teach in underserved communities.
 
Through all of this, BIN respects the local variations. Each sangha will discover for itself how it can provide for its teachers' day-to-day needs within its own organically-evolved culture. This preserves the richness of the Insight Meditation movement in the West.
 
InterSangha 2012: Mark your calendar
 
This year's InterSangha meeting will be held from Aug 9-11 at IMC in Redwood City. The meeting is for people in leadership positions at Insight groups – teachers, board members, and others. An email announcement will be sent next month with further information – for now, please mark your calendar. We hope to see you there in all your glorious variation!
 
Best wishes,
Kim Allen
BIN President





Taking Root: Insight Meditation Courses in Spanish
By Andrea Castillo, Senior student of Gil Fronsdal
 
Starting in October 2011, the Insight Meditation Center (IMC) in Redwood City, CA offered its first five-week mindfulness introductory course in Spanish, thanks to Gil Fronsdal’s initiative. The response has been so enthusiastic that we have continued offering a weekly meditation and Dharma talk in Spanish. I have had the privilege and joy of heading this new development at IMC and teaching in my native language. Presently we are offering a five-part course on the Five Hindrances. All talks are being recorded and are available on audiodharma.org under "Dharma in Spanish."
 
Approximately 18 people have attended; the average size at a given evening is about eight. The age range of our group is fifteen to about sixty years; this wide age range reflects the fortunate tendency in Latin American culture for young and mature people to socialize together and appreciate each other’s company.  Not unlike our English language sangha, many more women attend than men. Many attendees are from Mexico, but there are also some from El Salvador, Peru, Chile, Puerto Rico, and Spain. Our Spanish is different, even more so our educational backgrounds and the type of work we do, and yet we all have a strong common thread uniting us: we are all hungry to bring meaning, depth, and wisdom into our lives through the Dharma.
 
Many of us are completely bilingual and yet are discovering how fascinating and promising it is to explore the dharma directly in our language of origin, without having to go through the mind’s rational filter of translation of language and culture. What a joy to be able to give voice to our experiences in our own language, with the directness, spontaneity, and even humor of our childhood language. We are beginning to discover that we can express and share without losing the vitality and freshness of our experiences, and at the same time bring in the discerning wisdom of the Dharma. For some of us who are completely bilingual, English may be an additional tool at times to help us face something difficult that demands some distance. Choosing between the two languages can become one more area of mindfulness investigation, and we can learn to dance between the two languages, two cultures, and two worlds.
 
 
Digging Deep: Spanish Dharma Insight Retreat
By Rebecca Bradshaw, Guiding Teacher of Insight Pioneer Valley and IMS Teacher
 
In August of 2011, the first Spanish language vipassana meditation retreat in Puerto Rico (in the IMS/Spirit Rock lineage) was held at the Zen Center of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, in the area of Caimito, San Juan. The retreat was taught by Rebecca Bradshaw and Jesse Vega and attended by seventeen participants from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and even one USer. Surrounded by beautiful mountains, the yogis practiced sitting and walking meditation with enthusiastic dedication and curiosity. The group as a whole explored Buddhist teachings and how they are transmitted in a Spanish-speaking Latino context. Each culture where the Buddhist teachings are spread makes them its own; it is exciting to see this process unfold in Latin America. The 2012 retreat will take place August 7-12 at the same location. For more information, please contact Karin Weyland at vipassanapuertorico@gmail.com.
 
Additional Spanish Dharma Resources:
 
1.       Amigos de la Meditacion is a FaceBook page offering resources in Theravada Buddhism in Spanish. The page includes links to free Spanish book downloads, Dharma talks and meditation instructions, as well as links to retreats, meditation centers and teachers offering teachings in Spanish.
 
2.       Susana Renaud is planning to offer a six-week Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation course in Spanish at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland. She was born in the US to Mexican parents, and is a yoga teacher, Vipassana practitioner of many years, and Spirit Rock CDL participant. Susana relishes speaking “Spanglish” and has noticed that her pleasure of mixing languages puts many people at ease in her classes.

3.       Joan Amaral began teaching Dharma in Spanish in 2010 at the San Francisco Zen Center. For her, this teaching represents a confluence of fifteen years of training in Zen and a decade of activism among Hispanic populations.  Joan leads a discussion group of about ten people on Suzuki-Roshi's book Zen Mind Beginners Mind in Spanish. When asked what she thought was most needed in the Hispanic community that her classes could provide, she replied, “Taking up the dignified posture of zazen, and seeing that they belong.”
 


The Gift of Presence: Reflections on Hospital Chaplaincy
by Harrison Blum, BIN Board Member
 
I begin every shift with the same prayer.  “May I be a ground of presence, and may that presence be a space of healing wholeness.  May I be guided to where I am needed.”  With that, I walk out of the chapel, consult my list of patients, and enter one of the six main elevators of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where I’ve been working one morning a week as a Buddhist chaplain this fall.  I’ve been in the game about a year and a half now, starting a few days a week at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and then doing a full-time CPE internship at the Brigham this past summer.
 
This time has seen my confidence grow in the usefulness of a hospital chaplaincy grounded in the Dharma, even though a negligible fraction of the patients I see are Buddhists themselves.  I share some vignettes from this work, not so much to bring attention to what I’m doing, but to what we’re doing, as many of you reading this do the work of chaplaincy yourselves, whether formally or as needed in your everyday lives.
 
A few weeks ago, I walked into a patient’s room and introduced myself as a chaplain.  He responded that he was thinking mainly of mundane things, and that someone else would probably benefit more from a visit.  I told him that was fine, but that I still wanted to know how his day was going.  We began a conversation, small talk at first.  When asked about my denomination, I told him I’d grown up Jewish and have had a Buddhist practice for about twelve years. 
 
At that point the conversation shifted.  He shared with me that he was a Catholic, but interested in the wisdom of all traditions, and had recently been trying out meditation.  As we began to talk shop, he confided in me the question he was wrestling with in light of his medical condition—how to maintain resilience amidst his increasing dependence on others.  We spoke of a space where courage and vulnerability could co-exist, of balancing emotional release and preservation.  He put away his iPad.  He told me of a good cry he’d had recently.  He shared that he hadn’t always connected well with hospital chaplains, even some priests from within his own tradition.  That was about as far as we got in the twenty or so minutes we spent together before we were interrupted by an x-ray technician who came to escort the patient to an appointment.  A good start, we both agreed, as we thanked each other.  Yes, a space of healing wholeness.  Give thanks, as my CDL4 brother Joshua would say.
 
A bit later that day, I spoke with a woman, again with some meditation experience, whose close friend had died a few days ago.  Death was consuming her thoughts, and she asked for my take as a Buddhist.  I offered a few brief “Buddhism would say…” comments, but more so held up her awareness of death as a teacher itself, without having to formulate that awareness into specific answers, or even questions.  I offered the gift new chaplains hear of but sometimes doubt, not the gift of answers, but of presence.  I closed with a mixture of guided breath meditation and spoken prayers.  May I be guided to where I am needed.  Give thanks.
 
My style of chaplaincy is largely oriented around the following equation—
 
Suffering = Pain x Resistance
           
I know of hospital chaplains who take a different approach.  They walk into patients’ rooms expecting that patients want something from them, want a change, a lift, a pick-me-up, and these chaplains’ first move is toward that change.  While that can be effective in some cases and while I want to give patients that lift as well, my first aim is to be with them where they are, to give permission for whatever is felt.  In this way, I extend my mindfulness practice of simple, nonjudgmental attention as an offering of presence, as an ally to patients and loved ones toward lessening their resistance and with it overall suffering.  This permission goes both ways.  It’s allowed me to trust, this past summer, that I was doing enough by holding a woman’s hand and guiding her back to the breath, back to the moment, when her body was shaking, an uncomfortable place to be.  It gave me permission to hang in and hang out there, until her breathing eased and she fell asleep.
 
I’ll end with a quote that speaks to my Buddhist ministry, though drawn from Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest.  “Before any professional skill, we need a spirituality, a way of living in the spirit by which all we are and all we do becomes a form of reminding.”
 
May you live well, remind well, and be guided to where you are needed.





Highlights from the Field

The richness of Dharma offerings in sanghas around the West continues to flow.





Flowering Lotus Meditation and Retreat Center
Flowering Lotus Meditation and Retreat Center is located in Magnolia, Mississippi. Housed in a 3-story 1896 mansion, it is the only Vipassana Buddhist retreat center in the Deep South. It is located 1 1/2 hours from New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Jackson. Weekend retreats are offered once a month. A weekly sitting group meets in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The center's vision is to: "Provide an environment and a variety of opportunities for meditation, spiritual practice, and fellowship in order to nurture peace, healing, diversity, understanding and connection for individuals, their families and the greater society. Our practice follows the teachings of the historical Buddha, including the insight that all beings have the potential for awakening. We welcome people of all backgrounds and spiritual paths to practice with us in the pursuit of peace and healing."
 
The center was founded in June 2010 by Dolores Watson, an African American. She began sitting Goenka 10-day courses in 2003 and has practiced various forms of meditation for the past 30 years. Dolores realized that there were no Buddhist-oriented retreat centers in the Deep South and voiced this to Bhante Buddharakkhita, a Theravadan Buddhist monk from Uganda, East Africa who is the founder of The Uganda Buddhist Center. He offered his support and encouraged Dolores to pursue her vision to offer the Dharma in the New Orleans area; he now is the spiritual advisor to Flowering Lotus and taught the first retreat in June 2010. Since its opening, Flowering Lotus has attracted a very diverse population of retreatants in terms of ethnic background and age. Twenty to sixty percent of retreatants have been African American with age ranging from 12-85. The center provides a safe, loving and elegant atmosphere where all feel welcome to participate. The center can now accommodate 30 retreatants, but is currently expanding to be able to accommodate 45. The center has four buildings consisting of the Main House, Dining Hall, and two Adjunct houses.
 
The weekly meditation group met in Dolores' home for the first 1 1/2 years. It recently moved to The Healing Center of New Orleans, which is more widely accessible. We sit for two twenty-minute sessions and then engage in book study.  We are currently reading Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana.


Cambridge Insight Meditation Center
The Cambridge Insight Meditation Center (CIMC) was established in 1985 as a nonprofit, nonresidential urban dharma center for the practice of Insight meditation (dharma literally means “wise way of living”). CIMC maintains a physical environment that permits the contemplative life to be developed and protected amidst the complexities of city living. In striving to bring the practice of meditation into the world in a compassionate way, CIMC offers a place where people can come together to learn, support and deepen their meditation practice.

The center offers extensive programs designed to provide a strong foundation in formal meditation as well as daily life practice. The range of offerings include daily meditation sessions; regular practice groups; drop-in sessions; weekend retreats; weekly dharma talks; and various workshops. In addition to programming for people of all experience levels, we offer programs for families, children, people of color, elders, 32 and under, and lesbian, gay bisexual and questioning. Through practice groups, talks, and interviews, practitioners have multiple opportunities for ongoing and long-lasting relationships with CIMC’s guiding teachers, Narayan Liebenson Grady, Larry Rosenberg and Michael Liebenson Grady.

CIMC offers a membership option. All of CIMC's programs are available to members and non-members alike; however, members receive discounts on programs, borrowing privileges from the Dharma library and greater access to teachers for individual interviews. The idea is that by becoming a member, a person is making a commitment to Dharma practice and helping to insure that the center will remain a refuge for the Dharma in the midst of urban life. Membership is an important source of ongoing financial support. An open invitation is extended to all.


Insight Meditation Center of Pioneer Valley
Established in 1998, Insight Meditation Center of Pioneer Valley is a non-residential community Buddhist center in the Insight Meditation tradition, serving western Massachusetts. Our mission is to share the Buddha's teachings with all those who are interested, to help sustain and deepen our meditation practice, and to bring wisdom and compassion into daily life. Strengthening sangha (community) is an important aspect of Insight PV. Our weekly drop-in sittings are followed by a discussion period so that we may support each other in our practice. We also offer evening classes, one-day and non-residential weekend retreats led by Guiding Teacher Rebecca Bradshaw and eleven other local and regular visiting teachers, including Founding Teacher Arinna Weisman. We host special events such as Dharma talks by guest teachers from the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA; concerts; a yearly Sit-A-Thon event; a Community Service Committee; mindful hiking days; and a Young Adult sangha. Insight PV is committed to welcoming diversity of cultural or religious background, race, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, education, or physical ability, so that all might feel included and comfortable in practicing here. Several years ago, Insight PV decided to move from a model of registration fees for offerings to one based solely on dana, in which both teachers and the Center are sustained by the generosity of community members. We feel happy to be able to offer the Buddha’s teachings to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Vermont Insight Meditation Center
Vermont Insight Meditation Center (VIMC), in Brattleboro, Vermont, is located just an hour north of Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. VIMC was founded in 2005 by Claire Stanley (CDL-1) as guiding teacher, Jack Millett, Cheryl Wilfong (CDL-3), and Drew Kovach. We incorporated into our fold a sangha that had been reinvented several times over the preceding 20 years by Kate Wylie, and was, by 2005, limping along and meeting less frequently because Kate lived in Boston.
 
Sunday morning Dharma talks have rotating teachers—Claire, Kate, Cheryl or Jack, and more recently, Manny Mansbach (also CDL-3). The fourth Sunday of the month is dedicated to a day-long retreat, drawing on teachers from IMS, the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, and the Forest Refuge. In 2011, day-long teachers included Mu Soeng, Taraniya, James Baraz, Sandra Weinberg, Rebecca Bradshaw, and Kim Weeber. VIMC rents a 15' x 30' hall that is used during the daytime by an alternative K-6 school in the woods behind a Victorian mansion, which houses professional offices and a yoga studio. VIMC draws from the surrounding communities of Greenfield, Massachusetts, Keene, New Hampshire, and western New York State.
 
Now in its sixth year of operation, Vermont Insight offers a full range of courses from a complete Introduction to Meditation course to courses with more advanced topics such as The Three Characteristics or Dependent Origination. Claire Stanley and Jack Millet offer 10-week classes in the fall, winter, and spring. These courses have, over the years, developed a steady core of students whose study and experience of the Dharma has deepened measurably. Cheryl Wilfong offers courses periodically, often with themes such as mindfulness in relation to dealing with illness, anxiety or depression. Over time, a number of students have begun to attend either weekend or ten-day retreats at IMS or Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. VIMC, through the generosity of an anonymous donor, offers scholarship funds towards retreats for regular sangha members.
 
VIMC has an email list of 470, which seems substantial for a town with a population of 12,000. Vermont Insight participates in the local interfaith clergy association, which sponsors an Emergency Overflow Shelter during the winter months. The VIMC Board of Directors is currently discussing  how to expand its commitment to service to the community.


Sacramento Insight Meditation
Sacramento Insight Meditation (SIM) is a non-profit organization that supports insight meditation training and practice in the Sacramento area. Our organization is based on the teachings of the historic Buddha as passed down in the Theravada Buddhist lineage represented in the United States by the teachers and students of the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts and the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, as well as a number of monastics in the Thai Forest and Burmese Mahasi traditions. A range of Buddhist-based teachings are offered at SIM—including insight meditation (also known as vipassana or mindfulness meditation), daily life practice, formal study of Buddhist texts, kalyana mitta spiritual friendship groups, and volunteer service.
 
With the guidance of senior dharma teacher John Travis, our founding instructor Dennis Warren formed SIM in 2002. SIM provides a community of support for meditation practitioners regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, race, ethnicity or economic status. We are an all-volunteer group that is cooperatively guided by a board of directors and an instructional team consisting of community-trained mentors. No membership dues or fees are collected and most programs are funded by voluntary donations (dana in Pali) from community members. Dana is used to support operational expenses (rent, supplies, etc.), special programs such as daylong retreats and classes, and senior visiting teachers and our community mentors. SIM meets weekly for sitting and dharma talks. The first meeting each month includes small group discussion; this past year we have focused on the Paramis. Additionally, there is a daylong meditation retreat each month and an annual six-day residential retreat. Our website includes a calendar of current events, resources such as downloadable dharma talks and instructional handouts, and information on how to contact us.
 
This year the SIM community is excited about a joint project with two other local sanghas to establish a shared location for a multi-sangha dharma center.  The new center will be operated by its own board of directors, and each of the participating sanghas will retain its own organizational structure and programs. SIM looks forward to having a location dedicated to Buddhist teaching and practice and also to working in cooperation with the other Buddhist communities.


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