The Portland Insight Meditation Center's living room made a comfortable setting for Northwest Dharma Association's 8th annual regional Buddhist Teachers Meeting. Shown here, from top left, Tararabha, Bill Hirsch, Avichala, Prajwal Vajracharya, Khenpo Jampa Tenphel. Foreground, Doug Pullin, Nick Vail.
At dawn on October 2nd, a group of Buddhist teachers from the Seattle area piled into a van and headed south to the Northwest Dharma Association’s eighth annual regional Buddhist Teachers Meeting. We arrived three hours later at the Portland Insight Meditation Community, the host for this year’s meeting. PIMC volunteers, including Doug Pullin, Christine Howard, and Katherine Wolfe, as well as NWDA board member Ruby Grad, were helping to set things up, and we were soon joined by more teachers from across Oregon.
In previous years, the agenda of the teachers meeting has revolved around themes such as developing urban and rural Dharma centers, grappling with finances and organizational dynamics, and promoting activity and leadership in the Buddhist community.
This year, our purpose was simple and heart-felt: getting to know each other, learning something about how each of us found the Dharma and what inspires us to practice and teach. Here, paraphrased, are a few of the perspectives that were shared:
Khenpo Jampa Tenphel (Sakya Monastery): The Buddhist teachings are so vast we can’t practice them all, so it’s important to keep the view and purpose in mind. To help people physically and mentally, we need to cooperate with more than Buddhists—such as doctors and others who can help.
Tulku Yeshe Gyatso Rinpoche (Sakya Monastery): It’s important for students and teachers to examine each other, to “look before you leap.” One thing I’d like to see is an annual retreat and walk for peace.
Clark Hansen, a.k.a. Jampel Gyatso (Portland Yeshe Nyingpo): With so many groups and opportunities in our region, I’m interested in how we help transmit the Dharma from other languages and cultures so that Westerners can familiarize themselves with the teachings.
Bruce Newman (Tashi Choling): I’m challenged by the complexity of the Tibetan Buddhist system and how to make it come alive for Westerners. People are inspired when they see how the Dharma can work for them, whatever level they’re at.
George Draffan (Natural Awareness): I’m inspired to learn from every Buddhist tradition. I especially appreciate Dharma when it’s embodied—practiced and experienced in the body.
Doug Pullin (Portland Insight Meditation Community): Teaching the Dharma reminds me of what I need to practice. I have great respect for the wisdom that emerges from groups. By sharing the diversity of teachings, we discover the core.
Christine Howard: My practice is the one thing I can rely on to return me to inner sanity time and time again. I am very invested in helping others find their path to greater peace and happiness.
Nick Vail (Nalandabodhi, NWDA): I’m grateful to be here today. Practicing in community, inspiration comes from sharing and engaging with others in frank and candid ways.
Helen Appell (Dance Mandal): For me sacred dance is empowering, learning to cut through and transform attachments, embodying the teachings in a universal language, expressing every human quality.
Jacqueline Mandell (Samden Ling): My passion for learning first brought me to the Dharma and led me to pilgrimages and retreats with extraordinary teachers in Asia. And life-long learning still motivates me.
Ryuzen Robby Pellett (One Pine Hall): I’m very interested in the nature of suffering and desire. I’m content to host a small sitting group, and find my work in the mental health field a way to express Buddhist practice in the world.
Satya (Touching Earth Sangha): Nature is an inspiration for spiritual practice. Living a simple lifestyle, in community, keeps the Dharma from being just a sophisticated philosophy.
Taraprabha (Seattle Buddhist Center/Triratna Buddhist Community): My practice is centered in family, my three sons and my aging father. What inspires me is being with people as they learn to practice in the midst of full-time lives.
Bill Hirsch (White Cloud Buddhist Society): As a priest in a Hua Yen Buddhist lineage, and a participant in EcoSangha, interdependence is of great interest. And I’m drawn to serve Vietnamese and Chinese families in times of illness and death.
Avichala (Triratna Buddhist Community): How is each of us inspired? It’s our duty to find that out, and to cultivate it. What inspires me is practice itself—sitting meditation and sutra study.
Prajwal R. Vajracharya (Dance Mandal): My father’s lineage of singing and dancing as a spiritual discipline used to be secret. Now I want to keep it alive by passing it on to everyone who is interested. Embracing, welcoming, sharing with all.
Koro Kaisan Miles (Open Gate Zendo): I’m searching for American Dharma, and especially interested in supporting people in small towns to practice the Dharma.
Common elements for all of us include a vision of deeply rooted Buddhadharma flourishing in the region, respect for the integrity of each Buddhist lineage, and a desire to learn and cooperate with each other to promote what Nick called “the health and creativity of the region’s Dharma, Sangha and teachers.”
After the meeting, we enjoyed a tour of Prajwal’s beautiful new Nepali-style temple and a shared meal at a local Thai restaurant. (To see an article and photos on the consecration of Dance Mandal’s temple, visit the October-December 2009 issue of the NW Dharma News.
One of the recurring challenges for teachers has been continuing to share and learn from each other all year long. The Northwest Dharma Association continues to explore ways to support more frequent local gatherings of Buddhist teachers. Topic specific events such as the Prison and Family Dharma conferences are among them.
Another way for Buddhist teachers to maintain relationships across the region is by using NWDA’s online Teachers Forum. This is a secure website where teachers can get to know one another, share resources, post queries and participate in discussions. Participation in the online Teachers Forum is one of the benefits of NWDA Teacher Membership. (For more information about the NWDA Teacher Forum, see: www.northwestdharma.org/teacherforum.html).
NWDA membership is not required to attend the annual Teachers Meeting, which is wide open to all Buddhist teachers and monastics in the region. (Of course we hope more teachers and groups are inspired to become members of NWDA.) So all you Buddhist teachers and monastics in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, British Columbia, and Yukon, be sure to reserve the first Saturday in October 2011 for the ninth annual meeting!
Contributor: George Draffan.
Photos: Tim Tapping.