Kosho Itagaki, resident priest

A lively, diverse crowd at the 8th annual NWDA Teachers Meeting, October 1, 2011 at the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, Seattle.

NWDA’s 8th Annual Teachers Meeting

On the traditional first Saturday in October, the Northwest Dharma Association held its eighth annual Teachers Meeting at the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in Seattle. The 2011 event was possibly the largest and most diverse of the NWDA teacher gatherings yet.

In addition to ample representation from Sakya, those attending included a contingent of monks from Chua Co Lam Pagoda, Seattle’s largest Vietnamese Buddhist temple. Other teachers came from various Zen lineages, Hua Yen, Pure Land, Dharma Punx, and Vipassana meditation sanghas.

Ven. Kenpo Jampa, abbot of Sakya monastery, led the gathering in an opening prayer, following which we had two hours of spirited discussion on a subjects of concern to virtually all teachers and sanghas.

First up was the subject of outreach. It was widely agreed that we could benefit from emulating our Christian friends and be more outgoing in our efforts to find new members. Koshin Cain and others agreed that Buddhist sanghas often act too coolly towards newcomers looking for a Buddhist “home” and while that attitude may be in keeping with Buddhist tradition, it doesn’t work well in the American milieu.

Dagmo-La (Sakya Monastery) pointed out that Buddhism is all about loving compassion. Our treatment of newcomers should reflect that.

Anita Feng (Blue Heron Zen Community) noted that people come to Buddhism because they are suffering. We should provide programs that help deal with that, such as meditation and Bodhisattva action.

Koshin suggested an “inter-sangha” speakers’ bureau. Representatives of various sanghas can visit others to talk about their practice and beliefs. This way everyone will have a better idea of the wealth of paths to the Buddha.

Tashi Paljor of Sakya came up with a neat idea: each year a different sangha submits a “Buddha’s Birthday Card” to NWDA, who then emails it to all members. Great way to foster inter-sangha fellowship!

After a delicious vegetarian lunch, Ven. Khenpo Jampa talked on the subject of “bringing the Dharma to western minds.” He stressed that Buddhism cannot be learned from books – a true seeker must have a qualified teacher. And we as teachers, before attempting to teach others, must be sure we have a thorough and complete understanding of the Dharma ourselves.

As the afternoon discussion continued, another big concern surfaced: how to get kids today interested in the Dharma. Timothy O’Brien pointed out that today’s kids, while they may be very interested in Buddhism, nevertheless may not want to be involved with a teacher or a sangha. This is where organizations like Dharma Punx come in.

Alfredo Mendez of Seattle Dharma Punx agreed, saying that yoga and meditation practices can be gateways, without any belief system or label attached.

Thay (Master) Kim of Co Lam said that they have a kids’ group on Sundays where they learn dancing, singing, and get into stories of the Buddha. We all later joined in singing the song “Hanh phúc bây gio” (“Happiness in the Here & Now”) in English and Vietnamese.

Ven. Thich Trung Sy of Co Lam presented a talk on “Relationships between Teachers & Students in Buddhist Education”, emphasizing that those who are entrusted with the sacred task of passing on the Dharma must do so with joy, loving compassion, and always the goal of preserving the true Dharma in our world.

As the conference came to an end, NWDA Board Member Tim Tapping announced that all present would receive a year's free Teacher Membership in NWDA. Ven. Khenpo Jampa closed with dedication of merit, and gave each attendee a small vajra pendant.

Many thanks to our hosts, Sakya Monastery, and to all who attended for making the 2011 NWDA Teachers Meeting a super event!

Teachers, mark your calendars for October 6, 2011...

Attending the 2011 Teachers Meeting:

From Sakya Monastery: Khenpo Jampa Tenphel, Dagmo Kusho Sakya, Tulku Yeshi Gyatso, Tashi Paljor, Virginia Hassinger, Stephanie Prince, Jampa (translator).

From Co Lam Pagoda: Nguyen Kim, Thich Trung Sy, Thich Phuoc Thanh.

From Portland Insight Meditation Community: Douglas Pullin, Jim Dalton.

From Northwest Dharma Association: Koro Kaisan Miles (Open Gate Zendo), Bill Hirsch (White Cloud Buddhist Society), Thich Minh Tinh Kozen Sampson (Mt. Adams Zen Center), Tim Tapping (Sakya Monastery), Timothy O’Brien.

Others: Khenpo Trinley Dorje (Tsam Nay Dharma Center), Anita Feng (Blue Heron Zen Community), Jeff Kelley (Seattle Soto Zen), Alfredo Mendez (Seattle Dharma Punx), Koshin Chris Cain (Puget Sound Zen Center), Kobai Scott Whitney (Plum Mountain Sangha), Abby Mushin Terris (Corvallis Zen Circle), Debra Seido Martin (Dharma Rain Zen Center/Empty Field Zendo), George Draffan (Natural Awareness), Mark Jones (Sunyata Group).

Contributor: Bill Hirsch.
Photo: Timothy O’Brien.