In Cynthia McCormick’s current role within the directors’ discussions at the organizational level, she grapples with the unique challenges of managing a voluntary Buddhist organization. Through a detailed analysis of various Canadian sanghas, such as Halifax, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto, Cynthia highlights the distinctive factors influencing each center’s dynamics. Vancouver stands out with a resident lama, fostering a larger membership, while Montreal thrives on a vibrant French community’s engagement, offering classes translated into French. Toronto faces distinct challenges, having recently moved to a new center, focusing on financial stability, and struggling with manpower limitations. The city’s high cost of living, diverse university offerings, and the convenience factor contribute to the complexities of attracting and retaining members.
Cynthia candidly acknowledges the challenges in maintaining sangha engagement, especially during the ongoing transition to hybrid in-person and virtual sessions post-pandemic. She emphasizes the need for balance as a lay practitioner, recognizing the shared human struggle of finding equilibrium amidst daily life commitments. Cynthia reflects on her personal journey, noting the pivotal moments when individuals transition from passive observers to actively engaged contributors within the sangha. She underscores the importance of respecting each person’s unique path, readiness, and preparation for active involvement.
Despite grappling with challenges, Cynthia remains committed to creating a harmonious sangha environment. She anticipates the upcoming events, such as the big opening in September with Lama Yeshe and the introduction of hybrid sessions, to rejuvenate the sangha’s energy. Cynthia’s narrative provides valuable insights into the nuanced dynamics of managing a Buddhist sangha, balancing the practicalities of administration with the need for spiritual engagement.
Christopher, just before the pandemic, reflects on the growth of the fellowship, which averaged 85 to 120 participants on Sundays. The challenge of balancing size and intimacy prompted a desire to cater more to the fellowship’s needs. Foremost in Christopher’s vision was creating a safer space, acknowledging the emotional unsafety prevalent in Western cultural experiences. He draws on the traditional meta-prayer, emphasizing the importance of safety, creating refuge, and allowing individuals to be engaged with the world.
Christopher envisions expanding the fellowship’s offerings beyond Sundays, envisioning Dharma Wednesdays for families, support groups for aging individuals, and spaces for those who have left religious traditions. His grand vision includes potlucks, dances, art shows, and poetry readings. Christopher acknowledges the current limitations in volunteers but believes that if the space is created, people will engage.
He emphasizes the power of compassionate listening, a foundational practice, and challenges the expectation of perfection within spiritual communities. Christopher aims to redefine the role of a teacher in the tradition, focusing on continuous learning, humility, and consistent presence. He envisions a community where everyone is both a student and a teacher, with a shared language and understanding.
Christopher dreams of creating a future sangha that can be replicated, empowering people to start their own if they move elsewhere. While success in awakening is nuanced and challenging to define, he sees the fellowship’s success in diminishing suffering for its community members. Christopher expresses a desire for deeper growth and a shared intention to be less on the surface of things and more in tune with the vibration of all things.
Reflecting on his own motivations, Christopher recognizes a shift from doing things for personal importance to a sense of duty and commitment. He contemplates the paradox of freedom, realizing that true freedom might be found in having no choice but to be oneself. Christopher explores these ideas as koans, acknowledging the complexity of their meaning and the continuous journey of understanding.
Bruce embarked on a transformative journey when he joined the Zen community in 2003, leaving behind his previous life to immerse himself fully. Initially navigating the monastic routine, he found solace in the structured schedule and devotedly followed the teachings. TennCare Roshi played a pivotal role in Bruce’s early years, offering guidance and even sharing a moment over a glass of whiskey, breaking the perceived rigidity of the practice.
Bruce faced physical challenges due to his knees, but TennCare Roshi’s adaptability allowed him to meditate in a chair, leading to a significant breakthrough. As years passed, Bruce delved deeper into Zen, eventually taking refuge and receiving Dukkha, highlighting his dedication and progression within the community.
His narrative unfolds with a shift toward administrative responsibilities, demonstrating the complexity of balancing spiritual practice with the practicalities of running a Zen center. This period challenged Bruce’s initial idealizations of monastic life, revealing the human dynamics, competition, and territoriality within the community. Despite the hurdles, it became a valuable phase of maturation for him.
Bruce continued evolving as he stepped into the role of administrative monk, working closely with the Zen teacher. This brought a new perspective, breaking the illusion of a perfect Zen environment. The experience broadened his understanding, allowing him to see the flaws in himself and others, ultimately making his Zen practice more authentic.
Over time, Bruce recognized the importance of succession in Zen lineages. The emphasis on finding successors became a prime directive for teachers. He highlighted the story of Jimmy Roshi, who took charge of the Zen community in Los Angeles, adapting to a diverse group of practitioners. Bruce reflected on the changing dynamics within the community, especially the shift initiated by his teacher, embracing a more inclusive and accessible approach to Zen.
Bruce’s narrative touches on the evolution of Zen practice, moving beyond rigid forms to accommodate a diverse and expanding community. He vividly describes the transformation from a traditional monastic setting to a more accessible, community-oriented approach, all while preserving the essence of Zen teachings. The story reveals Bruce’s commitment to passing on the teachings, whether through formal Zen practice or informal gatherings, embodying the spirit of Zen in a contemporary context.
Pema addresses the marketing challenges Buddhism faces, highlighting the traditional reluctance to market teachings. She underscores the historical difficulties practitioners encountered in accessing Dharma, contrasting the contemporary ease of studying locally. Pema discusses the determination required for serious study, emphasizing the need to overcome challenges early in life to prevent the accumulation of unhelpful habits.
She critiques the incongruity between marketing and Buddhist values, noting the emergence of public relations in nonprofits as a more service-oriented approach. Pema advocates for practitioners gaining sufficient experience, drawing parallels with the business world’s theory of 10,000 hours to achieve professionalism. She emphasizes the universality of Buddhist philosophy, encouraging an exploration of shared values across traditions.
Pema suggests aligning missions with Buddhist principles while addressing contemporary issues. She proposes broader or refined specialties, such as supporting refugees or those with mental health concerns. Drawing inspiration from the flexibility of Catholic nuns who founded hospitals, Pema advocates for adaptability in serving needs until they are met, then pivoting to new ventures. She emphasizes the importance of wise resource use, ethical decisions, and flexibility to meet both Buddhist aspirations and community needs, irrespective of the scale of impact.
Shinge reflects on the unique aspects of her teaching lineage, which has historically avoided self-promotion, a departure from the prevalent trend in American culture. Influenced by her teacher’s emphasis on self-demotion, Shinge finds the idea of gaining followers antithetical to the spirit of her tradition. Despite this, she recognizes the importance of making the teachings accessible and has adapted to contemporary methods by recording talks and utilizing social media platforms like YouTube through the Zen Studies Society.
Acknowledging her preference for traditional methods, Shinge expresses concern about the overwhelming influx of media in modern society. While recognizing the value of technology, she underscores the importance of unplugging through meditation. Despite the consumer-oriented mindset prevalent in society, Shinge emphasizes that the teaching is about recognizing one’s inherent perfection rather than seeking gains.
She invites those genuinely interested to find their teachings, emphasizing the commitment required for the grueling training of meditation. Shinge underscores the day-in, day-out nature of the practice, acknowledging that it may sometimes feel like drudgery but is crucial for true transformation. She concludes with the commitment expressed in the fourth of the four great vows, stating, “However endless the Buddha’s way is, I vow to follow it. You can join me or not.”
Annual update on progress of project.