Letter from the Lamas, Summer 2017

Summer, 2017 

To our dear sangha, 

We continue to reflect on last autumn’s Visioning Circle with joy and wonder. The combination of high attendance and quality of thoughtful responses has added a dimension of guidance for us as we consider how the future might look for KSC. We are grateful for all who contributed and look forward to continuing these circles annually into the future. We have taken our time to fashion a response, and hope that you will take your time reading this letter, so we may share a clear sense of moving together into the future. 

There were several Visioning Circle themes that resonated with us. The most spontaneous was this early request, that clearly came from the heart, and seemed to reflect many people’s feeling: “Continue everything that is already happening! The lineage, lamas, sangha, teachings, practices and Vajrayana practice groups (even in the absence of the lamas), children's group, retreats, Buckhorn Springs….” 

We probably all wish this could be so, yet we know that change occurs, and not all of it is predictable or controllable. As poet Jane Hirschfield says, “Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention.” 

With the initiation of this first Visioning Circle, the sangha, board and lamas are collaborating in constructing a bridge to the future. As we look toward the 2017-2018 teaching year, we want to share our perspective on many of the Visioning Circle requests, which are shown in italics below. 

Welcome and Outreach

We share with you that at KSC, the door is always open to everyone. We will want to continue offering instruction and support for people walking in the door for the first time, such as Calm Abiding and Tonglen, and will continue to support and encourage younger families and children in their dharma path. 

Please continue to welcome all those who enter the doors, and help them to know what is available here. In addition, please join us in getting word out to others in community about the dharma that is offered here, and we invite you to communicate with the lamas and board about any barriers you discern that may prevent a wide variety of generations to be represented here. 

There were some suggestions that the sangha can address directly and informally. There was a request for greeters and nametags, and a request for a newcomer packet -- nothing overwhelming, just a way to answer common questions and be inclusive. We want to recommend that the sangha as a whole be truly outgoing at tea breaks and after meditations, and that everyone be willing to introduce themselves. An effective “packet” 

is a current calendar and schedule. You can point out the events that are recommended for beginners, such as Thursday Calm Abiding and all Sunday programs, as well as the website information on those documents. 

Rich Teachings

To continue to offer foundational and advanced teachings as we lamas age, we will continue to select the most suitable teaching environments for our individual capabilities. For Lama Yeshe, this has already meant decreasing her leadership of monthly practice groups (from three to one). Lama Pema or senior students have assumed that role. Also, Lama Yeshe has shortened her pastoral counseling appointments, focusing the time available at those meetings on practice-oriented interactions. She will end her co-teaching of classes after the 2017-2018 teaching year. Instead, she will focus her energy co-leading retreats and one-day instructions, continuing pastoral counseling, and attending more meditations into the future. 

Assuming her health and capacities hold, Lama Pema will co-teach classes in 2017-2018, and envisions teaching classes solo after that. She currently leads three practice groups, and hopes to do so for some time. In the last two years, Lama Pema has carried more of the teaching at KSC, and that will naturally change at some point in the future. 

At future retreats (residential and non-residential) as well as one-day instructions, the lamas will increasingly offer advanced topics that formerly were known as Methods of Transformation (“Tuesday night classes”). Once practitioners are familiar with Calm Abiding and Tonglen meditations, and have taken the initial sequence of classes and been in the Tranquility Group, they can turn their attention toward Insight and Joyful Effort groups, as well as participating in teaching and meditation retreats. These settings are where advanced learning and practice methods are available in a concentrated and supportive way. 

Future Residential Teacher(s) 

KSC has hosted guest teachers for many years, and will continue to do so. We also agree with many of those at the Circle, that KSC should have resident teachers in the future. We lamas search widely to locate individuals who might be suitable. We have the lineage leaders’ support to consider both those who have done three-year retreat and those who have not, and this freedom greatly aids the search. 

At this time, future resident teachers have not been chosen. The lamas and the board are, and will remain, committed to the search. 

Dharma Instructors

We continue to be inspired by Kyabjé Kalu Rinpoche’s advice from 2011: “My lamas don’t retire. But they do rest more….I won’t be sending any lamas from India. You have to keep your lineage going.” This advice was echoed by Lama Lodru Rinpoche this past spring, as he encouraged us to move into the future by selecting and mentoring senior students “who are devoted to the lineage and teach from the heart,” so they can carry the center into the future. 

For many years, trained students have been leading all meditations at KSC, and some are giving dharma talks on Thursday evenings. We want to expand this model in the upcoming year, by training selected students to become Dharma Instructors. The program will emphasize both knowledge of our lineage’s teachings as well as 

personal ethics and modesty in the teaching role. In Fall 2018, these instructors will move into leadership of the class series Buddhist Outlook and Methods (formerly known as “Monday night classes”) which will be available in recorded format. They also will lead the Tranquility, Insight I and Joyful Effort Library Groups. 

These classes and groups form the initial instruction sequence at KSC, which is the portal to Buddhism as presented at KSC. KSC’s future is in younger attendees -- in their active participation, volunteerism and membership. Some join through the DharmaKids program, and many more simply walk in the door out of curiosity, especially on Newcomers’ Nights. The Buddhist Outlook and Methods class series and the initial practice groups are designed especially for these newer participants. 

We hope that the Dharma Instructors will be engaged in ways that further support the "Sustainable Lama" plan currently in motion. Over time, they should become a more and more significant part of the bridge to the future that we lamas envision, to keep KSC’s Shangpa and Kagyu lineages alive and flourishing as we search for new resident teacher(s). 

Supports for Practice

As KSC’s website becomes able to support it, we agree that KSC needs to expand the use of technology to support practitioners who are infirm or live at a distance. What this will require is the expansion of the Technology Team. As more teachings and group meetings are recorded and distributed, more hands are needed. We ask you all as sangha members to step forward with your time and skills to make this dream a reality! 

There were requests to incorporate English in practices so there is more understanding. Beginning this summer, in order to meet this request, the Chenrezig, Green Tara, and Mahakala* Tibetan meditations will be led in English during the last week of every month. Since Four Tantric Deities*, Sur Chö, and Sukhasiddhi* already occur regularly in English, this change will not be needed during those practices. (*This practice is limited to those who have received the empowerment and instruction.) 

Finally, this center depends upon all individuals who are inspired by the sacred space, the teachings and the meditations. Beyond the lamas’ activities and those of the Office Coordinator, everything that occurs at KSC is done by volunteers. If you find value here, then by all means be sure to offer your time, your skills, and your financial support as a member and donor. There is a task, large or small, for every talent and interest, and membership is open to all, regardless of financial means…. 

For the Future

Unaddressed here are many worthy programmatic requests, such as creating a Dharma curriculum; offering many more free public talks; widening the guest teachers’ diversity; and finding the DharmaKids a larger home. These will not be forgotten, but they will likely await new resident teachers’ leadership and energy to come to fruition. 

Toward the end of the meeting, this kind thought was expressed: Could Lamas Pema and Yeshe “retire” like Lama Lodru Rinpoche? Stay close by in Ashland when not in New Mexico, and only teach occasionally, when they want? As you will have deduced from reading this letter, we are inevitably moving in this direction, but if health holds, it will be a slow process. The gift of a retirement home in Ashland will make it possible for us to step out of the center of the community on a daily basis, which we believe will extend our lives and increase 

our energy. In addition, the residence at KSC will be available for visiting teachers, which will be important for the hosting of guest teachers and also for possible new resident teachers to utilize. We feel fortunate that this option for us and for future teachers was a direct result of the Visioning Circle meeting last fall. 

In Closing

We thank you for your contributions to the fresh thinking all of us can have about our shared future. As Lama Pema said at the Visioning Circle, “The word I chose earlier is respect, for all of you and what I heard today -- the care and caring expressed. We had a wish to hear from the community, and to recognize together that change is happening -- facing all of us. Being together is important.” 

As Lama Yeshe said that day, “We felt a need to be in community and to dialogue with you today as we continue to refine the bridge to the future. We have been in conversation with the Board of Directors for four years; we will continue to work with the Board to reach consensus on the most important themes that have emerged today, and that will help us determine what that bridge will be.” 

Please be assured that we love our “work” at KSC and will carry it out as long as we are able. It is also true that we must prepare for impermanence and change, as it is sure to arrive. 

Please join us again for a Visioning Circle on Saturday November 18th, from 9:30 – 1:30pm, with refreshments served. There will be new questions to consider and new wisdom of the sangha to hear. We look forward to being a part of this process together, into the future…. 

Lama Yeshe and Lama Pema

Kagyu Sukha Choling