Practice Committee Meeting 8/19/2011

Present: Edie Norton, John Wiley, Talus Latona, Chris Burkhart, Tim Burnett, Marti Bartlett, Nancy Welch

The Practice Committee meets periodically to consider ways to enhance and better support everyone’s practice.  The committee is composed of our priests and former shusos who, through their commitment to the practice, have been accorded senior roles by our guiding teacher.  

[but note below we have made a change to include volunteers organizing the retreats and programs more fully into these discussions.]

Check in:

Edie – good feeling at noon sits. More volunteers coming forward. Sangha mood feels good.

John – going fine. Dokusan by Tim on Weds. eves is something new and so far it seems to be going fine.

Talus – everything fine. No expressions of resistance to forms has come to me.

Chris – no complaints from me or from others that I know of. Like the feeling of settling into silence on Weds. night practice but sometimes  It feels a little busy at the end when we have lots of announcements. Let’s generally be careful to honor the spirit of silence. Wednesday 6pm study group is going fine, if lightly attended during summer.

Marti – grateful that Saturday morning practice is happening. it’s becoming my main weekly practice more than Weds. nights.

Tim – also appreciate that our expansion into Saturday morning seems to be sustainable and really appreciated the one-day sit in August with a focus on new sitters. We attracted several people from the “outskirts” especially Chilliwack, BC.

Nancy – getting feedback that we are too much emphasizing the forms and not enough the content. By content meaning information and teachings received in classes, study groups, and talks. Has had several unsatisfactory 5-minute interactions about the meaning of the forms.

* dana - possible changes and communication

Dana – The Practice Committee has had several discussions about dana – optional donations to the teacher and a practice of gratitude. Issues around confusion about how much to give and whom to give it to and what our systems of collecting are communicating. Goal is to simplify and clarify dana.

Decisions now made by the committee:

  • 1)   classes will continue to include payment for the teacher from the registration fees. No dana collected at classes.
  • 2)   Retreats will include the opportunity to give dana.
  • 3)   A distinction will be made between the primary teacher and other teachers who are offering teacher-like services such as giving talks and offering practice discussion (or dokusan).
  • 4)   The primary teacher at the retreat will have a dana collection box labeled for them. Note on box will explain who to write checks to.
  • 5)   Dana for all other teachers will be handled with a second box labeled “Dana for Other Teachers” which will have blank envelopes with it and an explanation to put the teacher’s name on the envelope and to write checks directly to the name of the person you are giving dana to.
  • 6)   At the dana collection table there will be a sign briefly explaining the practice of dana. This sign will not include numbers or suggested amounts. But if will say something like “If you have further questions about dana please see…” and this will direct interested people to an additional information sheet which will have a fuller explanation of dana, its history with our sangha and in Western Buddhism, and this sheet will include suggested  or typical amounts.
  • 7)   Note that the brief sign will also be read out loud as the dana announcements made at work circle or the start of the retreat.  This to make the dana announcement brief, easy to do, and consistent.

Action items:

  • 1)   Draft the short sign / announcement. Practice Committee will review at next meeting.  Bob already agreed to do this.
  • 2)   Draft the longer explanation.  Bob, can you do this too?
  • 3)   Create the new “Other Teachers” dana box with a holder on the side for the blank envelopes.  Chris do you want to take a crack at this?

Practice Discussion / Dokusan

Currently Tim is offering dokusan and Nancy and John are offering practice discussion (the two are both private meetings but with different forms) and people sign up in the lobby if they want to come. Not too many people come and most of those see Tim. Bob and Edie are also qualified to offer practice discussion but so far have not.

Idea borrowed from Mountain Rain to make these interviews more accessible and to facilitate all teachers offering interviews is to use the “cards system.” The idea is that under each zabuton mat there is a white index card. After sitting begins the person offering practice discussion or the jisha if there is a jisha assisting Tim announces: “We are now offering practice discussion (dokusan) – private interviews. Please put the little white card under your mat out behind you if you would like to come”

The sign up sheet will be removed, or replaced with a small sign explaining how interviews work. People can also still make contact directly with teachers they want to meet with if they want to meet with them.

There will be a rotating schedule where one person is offering interviews every Wednesday night and Saturday morning.  Noon sits will not be announced as having practice discussion but teachers are welcome to arrange individually with people and may use the noon zazen time for interviews.

One person will offer interviews per Weds eve/Sat morning. Don’t try to split one zazen meeting.

If another priest (Chris B. most likely) is available to conduct service Tim may continue with dokusan through service sometimes.

Goal is to see everyone who requests to go during that zazen meeting. Interviews should be brief and to the point. Goal is to make interviews more frequent and more normal – just a part of how we practice together.

Action Items:

  • ·      Tim to draw up a schedule of who offers interviews on which zazen meetings.
  • ·      We will start experimenting with the white cards system.

Combined Meetings between Practice Committee / Zendo & Programs

The Zendo & Programs Workgroup was created to run and oversee programs and the Practice Committee was created to consider forms and feeling of our practice. As there is considerable overlap between these two missions and because the Zendo & Programs Workgroup hasn’t gelled as a group with its own meetings it was decided to start having combined decision making meetings between the two groups. This allows Zendo & Programs volunteers to give input into the programs and forms aspects of our sangha in a formal way.

We will now have quarterly regularly scheduled combined decision making meetings at which all members of the Practice Committee and all volunteers in the Zendo & Programs Workgroup will be invited. Meetings will continue even if some people can’t come.

Schedule to be 9am on Saturday morning of the 4th Saturday of the 1st month in each quarter. Upcoming dates: Oct 22, 2011,  Jan 28, 2012,  April 28, 2012,  July 28, 2012,  October 27, 2012.

A new monk in Bellingham: Pannobhasa Bhikku

American-born Buddhist monk Pannobhasa Bhikku is living the full Vinaya rule from Theravadin Buddhism and has returned to Bellingham from 18 years of practice in Burma. A few members of BIMS have been supporting Pannobhasa with his basic needs of a place to sleep and a daily meal (which must be given to Pannobhasa by a supporter). His current housing in the greenhouse of a BIMS member may not be hospitable through winter and a request has come to consider providing housing in or near the Dharma Hall. Alborz Monjazeb has started to create a small room at the end of our basement storage which might be useful for this purpose. If Alborz can provide a bedroom Pannobhasa would still need access to bathroom and dining room in the Dharma Hall.

While the Committee members consistently emphasized that all practitioners are warmly invited to come practice and that supporting a Buddhist monk is a worthy project they expressed these concerns about having this monk in residence:

  • 1)   the room initially created by Alborz is not permitted for residential use or to code (code issues include: 2nd egress needed, better stairs with handrails needed, 2 hour minimum fire separation from Majestic (upstairs), a window probably also needed). Giving our approval to someone sleeping at the room could cause issues of liability and safety not covered by our insurance.
  • 2)   we are not clear if the BIMS organization is supporting Pannobhasa or if it is more of a project of a few BIMS’ members. Would BIMS as an organization appreciate having Pannobhasa staying at the Dharma Hall?
  • 3)   That Pannobhasa is not so far attending regular Zen sittings means most Zen members aren’t having the opportunity to get to know him.
  • 4)   If we are allocating resources to help a particular individual – why this individual? Should we have some kind of selection process about whom we offer housing to if we are able to offer housing?
  • 5)   We need to have a broad consensus between Zen Board, BIMS Board, and also broader Zen sangha for Pannobhasa staying at the Hall to go forward.
  • 6)   That having a monk “in residence” changes the vibe and feeling for people especially if they are often at the Hall on their own. Would it make the Hall feel less like an equally “homelike” space for all members or would that be changed by having a monk in residence? Might undermine the goal of having all our members feel invited to use the Hall individually as a kind of “spiritual living room” that we all as members own equally.
  • 7)   It might also enhance the experience of being here in other ways to spend time with someone making such a serious commitment to Dharma practice and Pannobhasa due to his formal lifestyle has lots of time available to discuss the Dharma with people in informal meetings at the Hall. His staying at the Hall would facilitate this.
  • 8)   The understanding in Buddhism is that supporting monks and nuns is a very good thing to do.

Action items:

  • ·      Tim will invite Pannobhasa to participate in Zen events so the Zen sangha can get to know him.
  • ·      The Red Cedar Zen Board will also discuss and probably also discuss with the BIMS Board.
  • ·      Tim will let Alborz know about code/permitting issues with the first proposed bedroom.

* timeline for implementing extended Saturday program 1st/3rd Saturdays.

Refers to a previous proposal to add practice all morning on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays. Tim previous proposed starting this in September but is now feeling that it might feel a bit rushed. Please see May 14th Practice Committee minutes for details. More information to be forthcoming to the sangha.

* review of communication with sangha about forms changes (what are we doing now, what else could/should we be doing?)

Tabled for lack of time in this meeting.

* Are forms guidelines being communicated often enough/too often/not often enough and with a sense of the purpose?

Tabled for lack of time in this meeting but one suggestion about folks having questions about the meaning of the forms is that they bring that as a topic to practice discussion / dokusan.

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