An Interview with New Board Member Susan Shannon

2021-01-04T10:31:24-08:00

What drew you to Sukhasiddhi?

I’ve been aware of Sukhasiddhi since it first started. Lama Palden Drolma, known as Caroline in 1982, was one of the first people I met when I moved to California. I had taken refuge and received some intimate teachings from Kalu Rinpoche, so we had that in common. After she came back from three-year retreat, she and two fellow retreatants visited me in my Lagunitas home. They were fresh out of retreat. I still remember how one of them spoke of being sensitive to the sound of electricity. Over the course of the first 20 years, I followed Sukhasiddhi through Lama Palden Drolma. During that same time, I was asked by the Nechung Oracle to help start the Nechung Buddhist Center in the Bay Area, a Rimé center for the local Tibetan population. Palden Drolma and I had many conversations comparing notes.

You’ve taught a number of classes now at Sukhasiddhi. How did that come about?

Some years ago, Lama Palden Drolma invited me to a teacher’s council meeting to talk about my Interfaith work in general and my work in the prison teaching dharma to the inmates specifically. I met Lama Pat and Lama Döndrup, along with Lama Tashi (Annik Brunet). Much later, when Wisdom River began, I was asked to speak on Restorative Justice as a Spiritual Practice, which was the first talk of the speaker series. There were 35 or 40 people. Many of them wanted to stay in touch and learn how to implement Restorative Justice in their community.

In the meantime, Lama Palden Drolma and I talked often about how could we share the beauty and transformational potential of the dharma with more people. How could we keep the jewel of these teachings alive and reach other communities? How could these teachings be presented through an Interfaith lens without losing the core essence? I had been teaching Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara at the prison, and was very excited at the traction this text was getting with the inmates, many of whom practiced other faith traditions.

I believe Lama Tashi was a key player in brainstorming with me about getting the Shantideva practices into Sukhasiddhi. The classes were popular, and people wanted to continue, so I created the Cornerstones of Enlightenment series. This led to the current offering, Self Care for the Long Haul through the Lens of the 37 Practices.

So it wasn’t so much that I decided t0 teach. Rather, the opportunity arose, and the desire of students brought me to more participation.

How did you come to join the Sukhasiddhi board at this time?

I’ve been on many boards. It wasn’t always rewarding. In 2009, I told myself I wouldn’t serve on a board again and last summer, when I was asked if I would consider being a board member for Sukhasiddhi, that was my first thought. Second thought was I love Sukhasiddhi, and have dedicated my life to the study, practice and spread of the dharma, so I considered the request.

This led to a lovely conversation with Leslie and Lama Pat about Sukhasiddhi, it’s past, it’s present, and ideas of what might be ahead. Given that the center has just gone through a huge transition with many factors, it seemed like a ripe and crucial time to vision direction. Leslie and Lama Pat valued my rich background in Vajrayana practice, my familiarity with texts and teachers, how I present the teachings and make them relevant, my Dharma work with diverse populations, and more. It was a very inspiring conversation with many potential areas of exploration. So I said yes.

As a board member, I want to honor the incredible hard work that Lama Palden Drolma and  Lama Tashi, the former board and all the teachers have already done. And now Lama Döndrup carrying forward so humbly and solidly in a time of so much change. Because I have a great deal of respect for how Sukhasiddhi is evolving, I don’t feel a need to come in and change things. Rather, I want to offer any way I can support them — anything from menial labor to helping teach. I am excited to work with others and be a team player.

What would you like to bring to Sukhasiddhi?

The way I can be generous, what I have to offer, are connections with a lot of communities —with chaplains, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, the restorative justice community, the interfaith community and the Tibetan community. I love creating new programs and figuring out how to make them sustainable. I can imagine programs that include those communities, and also provide educational opportunities that include CEUs for chaplains or healthcare workers.

The sangha at Sukhasiddhi are very serious practitioners, very talented, sophisticated and professional. Palden Drolma always told me this and now I see it for myself. They are not fly-by-night individuals only slightly interested in the dharma, but rather, a community of solid and integrated practitioners willing to get in and do the work. I’m all about strengthening and expanding that community and creating opportunities for service. For example, I have a Buddhist prison program that I‘d like to offer and get people involved with.

Lama Palden Drolma told me a long time ago that Sukhasiddhi received approval to provide a Masters of Divinity degree. I have a Masters in Divinity, and both seminaries I attended were committed to social justice and activism as a spiritual path. I can imagine Sukhasiddhi expanding to include education linked to direct service towards alleviating the many forms of suffering our world is experiencing today. So I am hoping to be a good worker bee as well as a catalyst for some new programs and growth.

Even though I’ve considered myself a student my whole life, I love the ability to teach because I get to be a student with others and share my love of the dharma with other people. On a heart note, I feel like my job, if I have one assigned by the Bodhisattvas, is to share my love of the dharma in a way that helps people to learn and to integrate the practices into their personal lives.