An interview with Board President Sandy Shelton on what’s evolving at Sukhasiddhi.
So much has been evolving at Sukhasiddhi. Can you give me a sense of what’s in the works right now?
The situation with Sukhasiddhi is still very fluid with some exciting things coming into view. The big news is that we’ve heard from Kalu Rinpoche’s people that he is coming to visit Sukhasiddhi from April 16-20. Our center is one of four that he will visit in the US and Canada. Lama Döndrup and Leslie Shelton are now in the process of writing a formal letter of invitation, which is the protocol so that he can apply for a visa.
We aren’t sure yet what he will teach. Lama Palden and Lama Döndrup are working with him to plan the content. We’ll likely have one public event as well as some teachings and empowerments that the students will need in order to go on in their programs.
It will be so exciting to see Kalu Rinpoche again back at the center. His visit last time was very powerful — it was a blessing on the center and on all of us. He’s the head of our lineage, and there’s a profundity that happens when the head of your lineage comes and gives you teachings. I think it changes us on an energetic level to be in his presence. We say the prayers all the time to our teachers, to the lineage, but when the lineage comes into your space, there it is — right in front of you. It brings all the prayers and all the refuge into this reality.
What else is planned for the coming year?
The Lamas on the Teacher’s Council and members of the Executive Leadership Team have spent a lot of time planning for next year. One of the exciting things in the plans is a continuation of the Sukhasiddhi Sundays that we started this fall. The morning opens with calm abiding meditation and it is bringing new people in again, which is something we’ve been wanting. It’s also brought the older members together in a way we haven’t done for a long time, since we started splitting up into our programs.
The programs are profound and deep, and we become very close with those in our group, but what I love about the Sunday series is that it’s creating a bigger community again. I can talk with others I’ve been wanting to get to know and never had a place to do so. This has really been bringing us together and we’re getting good feedback on it. The hope is that we’ll also get some new members and people interested in joining different programs.
Lama Döndrup has also been working on revamping the Dharma Training Program, which will be organized into seven-week modules. It will be an opportunity for new people to get basic teachings and an entry point for the deeper programs if they want to do that.
As far as administration goes, members have been asking for more transparency from the organization, so we will be putting the Board Meeting minutes in the member section for those who are interested in reading them. We will also be putting out an annual report sometime in January or the beginning of February so members can see the financials for the year. This will be done each year from now on.
What about Lama Palden? What are her plans at the center for next year?
Lama Palden will be teaching the new Shangpa program with Lama Annik Brunet giving supplementary teachings and support during the year. The program will begin in June of 2020 with a retreat at Mercy Center in Burlingame. It’s exciting to have this group, which has been working for quite a while with Annik Brunet, move on to the Shangpa Program. There are a lot of dedicated practitioners.
The opportunity to participate in programs that provide deeper teachings and personal connection with a teacher is one of the reasons many of us came to Sukhasiddhi. I used to go to Spirit Rock, do a few retreats, have 10 minutes with a teacher. But here, we have teachers who know our foibles and can really work with us. That’s one of the big benefits of these deep programs.
We are also working with Lama Palden to see about scheduling teachings with her at the center that will be open to all.
With all this programming, what does that mean for the center’s location? Is there still a move in the works?
That’s still an unknown. The plan right now is still to find someone to sublease and to find a center more suitable for our size. At the same time, Leslie and Lama Döndrup have been talking with someone who may rent our center for some of the days we don’t use it. If we could find a person or an organization to share the rent, that would make a difference on the cost for us to stay here. So, it’s hard to say right now which way it will go.
It’s an interesting practice, not knowing about our physical space. I know many people are having a hard time with it. Our practice teaches that everything is impermanent, and still we think, “What am I to do without my center, my place?” It brings us to an edge that works on us as we do these practices — like walking the razor’s edge. In truth, we’re always walking the edge of the razor, but when things are settled it’s easier to numb to that fact.
No matter what happens with the center’s physical space, Sukhasiddhi is alive and well. Some are concerned that Lama Palden is leaving us, and this is not the case. Rather, she is taking the natural next step into the role of senior Lama, which gives space for the other Lamas — Pat Berube, Annik Brunet and Döndrup — to step forward and grow into the next phase. I feel so good about where we are, with the teachers stepping up and the strength of the lineage Lama Palden has given us. For a while it felt shaky, and I think we all wondered, “Are we going to make it?” But I don’t wonder anymore. Sukhasiddhi is alive and strong with the lineage guiding us.