An interview with Lama Döndrup, Sukhasiddhi’s new Resident Lama
As of January 1, 2020, Lama Döndrup will step into the role of Resident Lama at Sukhasiddhi, as Lama Palden moves into a more advisory role as Senior Lama. Jane Brunette spoke with Lama Döndrup about her new role, and what she sees going forward for Sukhasiddhi.
Tell me a little about your new role as Resident Lama. What does it entail?
As I step into the role of resident Lama, Lama Palden will still be with us as senior Lama in the background to offer guidance as we need it. Her new role will be similar to the role Lama Drupgyu has been in: someone who advises and comes in to teach, but is not involved in the every day running of the center.
In addition to teaching, it’s now part of my responsibility to guide the center overall, to coordinate with our new Executive Director Leslie Shelton on the administration of the Center and programs, and to collaborate with Lamas Pat Berube and Annik Brunet in curriculum choices, scheduling and programming. I will also take on the more day-to-day ministerial duties, such as accepting special donations or giving blessing, and I will be responsible for maintaining connection and communication between the center and the larger Tibetan Buddhist sangha, including the lineage holders and other Shangpa/Kagyu centers.
What do you see going forward for Sukhasiddhi as you step into this role?
Sukhasiddhi is at a transition point, so this is both a time of reflecting on what we have done until now and a time of creative thinking about Sukhasiddhi’s future. The way we’ve run things has been very successful, but the world has really changed in the 20+ years Sukhasiddhi has been in existence, so we need to redesign how we offer the teachings. We want to better serve our members who are living at a faster pace with bigger workloads and new modes of communication. Getting clear about what this will look like is the process we are in now.
We put out a survey to members and have been doing discussion groups with the Bodhi program, the Shangpa graduates and those in the lineage program, as well as those who have participated in the Dharma Training Program. I have really enjoyed spending focused time with each of these groups and am very appreciative of the input they have offered. We’ve listened deeply to what the members have to say, and based on the feedback we’ve been getting, we have some ideas for how we experiment as we move forward.
One thing we’ve heard is that people do want to come to the center for classes. We were beginning to question this, because attendance has been low, but people have said that they want to participate and maintain the sense of community, but its difficult to drive so long in Bay Area traffic for just an hour-and-a-half class. Based on this feedback, we are looking at ways to offer something substantial on a regular basis to make it worth the trip.
We are actively developing the idea of a Sunday morning practice session. It would last a total of 3.5 or 4 hours, divided into 2 or 3 segments. Each Sunday would begin with a basic meditation instruction that would be accessible to those completely new to practice and would then move into a meditation session that would both serve both new and experienced practitioners. Those people could stay on for the next segment, which would would include a meditation, a dharma talk, and discussion. This segment would provide something more substantial for those who have been practicing for a few more years, and the third segment would be tailored for those who are more advanced.
Between each segment, there would be social time where the sangha could connect and build fellowship. This kind of format would allow the whole sangha to come together on a regular basis to practice and connect with one another, as well as a place for new people to get introduced to the whole Sukhasiddhi community so they could make an informed decision on whether this might be their new spiritual home.
I’ve been meeting with the Executive Committee, the Wisdom River teaching team, and the Admin Council to talk about this idea, so it is still in a formative stage. We’ll need to experiment—to dive in and try something and tweak it as we go, based on how it works for people. Times have really changed. It’s hard to say if a weekly or bi-monthly, in-person class will work for people anymore. There’s so much more call for things to be available online, and it seems the way we will further build our sangha will be to meet this need by moving into interactive online classes. So at the same time, we are actively exploring different online formats and aim to offer our first online class in the near future.
It seems things are really at the beginning again with a lot of uncertainty, but also a lot of fresh possibility.
Yes. It’s a fresh start—a creative time. To see it this way requires that we stay with the unfolding in the moment. Then there is excitement because this is a time of creativity and new possibility. I can feel that especially with these new ideas about the Sunday morning program, and the movement we’ve made toward online programming where we can reach more people.
Sukhasiddhi has been sustained by a small group of people who are trying to practice in a dedicated way. Over the years, the Sangha has had many different homes. We’ve landed in a wonderful space, but who we are as a sangha is not dependent on location. As we consider new smaller and more affordable spaces for our center, our members are coping with the uncertainty of where we will land as well as the uncertainty of what happens now that Lama Palden is changing her role. So there is both the excitement of creating a new path forward and the discomfort of uncertainty. In the midst of the uncertainty it can be challenging to remember that where we are is a reflective pause and not a dissolution. The mission and vision of Sukhasiddhi has not changed. As a part of this reflection process a vision committee was formed and based on our explorations and group contributions, I wrote an extended vision statement that I would like to share here.
Given the transition we are in, it seems that the most important thing for me to do is listen deeply to what people say they want, then step out of the way and let the stream of blessings from the lineage show us the path forward and be the inspiration. This is what feeds the whole process. Yes, we need to bring the realism of our experience as individuals who live in the Bay area in 2019. But we need to also allow the larger stream to carry us along.
I feel a deep commitment to the center and to the lineage. And it has been so valuable and important to me to hear from the Sangha what they want. I’ve really appreciated the response to the survey, as well as the efforts people have made to come to the discussion groups and share in an open, honest way. This openness and clarity is a wonderful basis to build on all the good work we’ve done in the past so we can be responsive to what is needed now, and create new forms that will serve us well going forward as a community—whether we are new practitioners or seasoned Sangha members.