A new initiative is being introduced at Sukhasiddhi. It’s called Wisdom River, and features a stream of teaching that will be especially welcoming to those new to dharma and to the center, but also practical and integrative for those who are engaged in the deep practice programs.
“When you think about it, Vajrayana was traditionally practiced largely in isolation, with three-year retreat being the centerpiece,” said Lew. “Lama Palden was trained in Asia very traditionally, and her natural way is deep, intensive practice. This has been the gift that has distinguished Sukhasiddhi from Spirit Rock, which is just up the road. But now the troubles of the world are so great that we need to try and help by reaching out to the wider community.”
The current political climate has spurred a new emphasis on activism, with mixed results. While all of us can benefit from examining our assumptions and grounding our response to social issues in the dharma, this is especially true for younger people.
“I think some spiritual grounding to support their activism is very important,” said Lew. “There is a tremendous amount of angst and people want to do something to fight. Speaking as an old activist, some of the angriest people were in the peace movement. The people who understood spiritual grounding in activism were Gandhi and Martin Luther King. People prayed together before they went marching.”
To begin to address this angst, Jane Brunette will lead a one-day retreat on spiritual activism at the end of March. Rather than hosting a discussion, the day will alternate meditation with free writing from evocative prompts in order to cultivate an atmosphere of shared, deep reflection. The idea is to foster a safe, open, nonjudgmental space where we can come together to untangle what troubles us and investigate our unique contribution to collective healing in light of the dharma.
Having a sense of supportive spiritual community is especially important during troubled times, and this is an important aspect of what Sukhasiddhi will cultivate through the Wisdom River initiative. Lew said that he spoke with one newer sangha member who found it difficult to break into the Sukhasiddhi community when she first arrived. “The emphasis on cohorts made it feel to her like a closed group,” he said, “and that’s what we’d like to change.”
“Our first experiment in opening up the community is a bit of a return to the way the center started, where Lama Palden taught a weekly class that was open, accessible and useful to people at all levels of dharma practice,” said Lew. “The first class we offer will be based on the book she is now writing, called Love on Every Breath, which features a very practical way of using Tonglen practice on the spot in our daily lives.” The hope is that old and new students will be inspired to mix in this class, and the sense of sangha will move beyond program cohorts to create a larger sense of cohesive community.
In addition, all are invited to join us for an open house and morning of prayer at the Sukhasiddhi center on March 4. The event is free and refreshments will be served.
These offerings are only the beginning. “We’re really interested in trying new things,” said Lew. “The way we succeed is to try everything. So we’ll try a bunch of things and see what works. Greg Garner has come aboard as our new membership director. Greg is going to be reaching out to people new to the center in various ways and in general creating more of a sense of connection for people. We want to find out from new people what would specifically interest them. We are also redoing the website to support all these initiatives.”
Lew hopes to convey the excitement and sense of expansiveness of Wisdom River as a practical way to express the sangha’s bodhisattva aspirations.
“We’ve made a decision to open the gates of the temple much wider to bring in people to participate,” Lew continued. “We want to inspire members and friends of Sukhasiddhi to assist us in broadening our base by making it a point to pass along our new offerings to those who might benefit from them- and to join us at these events to help deepen and expand our connection to one another and to the wider community.”