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Buddhadharma : Fall 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 09 50 In role, people get upset at each other, offend each other, and become impatient with one another. Out of role, peo- ple express surprise at how much their nervous systems are engaged and reactive, even though the situation is “pretend.” In the plenary session that follows, we discuss this at length, exploring the questions: What is real? What is pretend? The poet Robert Creeley titled one of his books, Was That a Real Poem or Did You Just Make It Up Yourself? Is our personality a real identity or just another role? Is there a dif- ference? What is the difference? What is the relationship of that question to the core teaching of the Buddha about anat- man—that there is no continuously existing self? Who are we really? Who is the other person really? What is our role and responsibility as vow-takers and priest professionals to enact and express the dharma in each circumstance? It is one thing to read Buddhist scripture on the topic of no fixed self; it’s quite another to experience it in such a potent role-playing exercise. Our purpose in constructing these exercises was to make a vivid connection between the Buddhist teaching of no fixed self and our actual experience in the moment—in our emotions, in our bodies. This enactment is done within our own cultural framework, as our Western selves, to help our students understand how to practice in their own lives. want to start formal chanting practice of, for example, the Heart Sutra. But one member, who claims to represent a constituency in the sangha, contends that chanting is too sectarian and will exclude potential members. The practice committee takes up and deals with this issue in whatever way it can. Each trainee receives a pre-assigned role. One is the dis- senter, the member most resistant to the chanting idea. Another is someone who personally dislikes the dissenter, yet agrees with the dissenter’s position about chanting. Another is someone who personally likes the dissenter, but disagrees with the dissenter’s position. One trainee plays the public role of sangha president and meeting facilitator. A faculty member plays the sangha teacher, but is not involved in resolving the conflict. If the group members are faithful to their roles, it will be difficult to resolve the conflict without hurt feelings. The trainees’ task is to concentrate mostly on what their feelings and body sensations are in the midst of the conflict, rather than to resolve it. We have learned that enacting conflict can be very excit- ing, but for actual learning to take place, we must go back and forth between the assumed roles and our usual selves so we can process the meaning of the feelings. Groups alternate between time “in role,” acting out the conflict, and time “out of role,” where they can reflect on their experience. It is essential for priests to understand, in Western terms, how group dynamics work. We create small group exercises to allow trainees to feel the pull of the group and the crises that predictably arise. Rev. Florence Caplow of the Everyday Zen Foundation takes notes during a teaching. renShinBuncerenShinBunce