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Buddhadharma : Fall 2009
49 fall 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly that sangha was not just a group of people practicing together; it was itself an expression of ultimate reality, as much as zazen, sutras, and rituals. The thrust of the day’s work was to connect our Western understanding of the power of group dynamics with this teaching by Suzuki Roshi. In a radical departure from the usual Zen teaching of “one Zen master per mountain,” the six teachers took turns com- menting on the teaching. In this way we were able explore the range and scope of the teaching’s meaning and express the vari- ety and validity of different interpretations and approaches. This not only makes for a fuller interpretation of the text, but also helps the students see that each of us teaches and practices as ourselves. In the process, if any sparks fly between teachers, our students can see that even the teachers’ relation- ships are ongoing practice. Our interactions are not idealized as some perfected or inscrutable Zen wisdom, but seen as work in progress. Even though the sangha is essential to Buddhist practice, Buddhism doesn’t explicitly describe how groups work. West- ern specialists in group dynamics, on the other hand, empha- size that groups are an integral part of human development and interaction. Understanding how groups form and develop gives aspiring group leaders much needed insight. We believe it is essential for priests to understand, in West- ern terms, how group dynamics work. So we create small group exercises to allow trainees to feel the pull of the group in the context of whatever subject we are studying. We also study the stages of group development, the roles various group members may assume, and the crises that predictably arise as a group becomes empowered. In one unit where we studied the significance of sangha as the completion of Buddha and dharma, we created a small group to work with a problem that commonly arises in newly formed dharma groups—the tension between adhering to the traditional Buddhist rituals introduced by the center’s founder and adapting the teachings for Westerners. Not only is this question inevitable in the group’s evolution, but the enactment within the newly forming sangha highlights how unconscious forces and previous wounds may create divisiveness within an emerging group. There are bids for power, issues with author- ity, personal preferential relationships, and past wounds with family or teachers that will shape the group’s discussion and even its outcome. In our exercise, we do not count on the chance emergence of these roles within the group; instead, we secretly assign these roles so that a smooth discussion will be virtually impossible. There is a tendency among Buddhist practitioners to avoid conflict in favor of silencing dissent and adopting a “Zen-like” compliance. To expose this tendency to our students we form groups of six or so trainees as the “practice committee” of a fictitious sangha. The committee’s job is to deal with the follow- ing conflict: Most members of the sangha, including its teacher, particular moment. We teach that effective Zen talks do not need to be inscrutable, clever, or full of Zen-speak. Zen talks first and foremost need to be helpful. Each SPOT teacher goes into some detail about how he or she prepares for a talk, and each trainee is required to give his or her own talk. Trainee dharma talks are followed by audi- ence participation and feedback. It is a powerful experience for trainees to get feedback from their peers and each faculty member. Style, organization, delivery, and dharma relevance are all grist for the mill in the feedback process. Perhaps the most complex task SPOT addresses is under- standing the interpersonal, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the priest’s role. We especially concentrate on issues of power, transference, projection, idealization, and conflict. Suzuki Roshi taught that sangha in and of itself is the full expression of buddhanature, and in working with our own sanghas, we have found this to be so. Within the intimacy of sangha, our understanding—or lack of it—is fully exposed. In sangha relationships we can see what we have aimed for, what the results have actually been, and everything in between. We can get caught up in our self-centered dream even as we strug- gle to articulate the Buddha Way. We note our preferences and aversions, and trace them back to self-centeredness. We confront what we are afraid of, and what we are attached to. All of these things are clearly revealed in the healthy function- ing of sangha. In our trainings, we bring this understanding of group dynamics to the forefront and work on it explicitly. A Typical Day of Training During a recent daylong training session, our theme was work- ing with conflict in the sangha. In preparation for the day, trainees had read a lecture by Suzuki Roshi in which he dis- cussed how the three treasures of Buddha, dharma and sangha are different aspects of one truth. The teaching emphasized PeTerSchireSOn SPOT program faculty members Myogen Steve Stucky, Jakujo Gary McNabb, and Chikudo Lew Richmond. renShinBunce