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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 11 54 foruM Pat enkyo o’Hara • Gina sHarPe • ken MCleod • diana Winston The Challenges Ahead This past June, about two hundred Buddhist teachers from across North America and Europe gathered at the Garrison Institute near New York for a three-day conference that had been several years in the planning. In his opening address, Jack Kornfield, one the key organizers, pointed out that this “Buddhist Teachers Council” was part of a tradition of coun- cils that have been held since the Buddha’s paranirvana, most recently in the West at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in 2000. Despite the responsibility that such legacy implies, the goals of the conference were modest: to deepen friendships and collegiality across traditions, strengthen honest dialogue and learning across generations, create bonds for the work that needs to be done in the future. You get the idea. So how did it go? Like most things, that depends on whom you ask. Even before the conference started there were grum- blings about who was being invited and who was not (the gathering was by invitation only). There were oversights and blunders: one teacher posted his grievances online, saying “a self-selected group of important Buddhists get together to decide what’s best for the rest of us” after learning about the conference and thinking he had been excluded (it turns out he had been invited but never got the message). While this was billed as a multi-tradition gathering, some traditions were overrepresented (Vipassana), some underrep- resented (Vajrayana), and some barely represented (Pure Land and Nichiren). There were only ten African Americans and one Latino teacher. On the positive side, fifty “next-genera- tion” teachers attended, as did a number of monastics. In the discussion that follows, you’ll hear from four teach- ers who attended the conference. Three of them also attended the preconference gatherings: one for next-generation teachers and the other for pioneers. They share their observations and insights about some of the big topics that were addressed, such as how secular teachings of mindfulness are taking hold in the West, and whether it’s possible to adapt the dharma to West- ern cultures without losing depth. And they share some of the questions that arose indirectly, from being in each other’s pres- ence and getting to know one another, such as whether there’s a need to accelerate the authorization of younger teachers. Time will tell whether this gathering of teachers will lead to new initiatives, better communication between traditions, or a foundation to unite as Western Buddhists. In the short term, though, I have yet to speak with any participant who wasn’t transformed by it in some way. For that, we can thank Vinny Ferraro, a young tattooed teacher from Oakland, Cali- fornia, who led teachers in a simple but profound exercise that exposed their vulnerabilities, prejudices, failings, and old wounds. Amid the sadness and tears that this generated came an outpouring of solidarity and warmth. As with most things in life, that’s when the real conversations happen. introduCtion By tynette deveaux two hundred teachers Gather to Discuss the Future of Buddhism in the West