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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
SPRING 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 53 PHOTOS(LEFT—RIGHT):ROBERTTHOMAS;KATEROGERS;JADEBEALL BUDDHADHARMA: David, how do you see the challenges facing older Buddhists in the Shambhala community? DAVID WHITEHORN: Fundamentally, these are all practitioners who have devoted their life to figuring out how they see them- selves and how they want to work with the world. They’re asking themselves, How do I apply my practice to what I’m experiencing now? It’s obvious that practice is exactly what you need to deal with all the change and uncertainty that Anna mentioned, but also, as she said, people are looking for ways to get together and talk about this. One of the things the Working Group did early on was identify the need for something one might call rites of passage for older people. SUSAN O’CONNELL: That’s a great idea. DAVID WHITEHORN: In the Shambhala community we’ve long had rites of passage for eight-year-olds and sixteen-year-olds, and everyone has really appreciated those. So last year, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the head of Shambhala, created a rite of passage for adults called Awakening to the Stages of Life, and we did a pilot program last fall. It’s a weekend program intended for people who are at any of the major transition points in life, not just those connected to old age. The idea is that aging is a continuous process throughout life. It’s helpful to have practices and gatherings where we can get together and immerse ourselves in the contemplative cul- ture while actually working on the practicalities and realities of the aging experience, and I think that’s what many people are looking for. BUDDHADHARMA: Let’s talk more about some of the ways centers such as yours can help with the needs of older practitioners. Aside from the programs that you might put on, what about meeting people’s needs where they are, in their homes or com- munities? Traditionally, many people looked to their church PHOTOS (L-R): UNKNOWN, GILLIAN MACLEOD HASPRAY to support them in their final years. Members of the parish could be relied upon to visit the elderly and bring them food, and churches even set up nursing homes. Are your centers looking to fill those functions? SUSAN O’CONNELL: We haven’t done anything like that yet at the San Francisco Zen Center, but the Berkeley Zen Center did organize a loose group of people to be available if someone asks for help. Many of their members are retired, so they can respond to requests. In a perfect world, a volunteer corps would grow from the caregiving training we’re now doing at Zen Center, but it will happen either in a village model, in which people go to other people’s homes to provide care, or in a senior living community, where that kind of care will be much closer at hand. ANNA DOUGLAS: In November we’re beginning a two-year con- templative training program called Heavenly Messengers. A significant component of the program, which Spirit Rock is partnering on with the Metta Institute and Frank Ostaseski, will be a weekly commitment to serving people who are ill or elderly or dying. DAVID WHITEHORN: Shambhala has actually been involved in this kind of thing for a long time. Early on, when Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche first started gathering students, he told them to organize into neighborhoods. It was certainly for It takes a lot of intention to turn toward the reality of our own aging, no matter who we are. It’s just as hard for a long- time practitioner to deal with change as it is for anyone else. —Susan O’Connell Richard Haspray, 1973 and 2013