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Buddhadharma : Win 2012
WINTER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 7 Shambhala Sun Foundation An independent, nonprofit corporation. Publishers of the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly. O n September 19, Spirit Rock Meditation Center held a graduation ceremony for ninety-five leadership train- ees in its fourth Community Dharma Leaders (CDL) training program. This graduating class was the most diverse and multicultural group of teachers Spirit Rock has ever trained in the fifteen years of the program’s existence. The group included thirty-three people of color and twenty- nine people from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities. Never before in the history of West- ern Buddhism has such a large group of people of color or LGBTQs graduated as dharma leaders at one time. These numbers are in stark contrast to the experience we had when we were trainees in the CDL program years ear- lier. Gina was one of two people of color in her graduating group in 1999, and Larry was one of six graduates of color in his 2003 group. Then, the idea of having a culturally diverse demographic for CDL programs seemed nearly impossible. Moreover, cultivating dharma leadership in LGBTQ commu- nities was unheard of, and no statistics on the cultural makeup of such programs were even kept. So what changed? The answer is not so much what changed to allow this to happen as what efforts were made to bring this change about—efforts by individuals and groups to repeatedly return to the importance of multicultural awareness. This coming back to the issue of diversity is no different from bringing one’s awareness back to the breath or any object of aware- ness; it is a practice, and sometimes a long and difficult one. In many cases, this returning, over and over, occurred despite the resistance, indifference, and ignorance of mainstream dharma communities. In order to create a program with such cultural diversity, we—the two of us plus Eugene Cash and Thanissara as the coordinating team of teachers—not only had to create an inclusive invitation but also had to shift the way in which the invitation was made. In the past, Vipassana teachers nominated candidates for the program; the candidates then applied and were either rejected or accepted by the coordinat- ing teacher or team. This needed to change. Two years before the start of the program, we began out- reach to communities in which people weren’t then think- ing about the possibility of becoming dharma leaders—not because they weren’t qualified but because they were largely invisible to the mainstream practice community. Through extended conversations, we developed relationships with many fully qualified candidates of color and LGBTQs and spoke with them about how the program might fit into their lives and practice. We also explored what might inspire prac- titioners in diverse communities to consider a path of dharma leadership, realizing that the motivating factors might be dif- ferent for people outside the mainstream. We engaged with the larger Vipassana teaching community and potential candidates to foster this aspiration as best we could. These were necessary steps to be able to include those who have been marginalized by racism, discrimination, invisibility, and indifference and who have felt a lack of trust toward mainstream communities, including dharma communities, as a result. It was through this relational process that candidates of color and LGBTQs began to be nominated and apply in record numbers. The Community Dharma Leaders training program offers two years of rigorous study and deep reflection on traditional Buddhist teachings and texts as well as “nuts and bolts” explo- rations of how to teach dharma and how to build dharma organizations and communities. As teachers, we were com- mitted to shaping a program that included comprehensive training in competencies needed to lead sitting groups and daylong retreats and to teach beginning meditation and dharma classes in local communities. We hoped that these COMMENTARY No Small Effort by Gina Sharpe and Larry Yang GINA SHARPE is the guiding teacher at the New York Insight Meditation Center, which she cofounded in 1998. LARRY YANG is a teacher at the East Bay Medita- tion Center in Oakland, California, and a member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council. They were both coordinating teachers in the recent Spirit Rock Commu- nity Dharma Leaders training program. RUBYGRAD