From Jeff Alworth dated March 15, 2003
As many of you know, members of the KCC leadership (the Board, Executive Director, Resident Lama, Capital Campaign Leadership Committee, Finance Committee, and Fundraising Committee) met in Goldendale in February to discuss the center's mission, vision, and goals. In the past few years, KCC has grown a great deal-not just in membership, but in its organizational structure and in its aspiration to build retreat facilities and acquire a new urban center. The group didn't meet to come to new decisions, but to examine whether the existing vision and goals still fit with the mission. After two and a half days of discussion, the group felt more confident that past decisions were good ones, and were re-energized to work toward accomplishing them. In particular, they felt that the first ! goal should be to work diligently toward completing the one- and three-year retreat facilities as Ser Chö Ösel Ling.
Two weeks later, on the first Sunday of March, the Goldendale group brought their discussion to the sangha in a special meeting. They wanted to check in with the larger community and inquire about the vision and goals with them. Were these goals something the larger sangha would be willing to actively support? No two-hour meeting can allow for a full investigation into these questions, but it did begin
the discussion. KCC has accomplished a lot, and there's a great deal of
momentum, but there are also real questions.
In an effort to keep that discussion alive, I agreed to compose a list of "Frequently Asked Questions" about KCC's vision and goals. Even as I was trying to include every question I could imagine, I imagined that it would be incomplete-a hypothesis immediately confirmed when people started mentioning questions I hadn't thought of. So this is just a start. Over the next month, I will be collecting a list of other
questions that people have and we'll discuss them at the April Sangha meeting. So forward me all your thoughts and questions.
Jeff Alworth on behalf of Lama Michael Conklin and the Board of Directors
Questions about the Vision
1. What's KCC's focus in 2003? Although there
are several items in KCC's vision, in 2003 our priority will be to
raise funds sufficient to complete the one- and three-year retreat
The center is currently experiencing growing pains; on the one hand, demand for teaching, guidance, and services have continued to increase, yet resources-teaching and volunteer-have not kept pace. The center has only one Lama, but the sangha has
continued to grow for years. In addition to regular center activities, KCC has taken on the challenge of a capital campaign to meet the long-term growth of the center-which has further taxed volunteer time. The result is that KCC does not have sufficient resources to do everything it would like.
The Board of Directors, ED, Resident Lama, Program Council, CCLC, and Finance Committee met in February at Ser Chö Ösel Ling to discuss KCC's mission, vision, and goals and set priorities to achieve them. The people at that meeting were unanimous in their agreement that fundraising for the long-term retreat facilities must be placed first.
2. Does that mean there will be fewer teachings and retreats offered by KCC?
No. KCC is committed to maintaining retreat, teaching, and personal guidance to support each individual's practice at KCC.
3. Long retreat facilities will only benefit a few people. Why is KCC working on retreat facilities instead of an urban center?
There are several reasons. To begin with, there are a number of people who have the strong wish to go on long retreat, but the opportunities to do so are few. Also, many of these people have a strong connection to Lama Michael, and are reluctant to go on retreat without his leadership.
But long retreat will benefit more than just the people who go on retreat there first. Even though the retreats are cloistered, there's a relationship that develops between dharma center and retreatants-and it flows in both directions. Having retreatants in Goldendale will definitely have an effect on the dharma center in Portland. Beyond
that, the facilities will be permanent and able to support long retreats for decades into the future, benefiting far more than just those who go on the first retreat.
Lama Michael has spoken about this; the recording is available online at www.kcc.org under the "Audio Teachings" section.
4. But if the center's so crowded, why aren't we working on that right away?
The issue has less to do with space than with resources. Even now, teaching and guidance resources are stretched to the breaking point. Moving into a larger space would accommodate more people during practice sessions, but it would also mean a greater demand for teaching and guidance. As there are no other teachers
immediately available, KCC can't actually afford to grow right now.
5. Wouldn't it be a better strategy to acquire a new urban center now so that KCC can grow, which will in turn provide resources to meet its needs?
More members would help KCC meet some of its volunteering needs. It wouldn't likely be of much benefit to the capital campaign, because KCC is in need of major donors, not a broad base of support from smaller donors.
6. All of this makes sense, but somehow I still don't feel emotionally invested in long-term retreats. As I look at it, I see that for the next few years Lama Michael's time will be limited, the center will remain crowded, and the focus will be on fundraising instead of practice. How can I feel inspired by that?
The life of the dharma is, much like the life of a practitioner's, a precious one. For 2,500 years, its survival has depended on the earnest efforts of countless beings. As Buddhism struggles to find roots in America, opportunities are rare. Here at KCC, we have scores of serious members who are committed to their own practice and the success of the center. We have a wonderful lama, excellent support from long-time sangha, and a wealth of skills and experience within the sangha. It is a remarkable web of interconnectivity, and yet, such a fragile one.
We might ask where we would be today if it weren't for the four or five members who kept the sangha alive during the 1980s and early 90s. What if Kalu Rinpoche had decided not to travel to North America in the 1970s? Would there be a center at all? And as we look around at all the faces at the center each week, we could ask where we would be if Lama Michael had not gone on long retreat.
Now, imagine the center in fifty years. We dearly hope that it remains robust and continues to offer the authentic teachings of the Dharma. We hope there is a comfortable, spacious urban center, a place for short term retreats, and a cloister for long-term retreats. We might even idly imagine a monastery. But if we can draw that image to mind, it should be just as easy to see that the same kind of effort will be necessary to produce that vision as was necessary to create KCC now. And in fact, the time of that effort is now. In order for the Dharma to survive, great effort is always required. But more than that, there are so few times when all the causes and conditions are in place for the Dharma to flourish-as they are now, at KCC-that we must not let them pass. Unlike many communities across America, KCC is in a position to build long-term retreat facilities. If the Dharma is to flourish, people in our precious situations must take advantage of them.
7. What about people who don't agree with this vision? Where is their place at KCC?
No one should feel compelled to personally adopt this vision. There is enormous value in the diversity of opinion, and any vision worth adopting should be able to accommodate criticism. More importantly, KCC values each member tremendously, and the worst outcome of this campaign would be to damage anyone's practice or relationship to the dharma. If you have concerns, bring them to a member of KCC's Leadership. There may be concerns that no one else has thought about. Even if they have been voiced by other members, the leadership would like to hear your particular take on them.
8. What can I do to help?
Everyone in the sangha who supports this project should be capable of talking about it. If you can't, talk it through with someone until you can.
The success of the capital campaign will rest on building a web of connections for the project. This means making time to discuss the project with other members of the sangha, friends, co-workers, and family. Even if people are not in a position to offer direct support, just hearing about the project and knowing your connection to it will put it in the front of their minds. It is these connections that will lead to the cultivation of large gifts.
Questions about the Campaign and Facilities
9. Where is fundraising now?
The capital campaign has raised around $1 million to date. Although over 60 members have donated or pledged to the campaign, the bulk of the funds will be raised through a small number of major donations. This is typical with a campaign of this size. In addition to the individual donations, the riparian habitat restoration grant from the Federal Government has added to the campaign; the full amount of the grant is $107,000. Once expenses for planting and stewardship are subtracted, the monetary value wil result in 57,000 of income to KCC. (The natural benefits will be much greater.) Currently, KCC fundraisers are focused on major donors, while volunteers are helping by organizing informal grassroots efforts. All contributions
10. Would KCC consider borrowing money to keep the project moving?
The short answer is no. The campaign leadership and board believe that borrowing puts all of KCC's activities at risk. The only scenario in which borrowing would be considered is if a specific situation came up where the amount needed was relatively small and there was a predictable stream of revenue to cover the loan.
11. Will things be done in stages, or will work on retreat land and the urban center be done simultaneously?
The first goal is to create the facilities that will support long retreats. There are several reasons for focusing intently on the long retreats as opposed to getting a larger urban center or developing short term retreat facilities at Ser Chö Ösel Ling. One of the main reasons is that apart from limited funds we have limited human resources at the highest level. If we focus on the other projects, mainly the urban center, we will seriously delay the commencement of the long retreat.
The urban center is not a small project. It will take quite a bit of time just to refine the vision for the facility. This includes not just clock hours for technical work, but also extended time for community discussion and consensus-building. We have done enough of this work to get a general sense of the facility we might want, but there are still areas to refine. And after that, we would have fund raising, property search, acquisition, building/remodeling, and so on. There would likely be some increase to the overhead costs of center operations for a period of time while participation and dues ramped up.
And after that if we were successful in growing the center, we would create even more demands on Michael's time for teaching and counseling and general guidance. His time is already stretched beyond thin now and we are working on ways to redistribute some of the load and to come up with new models to serve the needs of the Sangha-which also takes time.
For these reasons, KCC's strategy is to work on one piece at a time.
12. What will be the next phase of construction?
Until the three-year retreat facilities are complete, the land is not usable for regular retreats. As an interim measure, we would like to build a kitchen and bathhouse to create infrastructure for short-term retreats.
A bath house, kitchen, and dining facilities for group retreats, along with associated sewage systems, and in combination with tents for sleeping, would allow use by a much larger number of people during a significant portion of the year. Finally, one- and three-year residences would be built to compete this phase of the project.
13. What about plans and designs? Have you begun to work with architects on the facilities?
We have a schematic site plan and design drawings for the facilities. They range from fairly well thought through (three-year retreat facilities) to very rough-the short-term retreat facility (and last phase of the project, after the urban center). We did these drawings as part of our Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application and have done some refinement of the work for the three-year retreat and the one-year retreat. The site plan has been revised and updated to reflect changes in building siting. The county has approved these changes to our CUP.
14. When do you anticipate the one- and three-year retreat facilities will be complete and ready for use?
This depends entirely on fundraising. As it stands now, if we were to receive a million-dollar donation, we could begin construction immediately. We have told the retreatants that retreat would not start before Spring 2004.