Kagyu Changchub Chuling seal   Newsletter — December 2014

Greetings, !

This month, our articles are a mixture of updates, announcements and reflections - a fitting blend for this time of year.  We will update you on our urban center search, introduce you to a very special member of KCC’s Sangha, make you aware of events coming up, especially our annual Bodhisattva night, and share one  Sangha member's reflections on why he practices. We hope you enjoy this issue.

As always, we welcome your story ideas and feedback as we try to make the newsletter as useful and illuminating as possible.

December 2nd is #GivingTuesday...

Have you made your gift for 2014 to KCC’s General Fund?

Help us make our $100,000 goal!

Urban Center Update

By John Jennings

The New Urban Center Team has been meeting weekly since early October in an effort to move as quickly as possible, yet thoughtfully, to find a new Sangha home base. With the recent addition of Rick Perry, the team now has nine people representative of a good cross section of our Sangha membership. The team is simultaneously working on clarifying the core requirements, developing a strategy for acquiring a place, developing and refining the procedures for property review and due diligence, and searching for properties.

We need to be ready to look at opportunities as they come up. A recent example of that is a church for sale on SE 62nd and Boise, which is at the edge of our search area. The Team toured the building and is assessing technical construction issues. When we determine that a building meets our basic requirements, we will poll the membership about location.

The Team has met with one realtor who has a lot of experience with churches, as well as other commercial properties. We learned a lot about the process of searching, reviewing, making offers, zoning and codes, potential pitfalls, and our rights as buyers. A realtor, and this one in particular, can also alert us to properties that might not yet be on the market. This is an advantage since there are so few properties available in our search area at this time. The Team asks anyone who sees a potential property for sale or knows of a group, company, or individual that might have a facility they could be talked into selling (or donating) to please send an email to John Jennings.

News and Events

In This Issue

Urban Center Update

Bodhisattva Night

Upcoming Retreats

Galen Doucette

Why I Practice

Upcoming Events

Bodhisattva Night: December 20

New Year Retreat with Refuge: December 31 - January 1

Winter Retreat Season: January 17 - February 14




Jessica Dennison,
Rosemarie Sweet,
Barbara Miller,
John Jennings,
Deborah Brink Wohrmann, and Dean Conklin contributed to the production of this newsletter.

Annual Bodhisattva Night at KCC

Date: Saturday, December 20th
Time: 6: - 8:30 pm
Place: Kagyu Changchub Chuling

Please bring a SNACK to share!!

Join us for an evening of sharing stories, holiday fun and snacks at KCC. This is one of the events during the year where children are intentionally honored participants. Part of our vision for the event is to enrich the relationships between young and older community members at KCC by sharing time in each other’s presence, together in the shrine room.

For those of you who are new to this event, the theme of the evening is the role of the Bodhisattva in our tradition and that of others. A Bodhisattva is one who vows never to abandon another sentient being, as they aspire to manifest the benefit of others above even their own. One of our aims with this event is to help children and others see that the bodhisattva ideal is in some way present in most of the world's religious traditions, and a key method in our own tradition for overcoming the causes of suffering. There are grand, mythical, larger-than-life (even canonized) Bodhisattvas and there are ordinary folks like us, moving along in that direction as best as we can --and everything in between.

On this evening, we explore this theme through story telling. All are welcome to come and listen, and anyone can tell a story. Stories can be conveyed via movement, song, music, theater, spoken word or any other form you can think of! This event is meant to be age-appropriate for children
and appropriate for non-practicing family members and friends—so choose your story accordingly! Your story can be from any source, including your own experience. Children are especially encouraged to participate. Practice your story in advance to be sure it is five to ten minutes long. This will help provide space for more people to tell their stories.

Upcoming Retreats

New Year Retreat with Refuge Ceremony
Wednesday, December 31, 2014 - 9:00am to
Thursday, January 1, 2015 - 6:00pm
Event Leader: Lama Michael Conklin
Location: KCC Urban Center

This annual retreat is for beginning and experienced mediators regardless of background.

Zhinay, or Calm Abiding, will be taught. This practice is the essential underpinning of all other meditation practices: while the human mind is ever-busy and distracted by a myriad of disconnected thoughts, feelings, and emotions, Zhinay is a direct method for learning to let the mind rest naturally.

This two-day retreat will provide participants an opportunity to learn and practice how to meditate using a few of the many methods available and to explore in open discussion how it is possible to carry meditation into daily life. Participants will explore opportunities for integrating one's spiritual path into the rest of one's life so that there is no separation.

The Refuge Ceremony begins at 4:30 pm on Thursday, January 1st, and lasts until 6 pm.

Everyone is invited to attend and witness the Refuge Ceremony. Anyone planning to participate in the Ceremony, taking the step of formally entering the path, is encouraged to invite friends and family according to what feels appropriate. In addition, it is helpful for Lama Michael to know about one's intention in advance, though not absolutely necessary. When notifying him, please let him know the spelling of your name as you would like it to appear on the certificate given at refuge. Contact Lama Michael Conklin.

There is a $120 suggested donation to cover the cost of offering this retreat. However, a donation of any amount is appreciated, and no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

There is no charge for attending or participating in the Refuge Vow Ceremony.

Learn more about this retreat.


Winter Personal Retreat Season

Saturday, January 17, 2015 - 4:00pm to
Saturday, February 14, 2015 - 10:00am

The Personal Retreat season begins January 17 and ends February 14. It will be the last chance to enjoy the beauty of SCOL before it closes for the cloistered retreatants for three years.

The Winter Season Retreat provides an opportunity for individuals with prior retreat experience who can practice independently to do extended personal retreat in a supportive group environment. Individuals who wish to take part will need to have approval from their primary mentor and have a specific plan for retreat worked out in conjunction with their mentor. Both the length of retreat, and the specific program of practice should be agreed to in advance. As a rule of thumb, we recommend that people who have not done individual retreat before limit their first personal retreat to a few days. Individuals who have done personal retreat before should consider a gradual increase to the length of retreats if they are inclined to do longer retreat.

Learn more about Winter Retreat Season at SCOL.

For general questions about the retreat, contact Bill Spangle.

The earlier you plan, the better for all. KCC also encourages carpooling when it works. Participants can always ask the retreat coordinator to help out with this option.

Additional on-going events:

Seven Point Mind Training Study Group
Thursday, December 25 & Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm (most second and fourth Thursdays)

All-Day Sit: Zhinay
Sunday, January 4, 2015 - 9:00am to 4:00pm
(Every first Sunday is an all-day sit.)

Galen Doucette

By Deborah Brink Wöhrmann

As Galen Doucette came of age, the Dalai Lama was already a figure in the world. He cannot recall the first time he became aware of the dharma, yet he does remember clearly an important moment of his life once he found KCC—shortly after moving to Portland from Colorado. He had left his college studies to help his mother after his stepfather's suicide, and, by then, Buddhism was the path that made sense.

“I was 22 the first time I remember Lama Michael Conklin giving a talk about the Six Perfections,” says Galen, who is now the out-going operations manager for Ser Chö Ösel Ling, (SCOL), the retreat land in Goldendale, Washington.

It was Galen’s birthday, January 9, when he heard Lama Michael’s teachings, and this year he will be in India on his birthday—ten years later. In fact, it may be the very day he receives empowerments for the Three-Year Retreat he will begin in April.

Galen did not grow up in a religious family, but they were not atheist either. They were mountaineers, so he learned a reverence for the land—which he has tended these last years.

He says his years as manager of SCOL have been invaluable and have taught him to be more accepting: Learning to allow himself to err has been a huge part of his work while at SCOL. “I had to learn to take personal risks, to accept the fact of making mistakes—and be gentle, even celebratory, about the fact that it will happen. I had to learn to do so many things and there’s the public aspect: It's hard to make mistakes on behalf of the sangha.”

Not only has Galen learned to work with staff, students and the Lamas who teach at SCOL, but he has been trailblazer, concrete-maker, dishwasher and cook. He has been known to taste the simmering soup and say, “A bit more salt will bring out the sweet in those tomatoes.”

Another big learning for Galen has been his observation of himself during months of isolated living. Though he managed a total of a year-and-a-half of retreats, he has lived up to four months at a time solo on the 240 acres.

“Even with no one else around, I would notice my moods all over the place from one day to the next. I saw how my moods might not be so dependent on other people because there I was all alone.”

He says he appreciates all he has learned from the teachers, too—by watching how they work with their students: “People are where they are. I have watched the lamas. They don't just set rules and expect everyone to follow them the same way. People aren’t like that. During any retreat, stuff happens. People have such different ideas of what’s okay, and no one is simply right or wrong. We look at things from our own experiences.”

On the final night of the recent Mahamudra Retreat this past October, Galen had to pull on his waders when water began seeping across the kitchen and bathroom floors. Soon he was out into the dark pulling up the cover of the septic tank. Luckily the fix was easy (or, easy for him!) and toilets could soon flush again.

“I’m as much janitor as anything,” he laughs. “The fruit of my labor is to make it possible for other people to practice.”

He says this job was not a good “career move”—yet his next three years will not take him toward the conventional life either.

He recalls a time before he dropped out of high school: During his junior year the counselor tried to corner him into a job. He tried to tell the man that was not what he wanted—that the right job would not be the solution.

“Happiness couldn't come from something outward like that. I would be totally happy to have a career but not because it has meaning or creates happiness in itself.”

Galen says he was interested in the big questions in life—in how to live as a good person. “I had a longtime sense of being driven but not toward having a career.”

“The Sainthood ideal, the Bodhisattva—they are the same. These became interesting. 'How can I be a beneficial person?' Not a martyr life but how can I live in a way that benefits others?”

He knew eight years ago—if he remained healthy and life allowed—he would someday make the decision to enter into long retreat at SCOL. Five years ago, he went to Lama Michael and requested to be considered for the Three-Year Retreat. “I wouldn't be able to do the Three-Year Retreat without the connection and support of the people I've met,” says Galen. “Living out here you become connected.”

“I've gained real relationships with real people. Many of them have developed into a spiritual family.” Not all of the relationships are “touchy-feely” and “sometimes people, especially teachers, point out when I’m being petty”—which has been helpful.

“When you move to the sacred heart of a community, it challenges you to develop a deeper and deeper sense of what sacred is: Sometimes the shrine is a chore, and you have to figure out what really is valuable.”

During these past four years, Galen saw people from all over the world—monks and nuns, Tibetan Buddhists, Western Zen, Theravadas and New-agers—“just show up.” Sometimes, unannounced, people would simply park their car near the center, pull out their picnic lunch, and make themselves a day of it.

Galen’s decision to enter into retreat is connected to his observations of people he admires and respects who have done the same. “Retreat is a laboratory of the self—and the only access I have to truth,” he says.

He is studying Tibetan and was recently granted a large scholarship from the Tsadra Foundation, but he continues to raise funds to support the coming three years he will live in retreat.

Why I Practice

By Dean Conklin

After high school, I stepped back from Mormon roots, from religion in general. Spiritually, every game in town was rigged. Little more inclined to science than religion—math was a curse, chemistry baffled me—in middle age I stumbled on Modern Physics. Approaching age 70, I reconnected with Buddhism. Now 77, there's a burgeoning sense that life, death, existence, is qualitatively different from what I imagine, what I can imagine.

Freshman year at Brigham Young University it was clear I did not fit in. Thousands of pristine Mormon youth with burning testimonies to the “truth” of the “Church.” Youngsters who had never experienced, much less acted on, a prurient feeling. I was depraved.

In middle age, I happened on physicist Fred Allen Wolfe’s Taking the Quantum Leap. The notion of electrons leaping about in time zero, light being particles or waves depending on how you observe it, threw a wholly new perspective on physical experience. I read other modern scientists’ attempts to explain the unexplainable to lay readers and picked up bits of quantum fact and theory from TV. Discoveries like virtual particles appearing instantaneously from and vanishing into a vacuum, led me to a growing sense that this “world,” this “life,” this “experience” may not be not at all what I think.

Fall of 2005, meeting Karyn Fenton, a Buddhist, led me to Kagyu Changchub Chuling the following spring. Given my deep skepticism around any woo-woo, voodoo business, KCC’s altar and trappings were decidedly unnerving. Asked to envision Chenrezig, a four-armed apparition on a lotus and moon seat on the crown of my head and repeat “Om Ma Ni Pe Me Hung” over and over, my thoughts ran from bemused to amused to annoyed. What the hell was I into? Still—I'm puzzled why—I returned.

Nine years down the road, I am beginning to synthesize Buddhism, my suspicions and ambivalence around things not seen, and Modern Physics. Most religions fall back on faith alone: believe what you are told. While science too requires faith, it attempts objectively to observe and describe physical experience.

For me, Buddhism is the linchpin between spiritual and corporeal experience. The following quotes, from folks whose thinking goes kalpas beyond mine, seem to bolster this notion:

Concluding The Second Creation Physicists Robert P. Crease and Charles C. Mann recall Rene Descartes’ oft-rebutted notion of both physical and spiritual (my word) aspects to a living body, scoffed at by science as “the ghost in the machine.” In light of Modern Physics, Crease and Mann conclude Descartes’ hypothesis seems indeed incorrect, not because there is no ghost but because there is no machine!

On the mechanisms of a biological cell: “Things are not only stranger than we imagine but stranger than we can imagine.”
Biologist J. B. S. Haldane

“The stream of scientific knowledge moves impartially to a non-mechanical reality, the Universe appears more like a great thought than a great machine.”
Physicist and Philosopher Sir James Jeans

“An objective reality, in the ordinary physical sense may be ascribed neither to phenomena nor the agents of observation.”
Niels Bohr, a father of quantum mechanics

“Past, present, and future are a stubbornly persistent illusion. . . . Also
physical constructs are free creations of the human mind and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world.”
Albert Einstein

The Radiant Buddha said this:
“Regard this fleeting world like this:
Like stars fading vanishing at dawn,
like bubbles on a fast moving stream,
like morning dew drops evaporating on blades of grass,
like a candle flickering in a strong wind,
echoes, mirages, and phantoms, hallucinations, and like a dream.”
The Eight Similes of Illusion,
from the Prajna Paramita Sutras

Back to Descartes and a second roundly debunked conclusion, “I think therefore I am.” I think—or think I think—doesn’t prove anything, much less my existence. Still it feels like something non-physical is going on.

I am with Haldane. Like a stone contemplating the experience of a butterfly, or vice versa, whatever “it” is is stranger than I can imagine. I believe and take refuge, knowing folks far wiser than I seem to agree.

Most mornings I spend half-an-hour with my Friend Chenrezig.

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