Kagyu Changchub Chuling seal     Newsletter — February 2015


Greetings, !

As you will see in this issue, KCC is bursting with activity these days. Chief among these is preparation for the first Three Year Retreat. We are honored to feature Kathleen Benz, a long-time sangha member, who has generously shared her reflections on entering into long retreat. Also featured is a rich reflection on the journey to India that many sangha members made this winter. You will also want to read about the important internal changes KCC is undergoing to meet the challenges that come with growth.

Please enjoy this issue and let us know how it can be improved.

Kathleen Benz and SCOL’s First Three Year Retreat

By Deborah Brink Wöhrmann

Kathleen BenzFor Kathleen Benz — one of the 11 people who will enter into Three Year Retreat on April 4 at SCOL — finding KCC was sort of like falling in love.  She had seen herself as a failed meditator—had tried it back in her 20s.  “I did it for a year and then had a baby.”

Her teacher in Berkeley suggested she practice with a mantra instead.  “For 16 hours a day I would quietly repeat this mantra in my mind, but I was not able to sit and meditate,” she says. She cared for her children and went about her daily life, quietly carrying the words—not realizing the impact this habit was having on her life.

She was afraid she would again “fail.”  It was 1993, and KCC was on the verge of big changes. Lama Michael Conklin, fresh from his Three Year Retreat, had just moved to Portland from the Bay Area. “I was deep in a full-out midlife crisis, and I needed tools,” Kathleen recalls. “I began with just five minutes a day. I knew I could handle that.”

She experienced her first weekend-long retreat in 1995—on her 50th birthday. Back then it was a full house when ten people gathered on a Sunday, nothing like today’s crowded urban center.

Growing up the oldest of three in a military family that traveled around the world, Kathleen had often been called upon to lead the way. Yet, at this point in her life, she realized she needed to take a break from this habit.  “I resisted. I didn’t want to be depended on,” she says.

News and Events

In This Issue

Kathleen Benz and Three Year Retreat

Save the Date: April 4th

Reflections on India

KCC in 2015:
A Giant Leap Forward

Please Help!

KCC seeks use of RVs or campers to house people at SCOL for up to six weeks starting April 4.  To donate or rent at a reduced rate, contact Linda Besant.

Upcoming Events

SCOL Work Party, February 20th-21st

New Member Orientation, Monday, March 16th

Three Year Retreat Sealing, April 4th

Overview of the Three Turnings, Saturday, April 18th




Sally and Jeff Alworth, Barbara Bell, Linda Besant, Deborah Brink Wöhrmann, Julie Hurlocker, Sally Mead, Barbara Miller, Rosemarie Sweet, and Dean Conklin ​contributed to the production of this newsletter.

Yet by 2000, when the KCC board visited the land near Goldendale to consider it as the future Three Year Retreat land, Kathleen was serving on the board. “I knew then I wanted to live out there someday,” she says.

She had already brought KCC’s bookkeeping methods into the electronic age, sometimes helped with the children’s program, and led meditation when needed. In other words, she was deep into KCC’s development and held plenty of responsibilities, especially financial (since she ran her own bookkeeping business).

When she first realized she wanted to do a Three Year Retreat, there was no way she could: Her family situation made it impossible, and she had a vital business with clients who counted on her.  Nonetheless, in 2001, she and Julia King Tamang were among a number of people who went to India and received empowerments to someday do retreat.

Kathleen—who turns 70 in March—says one reason for aspiring to go on long retreat is curiosity: “Over the years I've heard more than one person say, after completing a Three Year Retreat—independent of each other—that after a year they felt they couldn't go on. But after three years they felt they could go on forever.  What could happen given that long time frame?” she wonders.  She is also curious how life will be when no one is depending on her. “What would I be if no one depends on me? Who am I?”

Finally, she relates to Alan Wallace who says it takes 10,000 hours to hone a skill—music, medicine, athletics—to become exceptional at something. “Compassion and insight are skills that can be cultivated in much the same way,” Kathleen says. The retreat is an opportunity. 

She began to prepare for this stepping away from lay life years ago. More important than giving away books and pottery or selling her home of thirty years has been spending quality time with people she loves.

For five years, she visited her parents in Texas for a week each month. Her mom—who had been one of Kathleen's biggest supporters—had Parkinson's. Because Kathleen was self-employed, and her children grown, she could make her own schedule.  “It was a precious time,” she says.  Kathleen’s mother passed on three years ago. Her 91-year old father is still driving and well and lives in a senior community in Texas.

Over this past spring, Kathleen spent a week with her sister who was recovering from a mastectomy. This time gave them the chance to visit in a way they hadn't in years.

Her three sons say, “If it's what you want, go for it.” Yet, she has found some resistance from friends who don't understand how she can simply take off—and leave them—for three years. Some worry they won't meet again. Kathleen realizes they feel as if she is abandoning them. She tries to assure them of her care and her own long-time aspiration to spend these years in contemplation and growth.

“For me, it all happened as it needed to happen,” she laughs and then relays the story of Milarepa and how his teacher, Marpa, asked him to build towers.

“Over there,” said Marpa, and so Milarepa built the towers as instructed.

“No—I think they need to be built over here instead,” Marpa responded.

So, Milarepa broke the towers down and rebuilt them again—according to Marpa’s instructions.

“Milarepa was being put through experiences he needed to have. He was paying his dues—so he could become who he needed to become to be better prepared for the next part of his journey,” says Kathleen. So it has been for her.

“I like Buddhism because it doesn't tell people how to think. It offers tools. The Dharma teachings come from thousands of years ago—saying the same things that we need to hear today,” she says. “It reminds me that I have the choice of the view I hold. It's not easy—and I must remind myself often.”

“There is a tradition in my family to do further education late in life: The Three Year Retreat will be mine.” She is grateful for the teachers at KCC and for Bokar Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche and Khenpo Rinpoche. “They have all been pivotal on my journey to Three Year Retreat.”


Saturday, April 4th, mid-morning to mid-afternoon, at Ser Chö Ösel Ling

KCC is hosting a Sealing Ceremony for 

its first group of Three-Year Retreatants

Reflections on the Journey to India

By Julie Hurlocker

I felt inspired to travel to India this year, enticed by many rich opportunities and offerings.  It wasn’t only the precious combined Mahamudra and Yidam seminar teachings. There was this year’s Kagyu Monlam celebration, with special commemoration of the lives and works of Kalu Rinpoche and Bokar Rinpoche, with such an awesome gallery of pictures and Thangkas, visually capturing some of the wonder of their amazing lives. And how could I miss the opportunity to receive the blessings of the Shangpa empowerments right alongside several of our own Three Year Retreat aspirants? All of this was set on the sacred ground in and around Bodhgaya, a destination for Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world.

There is always something of a shock, I imagine, even for seasoned India travelers, crossing the cultural and economic divide between here and there.  I am armed with face masks, water treatment strategies, food precautions, diarrhea remedies, hand sanitizer, flashlights for the frequent, inevitable electrical brown outs, and toilet paper and am foggy from long hours of travel and time changes. We land in a part of the world where the poverty and conditions under which most of the population lives challenge my heart and mind to stay open—to feel and be with what is, without giving in to the tight resistance I feel, not wanting it to be so...

Not only did we enjoy the exuberantly kind and cheerful teachings and presence of Khenpo Lodro Donyo Rinpoche at the Mahamudra and Yidam seminar, but thanks to Rinpoche’s own perseverance and trusty Ngodup’s tireless effort, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa himself was convinced to generously grace us with the yidam empowerment.  It was quite amazing—at barely a moment’s notice, he and his entourage pulled together all the necessary accoutrements, objects and rituals.  The empowerment itself was a most personal ceremony, so preciously intimate compared to the other opportunities to be in His presence.  It included some personal reflections in English from His Holiness himself.  We were all so grateful for that alone.  But I must confess my added awe and gratitude for the food offering we all received (all 200+)—a generous serving of delicious cheesecake!

The Mahamudra and Yidam seminar was amazing, full to the brim with students at all levels, from beginners to seasoned practitioners of several decades.  It was presented by Khenpo Rinpoche eloquently and with great care to include for us all the precious teachings, while thoughtfully condensing those teachings into fewer, richly-filled days, so that participants could attend all of His Holiness the Karmapa’s teachings and empowerments that started before the originally planned end of the seminar... another blessing.

The accomplishments of this young being, His Holiness The 17th Karmapa, are truly awe-inspiring.  To accommodate the ever-expanding Monlam, he designed and organized the structure and sacred decor of the huge pavilion. Originally built to accommodate 8,000, this year it held more than 12,000 of us.   He compiled a 630-page book of prayers, translated into several languages, with liturgies drawn from varied traditions, emphasizing the “words of the Buddha” in his genuine non-sectarian approach.  He planned, organized and presided over a vast schedule of ceremonies, offerings, teachings empowerments, and personal interviews.  Throughout the events, he remained a serene, compelling and compassionate presence, tirelessly offering his blessings to everyone.

Chanting started early and made one feel immediately a part of something much bigger than the small, often uncomfortable, “me” and “us.”  The crowds in the pavilion were overwhelming, but heart filling.  Fifty countries were represented.  Translations in twelve languages were broadcast over FM radio.  The pavilion was packed every day, no matter the bone-chilling, unrelenting cold of the long mornings.  Despite the close packing together of people, all 12,000 of us were nourished with seemingly endless supplies of hot butter tea and thick bread delivered by monks and nuns in huge baskets and large teapots during morning and afternoon sessions.  

Following Monlam, thanks to KCC and our dear Lama Eric Triebelhorn’s efforts, His Eminence Gyaltsab Rinpoche agreed to offer the Shangpa empowerments needed for our Three Year Retreatants.  Even though it wasn’t otherwise formally announced—place and dates were all last-minute decisions—word got out.  The temple was packed to overflowing with at least 300 people, many of whom expressed their gratitude to KCC for instigating and organizing such a wonderful occurrence.

With his usual clarity and lightening speed, Lama Eric provided a simultaneous translation of the teachings and descriptions of empowerments. The immediacy of this made possible for us a very rare and rich experience of these precious transmissions.

Thanks to the efforts of several, most importantly, our own Lama Eric, we were able to enjoy small-group interviews with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Khenpo Rinpoche, His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrol (4th incarnation), and His Eminence Gyaltsab Rinpoche.  Each, with their unique and inspiring presence, radiated their blessing.

Finally, there were the many blessings of all the interconnections; the dharma friends from different parts of the United States and from around the world, many of whom have been coming more or less annually for decades.   Thanks to those who have made this trip regularly over the years, fostering our connections with the lineage as well as these deep friendships across the globe.

May all who feel the inspiration, and have the opportunity, be free of fear, hesitation and interferences and continue these journeys, keeping this annual tradition and these precious connections alive.

KCC in 2015:  A Giant Leap Forward

What a time it is for KCC!

In this sangha, we are often packed in like sardines at 73 NE Monroe, poised to burst out into a new Urban Center. The New Urban Center Team is watching the Portland real estate market like hawks; and a visionary donor whose life dream is to serve the Dharma by helping KCC acquire a new space is ready to contribute one million dollars. KCC will take the leap into a new urban center quickly when the right property comes on the market.

Meanwhile, on April 4th, eleven people will enter Three Year Retreat at SCOL. This is a huge accomplishment—the fruition of 15 years of dedication to the Dharma and the Shangpa and Karma Kagyu lineages, and a concrete (pardon the pun) commitment to the value of deep practice, not to mention a testament to the tenacity of this community.

KCC’s Board of Directors cannot imagine a time of more exciting opportunity. We also understand that such opportunities generate change, change, change. We the people who find our spiritual home in the Dharma, who love Lama Michael’s and Bill’s teachings, and who find family in this community, must leap forward to meet the opportunities we have generated.

Sustaining a larger and therefore unavoidably more expensive Urban Center, and supporting the Three Year Retreatants at SCOL, require a substantially larger budget than KCC has ever needed before, and more volunteers. The Board is planning carefully for ways to function as a larger sangha, and to raise the necessary funds. Every month for the next several months, in this newsletter, on the KCC listserv, on the bulletin boards at the urban center, and on Sundays, we will tell you about what’s coming next to invite and in fact urgently encourage your participation and financial support. We start this month, with the three announcements that follow. (And wait until you see what’s coming in March…)

During teaching and Q and A the last several Sundays, the topic of faith has arisen several times. We have had helpful discussion about the Buddhist perspective that encourages personal examination and experience as a basis for confidence and trust, rather than blind faith. Decades of experience with this sangha give KCC’s Board of Directors confidence that we will indeed leap forward to meet 2015’s extraordinary opportunities.

KCC Announces A Job Opening For The Position of Administrative Coordinator

20 hours per week, starting at $16/hour

If you are a person who...

  • Is excited about the challenges facing KCC in 2015, and wants to play a major role in helping us meet them
  • Enjoys supporting others to organize their work so everyone’s responsibilities fit together smoothly
  • Loves to set up systems and organize office spaces and computer files
  • Can call on the paramita of patience when working in an organization that will still be 90% volunteer-run

Please contact Linda Besant right away to talk about submitting an application, résumé and references for this position.

In addition to helping KCC function smoothly and efficiently, KCC’s Administrative Coordinator will have strong management, communication, and computer skills, and basic bookkeeping knowledge.

Lama Michael Appoints A Personal Assistant

With an active Board of Directors and numerous functioning committees in place, Lama Michael has decided to gradually shift the emphasis of his work to focus more on KCC's core spiritual activities and away from day-to-day involvement in most of the administrative work.

 At the same time, he wants to be sure that KCC’s Board of Directors and others have the Resident Lama’s explicit support on important decisions.  To make this shift, he asked Sally Mead to fill the role of his personal assistant.  Sally agreed to do this for the coming months and to train a replacement if that fits.

It is Lama Michael’s wish that the outcomes of this shift will increase his face-to-face time at KCC, specifically the number of hours he can dedicate to teaching and interviews, and to meetings with individuals in key volunteer positions.

He and Sally are developing ways to facilitate this change, like a garden growing naturally. Sangha members will be informed about specific plans as they are worked out.

Announcing New Member Orientation

Join us for our first-ever new member orientation. This 90-minute meeting (and not a minute more!) is designed for people who want to learn more about the opportunities to practice and volunteer at KCC. We will cover the various programs available for practice throughout the year at KCC so you can plan ahead. We will also give an overview of the different kinds of volunteer roles at KCC so you can consider whether one offers a good fit. There will be many opportunities to ask questions and learn how things work. Come if you are relatively new to KCC and would like to learn more, have been attending for awhile but still have questions, or would just like to see other sangha members. 

Oh yes, one other thing: we will have cake.

Monday, March 16th, 7 to 8:30 pm, at KCC

P.S. If you’ve been part of KCC for a long time and have friends who want to know about the community, please invite your friends and join us.

Upcoming Events at KCC

To keep current and check in on happenings at KCC's urban center in Portland, go to the homepage www.kcc.org and view the rundown.

Class to be offered:

Overview of The Three Turnings/Refuge & Shamatha

Saturday, April 18th, 9 am -4:30 pm—led by Bill Spangle.


Seven Point Mind Training Study Group: This group meets every other week at KCC.

If you haven't had a chance to stop by for the Seven Point Mind Training Study Group, mark Thursday evenings (usually the second and forth), 7-8:30 pm on your calendar. Check the website for specifics or contact Tim Campbell.

Newcomer’s Night - monthly

An introductory session for newcomers to Buddhist practice or to KCC, offered the third Thursday evening every month.

All-day Sit: Monthly on the First Sunday

Each first Sunday is an all-day sit, alternating between Zhinay and Chenrezig.

Young Adult Group: Friday, March 6, 7-9 pm.

“Ananda... Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.” - Upaddha Sutta

Join in for a community gathering of practitioners under the age of 35.

View this message in your web browser.

Click here to unsubscribe from KCC’s e-newsletter.

Our mailing address is:
73 NE Monroe Street
Portland, OR 97212
United States