Jan Chozen Bays Roshi delivered the Family Dharma Conference's keynote Dharma talk..
As Buddhism takes root in North America, Buddhist parents and sanghas are increasingly encountering the need, and the opportunity, to share the Dharma with children and to engage in forms of practice that welcome and support families. With relatively few pre-existing models adapted to western culture, many have responded with experiment and ingenuity in creating a path for the next generation.
The January 22-23 Family Dharma Conference, co-sponsored by the Northwest Dharma Association and Nalanda West, brought together an abundance of resources and ideas. The program included a keynote Dharma talk presented by Jan Chozen Bays Roshi of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon and panel discussions on “Family Friendly Sanghas” and “Dharma at Home”. It was an ideal Mahasangha event, with much sharing and cross-fertilizing among practitioners from different traditions. (See bottom of page for links to complete audio recordings and video excerpts.)
In her Friday night Dharma talk, Chozen Bays Roshi noted that in the past, in many parts of the Buddhist world, monastic practice was considered the “real practice” and the role of lay people, those with families, was to support it. “But the monastic voice,” she said, “is only one of many inner voices.”
A practicing pediatrician, Bays offered a prescription for those following their inner voice in family life:
As part of the morning panel on "Family Friendly Sanghas", Azad Zimmermann (center) speaks about his experiences at Dharma Rain Zen Center's summer camp, Mandala on the Mountain. At left are Rhiannon Mayes, of Sakya Monastery, and son; on right is Joyce Tsuji of Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple..
For children facing the uncertain future, the best gift, she said, is to teach empathy “as an antidote to fear”.
The panel on “Family-Friendly Sanghas” consisted of Lidunn Cain and Sissel Johannessen of Puget Sound Zen Center; Laura Corwin and Megan Parke of Seattle Shambhala Meditation Center; Rosie Schwartz of Seattle Insight Meditation Society; Rhiannon Mayes of Sakya Monastery; and Elliott Zimmermann and Joyce Tsuji of Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple. Elliott’s son Azad joined the panel to talk about his experience at Dharma Rain Zen Center’s summer camp outside Portland.
Among the many ideas that came up were suggestions for alternating “structured practice” with play and work during retreats with children, as well as ways to offer compassion exercises and opportunities for social outreach; the advice to create “loud practices” for children; and examples of adapting ceremonies such as those used in Japan for Girls’ and Boys’ Days to other settings. Both panel and audience members were busy taking notes on ideas and resources throughout the presentation and informal groups came together afterward to continue the conversation.
Jon Prescott of Bellingham Mindfulness Community and Stacy Lewis of Seattle Insight Meditation Society were members of the afternoon panel on "Dharma at Home".
The afternoon session on “Dharma at Home” brought together a diverse group of panelists from different sanghas, including Jill Goldvarg of Nalandabodhi; Lama Padma Gyatso of Chagdud Gonpa Amrita; Erica Rayner-Horn of Dzogchen Community Seattle; Jon Prescott of Bellingham Mindfulness Community; and Stacy Lewis of Seattle Insight Meditation Society. They shared their triumphs, challenges, and heart experience as parent-practitioners in a lively conversation about looking deeply into their own minds and hearts as they nurtured those of their children.
The spectrum of experience ranged from parents with toddlers to parents with multiple children, to a grandparent, all living in various circumstances, but all sharing the bond of taking their parenting to the path of liberation.
Topics discussed included ways of introducing children to the form and meaning of Buddhist rituals, the deep listening and sharing that transpires between parents and children alike, and integration of Buddhist practices and teachings with processes of child development and education. Both panel and audience members shared memories and lessons about the challenges of seeding emerging minds with insight into compassion, openness, wisdom, gentleness, and confidence.
From their diverse perspectives, participants offered practical ideas about meditation and retreat, plus advice on working with discipline and behavior with patience, wisdom, and compassion. Another topic was questions, the voyage of investigation within, for both children and parents together. Gratitude for the experience of children and what it invokes in parents, for each other, and for the Dharma, was a unifying theme.
Children released a container's worth of bait worms (center) as an act of compassion for living beings. This is how Rhiannon Mayes' daughter, Metta, illustrated the event a day later. A link to a short video of the worm release, "Saving Lives", can be found below and on the NWDA website.
Throughout the morning and afternoon sessions, the Children’s Program carried on its merry activities downstairs. Coordinator Lisa Kennedy of Nalanda West, with helpers Samar Abulhassan, Chris Dalton, Zoey Frank, Diane Gregorio, and David McKinney, created a day-long event that included finger-painting, clay-sculpting, stories and songs, and the ever-popular eating of snacks. Rhiannon Mayes of Sakya was instrumental in sharing not only her time, but ideas and supplies. Phyllis Moses, a teacher of Tara dance for both adults and children, led the musical component.
A highlight of the children’s activities was the compassion-generating worm release, captured in a short video: “Saving Lives”. (See link below.) Wrapping up the program, the children joined the assembly of parents and other adults in Nalanda’s shrine room where they offered a song and paper flowers they had made.
Many who attended the Family Dharma Conference expressed deep appreciation for the opportunity it provided to meet and share with others, as well as enthusiasm for the prospect of continuing the experience in future collaborations. Joyce Tsuji of Seattle Betsuin, with the encouragement of Rev. Don Castro, has proposed that their Dharma School host an open-house gathering sometime in the months ahead.
Fruits of the conference are already beginning to appear: Seattle Insight Meditation Society is currently drafting a protocol for establishing its own family program and Nalandabodhi is also engaged in making plans to integrate families.
The Family Dharma Conference attracted interest from as far away as Ohio and North Carolina, as well as from many in our region who live too far away to attend. Thanks to the generosity of Nalanda West’s technical staff and Northwest Dharma Association board member and videographer, Caterina De Re, we’re very pleased to be able to offer complete audio recordings and video excerpts of the proceedings.
For links to audio and video of the Family Dharma Conference, please go to: www.northwestdharma.org/dharmatalk.html
For more information about the sanghas that participated in the Family Dharma Conference, please visit the Group Directory page of the Northwest Dharma Association website: www.northwestdharma.org.
Contributors: Julie Welch, Nick Vail.
Photos: Caterina De Re.
Art: Metta Mayes.