We all need love. Without enough love, we may not be able to survive, as individuals and as a planet. It is said that the next Buddha will be named “Maitreya,” the Buddha of Love. I believe that Maitreya might not take the form of an individual, but as a community showing us the way of love and compassion.
--Thich Nhat Hanh
Although this story involves a lot of names of Tibetan people and places, it is extremely important for our own local community to appreciate the way our family tree has evolved and is growing, creating a direct link between our activities and the timeless lineage of the Buddha. In this post it is my intention to illustrate these connections, and give a picture of how this greater community is evolving, specifically through the organization of the Lama Tsokpa, the community of KTC lamas acting as teachers.
As most of us are aware, there is a massive amount of construction work happening now at KTC on the Maitreya Center, a 35,000 square foot monastery building motivated by the intention of providing a space for ecumenical and cultural diversity and exchange in the greater context of the study and practice of the Buddhadharma that integrates both monastic and lay communities.
The prophecy of the future Buddha Maitreya is common to all of the major sects of Buddhism that exist today. His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche is regarded as an emanation of the bodhisattva Maitreya, and has been prophesied to become the next Buddha after Shakyamuni. The significance of this prophecy is very much a matter of one’s lineage and outlook, but it informs a tremendous amount of the work and intention of the KTC sangha and extended communities.
This prompted a conversation with my good friend Matthew Immergut, a Sociology Professor at SUNY Purchase College. I mentioned that as communities grow, there are new infrastructural needs, and the organizational structure changes. Matthew mentioned that when an institution builds a box, it is in many ways defined by and potentially limited by that box. Matthew asked me how I felt about the new building here, about its vision, and how the community was responding to it. He said that he has noticed a number of communities in the midst of major construction projects and mentioned a local Christian community in New York that built a large building for themselves in the 70’s and have ever since been “chasing the box.”
It recalled other conversations I have had with dubious friends where such a project seemed to them to be a common symptom of the Tibetan diaspora, a compulsive need to build big buildings in order to reclaim what had been lost in Tibet, regardless of whether such buildings were appropriate in the contemporary context. Another friend pointed out that such efforts create a “golden brick” phenomenon where the institution becomes fixated upon the success of their capital campaigns to the detriment of the relevance and health of the community and the teachings.
These are important concerns for our community, both here at KTC and at Milarepa Retreat Center, where the majority of our energy is being put into creating an infrastructure for the future. For decades, Lama Norlha Rinpoche worked and taught in relative obscurity, building only the structures necessary to support the three-year retreats and a monastic community. After eight cycles of the three-year retreat, KTC is now able to expand significantly and increase its reach and diversity of offerings. It will be extremely important that we grow in full awareness of the natural dynamics of institutionalization, and that the community continues to value diversity, authenticity, and the sacredness of human relations. A primary concern for the future must be, “How do we use this space to grow as people, and as people in community?”
For many years now, the words of Thich Nhat Hanh quoted above have provided an important perspective on this question, and tie together many of these concerns in an elegant and open hearted way.
Most anyone who has met Tai Situ Rinpoche knows without a doubt that he is an exceptionally special being, and regardless of the material manifestation of Maitreya Buddha arriving on earth in a messianic eschaton, being connected to him and viewing him as a Buddha is extremely meaningful for me personally and our community in general. It is very meaningful to offer him a home, in much the same way that we worked to build a retreat cabin for Lama Norlha Rinpoche at MOCD.
But beyond this, if we view the Maitreya Center as a home for the future Buddha as the community itself, we are able to integrate many levels of significance into an elegant process that is an expression of the open-hearted fullness of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in a single vision.
An expression of this vision is the Lama Tsokpa, an organization of graduates of the three-year retreat at KTC who regard KTC and Lama Norlha Rinpoche as their primary home and teacher. “Lama Tsokpa” means “Gathering of Teachers” or “Teacher Association,” and over the past year has developed itself as a organizational body overseeing many aspects of the activities of KTC and its affiliates. Different dimensions include drafting a code of ethics and creating an Ethics Committee; supporting the three-year retreatants before, during, and after their retreat; supporting and organizing affiliate center activities and teacher visits; developing pastoral care skills and resources; developing mental health resources; and creating a teacher training program for KTC teachers.
These different dimensions have been well articulated and implemented, and over the past year, many different initiatives have begun and brought benefit to our local and extended communities. The aspect of teacher training has always been the central focus of the Lama Tsokpa, and is intended as a means for the students of Lama Norlha Rinpoche who have completed at least one three-year retreat to develop their skills as teachers and expressions of our lineage of the Buddhadharma
Presentations were given by senior teachers on various topics such as The Three Yanas, the Four Noble Truths, Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation, and Teaching in Non-Buddhist Contexts. Other sessions were devoted to roundtable discussions on various topics such as Lineage, Vows, the Use of Social Media, Ethics, and Liturgy. There were also daily workshop sessions to illustrate different aspects of teaching meditation and basic Buddhist dharma. The week progressed into workshops led by the recent retreat graduates who presented short dharma teachings and meditations in order to demonstrate and practice their teaching skills.
The Teacher Training practicum concluded with a teaching by Lama Norlha Rinpoche, and the KTC community offered him the traditional representations of the Body, Speech, and Mind of the Buddha.
The practicum illustrated the fluid nature of students and teachers, and was an effective way of developing ourselves in both of those dimensions. But beyond being a training, it gave us all an opportunity to share our distinct voices with one another, and for the creative dialectic of tradition and innovation to express itself in an environment of mutual respect and concern. It became apparent that as a group we were in a process of creating ourselves as teachers, as members of an emerging community, and as contemporary holders of the lineage of Lama Norlha Rinpoche, Tai Situ Rinpoche and the Kagyu lineage in general.
There was an explicit and mutually felt confidence and inspiration about our role as teachers and our ability to move forward in creative and beneficial ways that speak to the diversity of needs in contemporary society, yet remain true to the intention of our particular lineage.
This was a crucial step in answering the question of how we are moving forward as a sangha, how we are going to fill the enormous space and potential of the Maitreya Center, how we are connecting with the blessings of our teachers, and how we are actualizing the recognition of the sangha as Maitreya Buddha himself. It is this current of maitri (loving kindness; Pali metta; Tib. jampa) that is being cultivated and immeasurably shared, and it is this loving kindness that will ensure that both our buildings and our community will continue to grow and bring benefit to our world.