For the Sake of All Beings, We Vow This Conversation: Report from Gen X Dharma Teacher Gathering

Rev. Jay Rinsen Weik of Great Heartland Buddhist Temple of Toledo, Ohio, reports on the Gen X Dharma Teacher Gathering held earlier this month in Escondido, California.

Recently, a historic gathering of Gen X teachers of the Buddhadharma occurred at Deer Park Monastery in California. This retreat and conference was for Western teachers — of any recognized Buddhist lineage that offers refuge in the Buddha, dharma, and sangha — born between 1960 and 1980, and for whom teaching is a major life direction.

The mornings began with silent meditation practice, followed by a practice led by representatives from the different lineages. The rest of the day was designed to offer opportunities for safe and candid conversation among the participants around topics that they found compelling. These conversations were about diversity, holding teachers accountable, dealing with difficult dharma topics, sustaining ourselves, different views about the increasing prevalence of secular mindfulness, dealing with money, LGBTQ concerns, sharing the dharma with kids, learning about each other’s experiences in the dharma, and more. Crowd-sourcing of topics, open space, mapping processes, self-selecting affinity groups, and fishbowl conversations were what the time was set aside for.

Over the past two years, the organizing committee (of which I was a member) held about eight conference calls and one onsite meeting in preparation for the event. Being part of the team allowed me to see it all unfold from the beginning.

One of the things that became a clear theme to me as the Gathering played out was that the challenges and opportunities that this generation faces are truly not the same as those of the generation before.

Many of those teachers who came before us have spent their lives engaged in efforts to translate the dharma from its Asian roots, spending years of effort parsing the differences between Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Indian language and culture and the deep truths of the Buddhadharma. Of course, for most lineages this work continues on to a greater or lesser extent, but each young teacher stands on the shoulders of those who have done an immense amount of work in this area for us, for which we are all unspeakably grateful.

Of course, the past generation of teachers also have their shadow aspects, as do the institutions and lineages which have been passed on through them.

As the holders of the dharma in the West in the 21st century, it seems to me that we are likely to unconsciously carry on these shadows (as well as the gifts of these lineages) unless we do something differently. Happily, this gathering is evidence to the fact that many of Gen X teachers are doing that different thing.

And the different thing, as I see it anyhow, is a simple and profound one:

It is conversation. Real and true conversations between lineage holders were conducted in safety and trust, addressing about those elephants in the dharma room that desperately need attention.

Gone are the days of the culty and isolated rockstar dharma teacher beyond question — or at least the Gathering’s participants hope them to be gone. Those who would assert that they or their lineage alone hold the sole keys to the Buddha’s truth would have been very out of place in the midst of those of us who gathered at Deer Park Monastery for our sessions of conversation and interaction.

Agreement on every point was certainly not a requirement, but treating each other with respect and integrity in the midst of deep and at times difficult listening and speaking was. And it happened in spades, over and over again, as the days of retreat unfolded.

It happened in conversations in the desert grove and high in the mountains, in conversations in the Dharma Hall and the tea rooms, during walks and over meals.  It happened in conversations between teachers of different lineages sharing honestly the joys and sorrows of inheriting and holding up the lamp of the dharma to the winds and darkness of the world as we find it today.

And all of these conversations had one major thing in common, so as far as I could see: No one voice was dominant. No one tried to take over and make it their show.

That is no small accomplishment in an assembly filled with the charismatic and capable leaders of sanghas across American, Canada, and Europe. This fact alone is enough to suggest to me that things are headed in something of the right direction.

And so it seems that a kind of template has been set. There is great interest in holding these Gen X Dharma teacher meetings again every few years, and there are already several groups and projects forming from the retreat that will in some way shape the direction the dharma takes going forward.

My sincere hope is that this Mahasangha teachers’ conversation will continue and deepen as time goes on, and that these conversations will continue to inform and shape the health and vibrancy of the Buddhadharma’s continued transmission to the West.
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Rev. Jay Rinsen Weik is a Dharma heir of James Ishmael Ford, Roshi, and serves Great Heartland Buddhist Temple of Toledo, a Boundless Way Zen affiliate. For more from him, visit him online at www.JayRinsenWeik.com.