Gail’s Talk on Dana

We have the Buddha’s teachings on awakening due to the practice of generosity.

Without the Indian tradition of giving alms to mendicants the Buddha would not have had the means to pursue his path to liberation.

Over the past 2500 plus years this practice has been kept alive through the practice of dana and therefore the teachings are still available to us.

Monks and nuns repay their debt to their lay donors by trying to rid their minds of greed, aversion, and delusion. They are in no way obligated to teach, which means that the act of teaching is a gift free and clear.

The way the Buddha presented the teachings, was through a gradual path starting with generosity.  The Buddha said the ideal gift had six qualities:

“The donor, before giving, is glad; while giving, their mind is inspired; and after giving, is gratified. These are the three factors of the donor…

“The recipients are free of passion or are practicing for the subduing of passion; free of aversion or practicing for the subduing of aversion; and free of delusion or practicing for the subduing of delusion. These are the three factors of the recipients.”

When asked when a gift should be given, the Buddha simply state, “Wherever the mind feels inspired.” In other words — aside from repaying one’s debt to one’s parents — there is no obligation to give. This means that the choice to give is an act of true freedom, and thus the perfect place to start the path to total release.

The sheet by the dana bowl is entitled “freely giving, freely receiving”. This aspiration is 180 degrees from our societal conditioning where nearly everything has a price or comes out of duty, or obligation. We can practice looking for when the mind is inspired to be generous and then choose how to act on that inspiration.

Posted in Teachings & Reflections Tagged with:

Treasurer’s Report 2017

Common Ground Meditation Center

Board Treasurer Report  /  Summary of 2016 Financials

On behalf of the Common Ground Finance Committee and the Board of Directors, I am happy to report that Common Ground Meditation Center continues to benefit from the community’s consistent generosity.

The overall financial goal of Common Ground is the support of our mindfulness practice in a healthy and frugal manner.  The overall financial health of the center is very good.  During the 2016 fiscal year, total donations (dana) were $326,630 a decrease of $499 from 2015. In addition, we received 2016 dana of $36,981 for the operation and renovation of Common Ground Retreat at Prairie Farm versus $44,083 received in 2015. Total Common Ground 2016 operating expenses were $217,712 against a budget plan of $225,326. The net operating income for 2016 was $115,298 and we continue to operate both our city center and the retreat property completely mortgage free.

A Common Ground financial operating principle is to reserve cash on hand at least equal to the annual expense budget for both centers ($234,326 in 2016).  Our 2016 year end cash on hand was $605,842.

The Board offered our Guiding Teacher and Executive Director, Mark Nunberg, a base salary of $49,644 and total compensation of $76,052, which includes professional development and benefits. At year end, the board offered additional compensation of $20,000, which Mark donated to support the center’s diversity programs and retreat property.

Compensation is the largest component in the 2017 budget, and we estimate that we will spend $203,000 in 2017 to support our paid staff and our many ongoing and visiting teachers. Shelly Graf our office manager works 20 hours a week, Gabe Keller-Flores, administrative assistant 20 hours and Gail Iverson, bookkeeping manager 8 hours.

Common Ground volunteers continue to develop and operate the Common Ground Retreat at Prairie Farm. The future improvements, additions and build/improvement time tables are related to the future financial support for these projects. The Board has approved a 2017 retreat operating budget of $750 per month.

I deeply appreciate my colleagues on the finance committee, Gail Iverson, Mark Nunberg and Doug Swanson – their guidance on financial management and insight is invaluable.  Thank you to our Deposit Team volunteers – Steve Burt, Doug Swanson and Evelyn Kaiser, who put in many hours each month to ensure all the donations are counted and correctly entered into our accounting system.

Please let us know if you have questions about this financial review.

With gratitude,

Dave Halsey, Treasurer

Common Ground Meditation Center

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No Music Festival this Fall

Dear Common Ground community,

As you may have heard, the center staff took a step back this year to contemplate the future of the music festival. The festival has been a beautiful and successful event, raising over $50,000 over 6 years for various organizations doing good work in our wider community. Despite this success, it seems that the event has run its course as we were not able to recruit the necessary volunteer leadership to organize the event. For the many community members who have participated in the past, there may be some sadness knowing that we won’t have this wholesome event this September.

Like all things at Common Ground, the festival was a result of community members freely giving their time and energy to support a vision of generosity and compassion, as well as a vision for a fun community event. It’s natural for certain expressions of that vision to lose steam and for others to take their place. For example, currently two new community groups at the center are exploring the intersection of our practice and compassionate engagement: the social justice activists’ community group and the Befriending Immigrants and Refugees community group.

As an organization, Common Ground doesn’t directly support other non-profits financially. Instead, we try to model generosity and compassion, and encourage and support community members to find ways to express these qualities in their own lives, in their own ways. To this end we provide programming that addresses the roots of suffering, in our hearts and in the world, including opportunities to learn together about the roots of societal suffering like racism and climate change.

Please join us in appreciating the goodness set in motion by the efforts of volunteers and performers over the last 6 years of the music festival. You can find a list of the non-profits who benefited from the over $50,000 donated below.

May we all find ways to be touched by suffering and to respond with compassion,

Gabe and Mary Beth

List of Non-Profit Partners:

CEED

Juxtaposition Arts

Doing Good Together

Mn Host Home Network

NOC

Immigrant Law Center of MN

Soup-For-You-Cafe

Project Sweetie Pie

Buddhist Global Relief

St Stephens Human Services

Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice

WellShare International

Dream of Wild Health

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October 25 Screening of “Walk with Me”, a film about Thich Nhat Hanh

Hi folks,

Just a note that on October 25 there will be a screening at the Lagoon theatre of a new film about beloved Buddhist monk and mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh called Walk with Me. More info here http://gathr.us/screening/20525

Also, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12 there will be a screening at the Edina Theater (located at 3911 W 50th St., Minneapolis, MN).

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Seeking volunteers to facilitate meditation at Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility

We are a group of eight women who individually facilitate a meditation circle of up to 12 women every Saturday from 8:00 – 10:00 am.  We also offer a half-day retreat once a quarter and a monthly meditation session on Sunday mornings, 9:00 – 10:00, for an accelerated program within the prison.  Volunteers find this to be a very rewarding experience which deepens our practice.  We see ourselves more as meditation facilitators than teachers.  Our weekly sessions typically include several short sitting periods, mostly guided, some mindful movement such as yoga and qigong, and a short reading for discussion.

In the past year, we began teaching a Buddhist Studies class each term of the year.  The chaplain has asked us to expand this effort and to teach two classes each term.

If we are able to recruit two additional volunteers, we will be able to meet this goal.

Ideally, we think volunteers would have a consistent meditation practice, at least two years involvement with Common Ground, some retreat experience, participation in the CG Buddhist Studies class or equivalent, and some community involvement with Common Ground.  Please be aware that all the current activities take place only on weekends.

Requirements of this Volunteer Effort:

– Background check, application approval, and annual training as a Shakopee volunteer.  The initial training is three hours.  Subsequent annual training sessions are about an hour.

– Volunteers need to be able to transport themselves to the prison.

– Only female volunteers are permitted to go by themselves, consequently male volunteers would not expand the capability of the volunteer pool, but would otherwise be welcome.

– Willingness to commit to approximately one Saturday morning a month and one half-day retreat twice a year.  Ideally, the volunteer would also be willing to lead some of the monthly Sunday morning sessions, and participate in teaching Buddhist Studies classes.

The correctional facility has an extensive, lengthy process for approving new volunteers, which includes a thorough background check and annual training.  We ask that you carefully assess your time availability prior to volunteering.  Once the approval and training are completed, volunteers are welcome to simply come along and observe as long as they wish before leading an activity.

Several of our members would be happy to meet with potential volunteers and talk about our practice with the facility residents.  If you are interested, or have questions, please contact Jan Young, who is our volunteer liaison with Shakopee, at jan.young.mpls@gmail.com.  

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Sue Cochrane’s Four favorite Dharma Quotes

Sue Cochrane came to Common Ground over fifteen years ago to learn mindfulness– she was facing her first serious cancer diagnosis while parenting three young boys and working in her judicial career. When Sue first came to Common Ground she had over 20 years practicing the 12 steps of AA and she went first to the “Mindfulness and the 12 step practice meetings.” It was new, just begun by Craig Vollmar, our beloved teacher, leader and friend who passed away from cancer several years ago.

Sue served on the Family Court Bench in Hennepin County, Minnesota for eighteen years, after a career in legal services.  After her appointment to the Court in 1995, she pioneered a new model on her family court cases which transformed the structure and practice of Family Court into a humane, client-centered model.

__________________________________

Here are four quotes that have touched my heart and made an indelible impact on my practice, my work and my personal life. These are ones that I turn to constantly for support, and they always change my life for the better. It was deeply satisfying looking through a long list of my favorite quotes, which I have collected for years, and choosing these from the many.

  1. “The mind’s nature is vivid as a flawless piece of crystal.

     Intrinsically empty, naturally radiant, ceaselessly responsive” — Shabkar

    —I heard this in a talk from Joseph Goldstein years ago. It changed my understanding of emptiness from “drab” and “uninviting” to “radiant openness”— openness  to whatever arises or happens or approaches. My understanding is that when we open, and allow everything, compassion arises. In this talk, Goldstein also says, “Compassion and emptiness are not polarities– they are expressions of each other.” He talks of Bodhicitta, relative and ultimate. A life-changing talk.

    (Coincidentally I have been working on a memoir about my work in the courts called The Crystal Gavel and this quote added depth to my understanding of crystal.)

  2. “The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.”   —Thich Nhat Hanh

     This quote affirmed my law work as “creative” —I realized when I read this, many years ago on a calendar, that I had not wasted my years as an artist. I struggled with regrets for years until I discovered this quote. Thich Nhat Hanh opened my eyes to see that by bringing my whole self to work—legal mind, artistic creativity, personal history—something artistic followed. Nothing needs to be left behind. This quote helped me realize trying to bring peace and reconciliation to serious conflict, every day, in ways that had not been imagined previously was an art. This work I did was based on what was needed in the moment. I loved working with that unpredictable and creative process, and am and grateful that Thich Nhat Hanh honors the work of peace and reconciliation for us all.

  3. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” —Dalai Lama

    I first heard this in another Joseph Goldstein talk and now see it frequently. I brought it as a theme for an international symposium on Love and the Law I co-designed, soon after receiving a terminal diagnosis. The work allowed me to pull together everything that was meaningful to me. Cheri Maples and Tara Brach and Alex Haley were teachers there. I also used these words to conclude an article I wrote that was published after the Symposium, in the International Journal of Collaborative Law. I am deeply grateful this message of practicing kindness always, (which I applied to the institution of the courts) made quite a stir at first, and now is making its way into many minds and hearts around the legal world. An excerpt of the article was published by the Fetzer Institute.

  4.  “Can this be okay?”  —Mark Nunberg

     When one of my sons was becoming aggressive and out-of-control, before we had an autism diagnosis, we had to turn to calling 911 to have him taken to the hospital for services. I was told by one psychologist he needed to go into an institution forever. I was crushed, but vowed not to let that happen. He made great progress after one intense hospitalization, and I was extremely hopeful; I was new to Common Ground and felt uplifted, thinking that my meditation practice was helping him and our family. I thought the worst was over. The very next day he tried to jump out of a moving car and went back into the same emergency psych unit. I lost all hope. I called Common Ground right from the ER. I am still amazed I did that. I did not know where else to turn. Mark answered the main number. I explained what happened, how all my hopes were dashed, and how devastated I was about his future. Mark’s first words were, “Can this be okay?” Standing there on the hospital’s hallway phone, listening as he said those words, I realized I could see my son.  He was sitting on a hospital bed, with a security guard at his side.  I suddenly knew, of course it is ok, it has already happened. I needed to open my heart to what happened, unconditionally. It was up to me to change in that moment, not him. I was able to feel my heart opening and felt burden lift. Over and over and over I turned to that question in my life with him, with all the difficulties and successes. He is thriving now. These are not just quotes to me, they are living practices. I am so grateful for the teachings you share so generously with us.

    —Sue Cochrane, June 2017

    Listen to Sue’s 2016 talk Awake in the Middleness of Life and Death

 

Posted in Teachings & Reflections

Meditation Instructions from Sayadaw U Tejaniya

Practice instructions from Sayadaw U Tejaniya, a Burmese meditation teacher and monk whose teachings have been influencing Mark Nunberg and other teachers in our tradition. Mark will be basing his Weekly Practice Group talks off of Sayadaw’s teachings.

Here are more instructions from the same retreat with Sayadaw.

 

 

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Generosity: The Art of Being Happy

Generosity: The Art of Being Happy
By Mark Nunberg

It’s nice to reflect on how Common Ground and this whole tradition is built on wholesomeness and the generosity of those who have come before us. It’s unfortunate that all of us, each in our own way, probably have some tension around generosity. It just brings up fear. But in the teachings of the Buddha generosity is really all about happiness. In order to live life and be happy, we need to understand the happiness of generosity. It’s just essential, whether we discover it in relationship with another human being, or in our places of work, or in the communities we are involved in. This circle of giving and receiving is really at the heart of being happy. It’s really the art of being happy.

It’s so beautiful how in the Buddhist tradition generosity is there, right from the very start. The Buddha, being a wise person, understood this basic law of happiness. If you put it in the opposite, it would all make so much sense: does anybody think that having a closed, stingy heart is the way to happiness? No. We know that so clearly. So why isn’t the opposite true? That a heart that is interested in contributing, interested in responding, interested in showing up in a generous way, offering the world what we have to offer, is a cause for happiness. Why don’t we see that?

There’s a beautiful story from the discourses all about this. It’s about Anathapindika, who was known as the number one lay supporter in terms of generosity. This story is from when he first met the Buddha. He was quite a wealthy merchant banker at the time of the Buddha. At one time he was visiting his mother-in-law’s place. Normally, they would treat him with a lot of respect when he would show up, but this time they were all very busy and didn’t seem too concerned with him. So he asked some of his relatives there what was going on, and they informed him that the Buddha and his monks and nuns were coming for their meal the next day, so they were busy getting prepared. When he heard that, he had to ask three times, “Did you say Buddha?” It awoke something in him, a sense that we probably all feel, about the possibility of being awake, of being in this world but not burdened by it, having a mind and body, living the life that we’re living, but not experiencing the weight that we usually experience in our lives.

It wasn’t easy for him to sleep that night. It is said that he woke up three times wanting it to be dawn, but it wasn’t, and the third time he just decided to go off into the night. The monks wouldn’t stay in the towns proper; they would be just outside, in the forest. So Anathapindika set off in the dark of night, and eventually he found the Buddha doing his walking practice in the very early morning, back and forth, mindful, serene, happy. And he didn’t really know what to say, he was a little tongue-tied, so he came up with a very simple statement: “I hope all is well with you sir.” The Buddha sensed the spiritual potential in Anathapindika, so he responded with this beautiful verse:

“Indeed the sage who is fully quenched rests at ease in every way. No sense desire adheres to him whose fire has cooled, deprived of fuel. All attachments have been severed. The heart has been led away from pain. Tranquil, he rests with utmost ease. The mind has found its way to peace.”

And as these stories often go, in that moment Anathapindika had a deep, transformative insight, which in the tradition is called stream-entry. It wasn’t just because of the Buddha’s words; it was probably due to a combination of factors: the Buddha’s words, his modeling of freedom, and Anathapindika’s receptivity. Because of these, Anathapindika understood what the Buddha was pointing to; he directly experienced the letting go of attachment, the letting go of identity, and had a real taste of the path. He became a great student of the Buddha, and there are many, many stories of how Anathapindika supported the nuns and monks. He built monasteries, including a very famous monastery where many of the talks we have today were heard and recorded, first via the oral tradition by memory, then written down centuries later. So we here at Common Ground are in a way the beneficiaries of Anathapindika’s generosity of supporting the monastic community back then.

So part of the understanding of generosity is learning, sensing what moves our heart. And wanting, wishing to respond to what moves our heart, whether we are currently moved by the injustice in the world, or we are moved by the suffering in our own heart or the suffering in our families, or whether your heart is moved by the beauty that you experience at times in the world, or the peace that you experience in your heart. But all of us in different ways, we experience deep movement. We sense what’s not ok, what needs to be addressed: the movement of compassion. We sense the beauty that exists or that is possible and we’re moved by that. But however we’re moved, we can acknowledge that movement, and let it blossom into action, blossom into a kind of trust. Or we let it blossom into our willingness to practice, or to sign up for our next retreat, or to do our morning sit.

In a way, we are falling in love. We all have this capacity for devotion. We see it a lot in the different religious and spiritual traditions. And it also exists in this practice, in this tradition. We channel the love for these teachings and how they support human beings, how they are a cause for people living more skillfully in the world. A verse from the Dhammapada (a famous collection of verses attributed to the Buddha) summarizes all the teachings: “To do good, to refrain from harming, and to develop the heart.” We all know directly in our experience the value of these teachings: to support what is good, to help us refrain from what isn’t helpful in the world and in our lives, and to develop the mind and heart in wisdom and love, resulting in clarity, resilience, stability, deeper understanding, and freedom from reactivity. To different degrees we know these qualities. So why not fall in love with what we directly know and support that so that it’s available for others?

That is the act of generosity. It needs to come out of our own life and our own life situation. It’s a natural movement. And it involves all of our faculties including the pragmatic faculties of understanding our life situation and duties and responsibilities: other beautiful, good things in our life that we’re inspired by, that we’re devoted to, that we want to help set in motion in the world. It’s a study of karma: we’re practicing being real with what we see is of value, sensing the tradition, the wholesomeness of these teachings, how much benefit human beings have found in these teachings, and wanting to be part of that wide and deep river of goodness, in a way that will feel and taste good, not just in the moment, but days, months, years after. That’s really the only way we get a sense of how to let generosity move through us. What will leave a good taste? What will actually be a cause for happiness for us?

Because that’s what it’s about. It isn’t so much about supporting the teachers or supporting Common Ground, or whatever we are moved to do; it’s about understanding how to participate in the causes for happiness, for ourselves and for the whole world. Because it makes us happy! So, the way you figure out how to do that is you have to pay attention to your happiness in the moment. And then just keep tracking it, like “how does that feel?” And then the next opportunity you have you’ll learn from the previous opportunity you had to give. And this isn’t just in our relationship to Common Ground, but in all places in our life, we are learning how to show up in a way that creates and supports the causes for happiness.

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Why and How We Sit

Why and How We Sit
April 19, 2017
Mark Nunberg

There’s an old saying: “If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got.”

This old proverb helps us understand why a person might want to sit down every day and train the heart. Otherwise, the mind is likely to follow the well-worn path of habit.

Mindful awareness illuminates the nature of the mind. It reveals the causes for stress and the causes for release.

Sitting practice expresses our confidence that we don’t have to repeat the past. Instead, we can be inspired to wake up and to express whatever freedom, wisdom, and compassion is possible.

Releasing Duties and Responsibilities:
Is it OK to put down the world?
Can we feel safe putting down, leaving behind all of our survival conditioning for a period of time?

Connecting with Things As They Are:
Undertake the training to connect and sustain attention with things as they are: non-conceptual knowing.

Can we experience the objects of experience not mediated by language?

We often start by turning the attention toward the sensations of sitting in a direct, inclusive, and fresh way: “Sensations are like this now.”

Acknowledge What Gets in the Way of Continuity of Present-Moment Awareness:
See distraction as a teacher. How is it that the mind gets caught up? Promise that is never kept!

Learn to recognize and even name the hindrances; acknowledge them as natural and impersonal forces in the mind; notice the effect of seeing them clearly.

Strategies for unhooking from seductive patterns.

Acknowledge the Wholesome Qualities of Mind:
Is it possible to become as fluent in recognizing the wholesome qualities (mindfulness, interest, energy, joy, calm, stillness, and equanimity) as we have become with the unskillful forces in the mind?

What happens when the mind clearly acknowledges these wholesome states? What happens when the mind becomes attached to pleasantness of wholesome states?

Notice the emotional healing.

Continuity of Awareness Reveals the Causes for Stress and Its Release:

Wise and continuous awareness wears out habits of:
Stinginess (dana),
Harming (sila),
Distraction (doing),
Attachment (renunciation of form, dispassion with perception and feeling, cessation of doing/intention, and relinquishment of self-framing)

Experiencing simple joy/release of non-attachment, appreciating the path and sharing the merit/blessings

Click here for a related Dharma talk Mark gave at IMS in May called “Understanding the Path”.

Posted in Teachings & Reflections Tagged with:

What is our practice?

Dear Friends,

Mindfulness is the practice of opening to and understanding the moment just as it is, whether we are practicing sitting meditation, cooking dinner, or advocating for justice. To begin we make the necessary effort to calm the mind and heart. Without this first step our intention to be present is often overwhelmed by the mind’s habits to struggle with conditions. Instead of struggling, we practice trusting the mind’s capacity to be relaxed, clear, intimate, and willing to feel how it is. This simple, clear seeing is at the heart of mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness is all about cultivating a continuous present-moment awareness. We train in persistence, a willingness to begin over and over again. This training is overseen by the wise and kind heart that appreciates how difficult it is to remain present. Still, no matter how difficult it appears to be, our practice is to gently and persistently return to the simple truth, “This is being known.” Awareness is already available and knowing; the practice is to simply and clearly recognize, “This is being known.” Many people develop whole-body awareness, a direct, non-conceptual knowing of sensation, as a means for developing momentum in their practice. Daily sitting practice and an effort to be present throughout the day are causes for greater joy, tranquility, and insight. This capacity to be present is our wise friend, protector, and guide – this is how we live with greater wisdom, compassion, and ease.

Mark Nunberg
Guiding Teacher

“Nothing whatsoever is to be clung to as I or mine. To have heard this phrase is to have heard all the teachings, to have practiced this is to have practiced all the teachings, and to have understood this is to have understood all that needs to be understood.”
— The Buddha

Posted in Guiding Teacher Letters, Teachings & Reflections