Sutta Study Group Overview
This group was formed in the spring of 2005 as a way to support leaders of the center in deepening their study and practice of the teachings of the Buddha. The program was designed to promote both a greater fluency and depth of understanding of the teachings of the Buddha, and a deeper web of dharma friendships with other leaders and practitioners.
In addition to our monthly formal meetings on the first saturday of the month (either 7:30-9:00am, or 9:10-10:40am; see format below), participants in the Study Group are expected to form small discussion groups (2-5 people). These groups will set their own agenda and time to meet (hopefully every month). This is an important component of this program. It provides a more informal gathering to balance the more formal structure of our whole group sessions. It also creates the conditions for good dharma friendships to develop over time. Finally, it creates an opportunity for people to be more directly responsible for creating conditions which support one’s learning and dharma practice.
Every year we open up our sutta study groups to new members, in March.
The first meeting with new folks will be on the first Saturday of April.
Please read the criteria below and if interested in entering the lottery, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org specifying which of the two meeting times work for you, or both, if they both work.
Criteria for the sutta study group
- Active leader or volunteer at the center or with TCVC, prison group or involved in an outside Dharma role.
- Has had a Buddhist mindfulness practice for five or more years
- Has a commitment to daily sitting practice
- Participants should have done substantial residential retreat practice in the vipassana/insight meditation tradition, (For example, two nine day retreats or three 4-5 day retreats or some equivalent intensive practice experience.)
- Members of the sutta study group should be interested in studying and reflecting on the original source material of the Buddha’s discourses.
From Craving to Liberation by Bhikkhu Analayo
Format for monthly full-group meeting:
Practice leader will ring a bell to indicate when it is three minutes until the meeting is to begin.
- Short Sit
- Council style sharing: 15 – 20 minutes. The practice leader will begin a “go-around” Each person can speak without interruption for one to two minutes, or pass and then speak after the first go round has been completed. The practice leader will ring the bell quietly after 90 seconds as a signal for the person to start finishing up.
Note from Mark Nunberg: I recommend that people prepare their thoughts before coming. We are attempting to bring the fruit of our practice to each meeting, in other words, to express what of value we have learned during this month of working with the readings (this may or may not be related to the particular theme that will be used during the practice discussion). Of course, not everybody will have a brilliant transforming insight from his or her month of study/practice. A simple and clear statement about what is confusing can be a useful contribution. Due to the size of our group, each person’s sharing will have to be brief. Part of the reason for the formal structure is to help mirror back our habit patterns to ourselves. It is important to see our tendencies to carry on and on or to hold back and doubt the worthiness of what we have to say. The discipline of speaking briefly and honestly about our life as informed by the specific teachings in the readings will be challenging for all of us – and, I think this is the point of the study group.
- Group Reading of the sutta: 5 – 10 minutes
- Mark offers background and reintroduces discussion theme, 5 – 10 minutes
- Practice discussion: This part of the study session is designed to allow us to reflect together on the particular practice theme that has selected from this month’s readings. In all of our work together we are attempting to address the very real truth of suffering and the end of suffering in our lives. Keeping this intention clear we can let the discussion unfold naturally to help us illuminate the path of awakening. Individuals and small groups are encouraged to write emails regarding their insights and questions that arise prior to our monthly meeting.
The speaker can bring his or her hands together in ‘anjali’ before and after speaking as a signal to the rest of the group. (It is not necessary for others to respond to the speaker with the anjali gesture.) This gesture is intended to bring in a moment of mindfulness and prevent us from immediately reacting to each other’s comments. Anjali is not the same as a formal bow. Here is a description from the booklet, Discipline and Conventions of Theravada Buddhist Renunciate Communities – A Guide for the Western Sangha, “Another common gesture of respect is to place the hands together in front of the chest, the fingers pointing upwards. The gesture of then raising the joined hands to the slightly lowered forehead is called anjali. This is a pleasant means of greeting, bidding farewell, saluting the end of a dhamma talk or concluding an offering.”
- Silent Reflection and Final Thoughts: After the discussion ends we will have a few minutes of silence. This is time for reflection, note-taking and meditation. Following the period of silence there will be an opportunity for one or two people to offer a summary about the important themes or insights that emerged in the discussion. It would also be appropriate for someone to speak up regarding what is not working well in the group.
- Mark Introduces the next Month’s Readings: 5-10 minutes
- Announcements and business
- Sharing the Merit