Details of Dharma Leader Training

Dharma Leadership Training (DLT)

Read the letter from Mark Nunberg, Guiding Teacher, and Stacy McClendon, Chair of the Board of Directors.

Nature of Program:

Common Ground will be offering a two year Dharma Leadership Training inspired by Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s Community Dharma Leader training with the following components:

  • Dharma study that supports a deeper connection with the teachings of early Buddhism.
  • Experience sharing one’s practice and one’s understanding of the Buddha’s teachings in a way that supports the deepening of practice for diverse urban communities.
  • Development of dharma leadership skills in supporting Common Ground and other organizations in becoming healthy, harmonious dharma communities for all people.

This training program is designed to develop leaders who share experiences of our diverse urban community. It has been designed to specifically support the training of dedicated students of the Buddha’s teachings who identify as People of Color (POC), Queer or are living with a disability. As such, it is Common Ground’s intention to have at least 50% of the teachers/mentors leading the training to also identify as POC and/or Queer and/or live with a disability.

This is not a training to become a residential retreat teacher, however it is hoped that people completing this training will have the skills and practice background to give dharma talks, offer workshops and engage in other dharma leadership activities. This is a program to prepare people to share their dharma practice in the world.  It is not a training program to specifically train people to be Common Ground teachers, although some members of the cohort may end up teaching programs at Common Ground.

This training program will require a significant on-going commitment of time and energy for study and practice of the Buddha’s teachings and practice preparing and delivering short dharma talks in a small group setting. In addition, trainees will learn how to skillfully offer constructive feedback to others, and how to receive and constructively integrate feedback into future dharma presentations. All Participants will be required to participate in both large and small groups. Participants will be expected to attend 11 of the 12 teaching sessions, and 11 of 12 mentoring sessions during the two year program.

Teachers and Mentors:

The DLT will be overseen by Mark Nunberg, who will be assisted by Shelly Graf, Wynn Fricke, Gabe Keller-Flores, and Ramesh Sairam. Each of the 12 teaching sessions will be taught by one or more teachers, including: Mark Nunberg, Shelly Graf, Wynn Fricke, Nils Heymann, Patrice Koelsch, Kyoko Katayama, Gabe Keller-Flores, Gail Iverson, and Jean Haley. We hope to include some of our visiting teachers as well. 

Small groups of 3 or 4 trainees will be created to provide a more intimate setting for trainees to study together and support each other throughout the two year program. In addition to any informal study meetings that the small groups might organize, each small group will meet 12 times over the two year program, every other month, for a 2-3 hour session where participants will practice giving guided meditations and dharma talks in a safe environment. 

In addition to these study and dharma talk mentoring groups, many of the mentors will also be available to provide spiritual counseling for the trainees. The trainees are encouraged to reach out to any of the teachers as they are inclined.

Possible Topics for Teaching Sessions, Trainee Dharma talks and Oral Completion Exercise:

  • Generosity
  • Integrity: Precepts, Right Livelihood, Relationships
  • Four Divine Abodes
  • Hindrances and other Obstacles to samadhi
  • Samadhi, Stability of Mind
  • Seven Factors of Awakening
  • Four Noble Truths
  • Three Characteristics, Wisdom, and Realizing Freedom
  • Spiritual Counseling (one on one),  Recognizing Trauma and other Mental Health Issues
  • Facilitation Skills with Groups
  • Understanding Oppression and Cultural Conditioning
  • Secular versus Religious, History of Buddhism coming to the West
  • Understanding and Facilitating Ritual and other Community Practice Forms

Teaching Session Dates: Usually every other third Saturday of the month, 1:30 – 5 p.m.


April 15 , June 17,  August 19, October 21, December 16


January 20, March 17, May 19, July 21, September 15, November 17 


January 19, March 16

Selection Procedure:

  1. Interested applicants may find an online application here. Warning: you cannot save your progress in the online application. (click here to preview full application).
  2. In order to be considered, each applicant must attend a mandatory information session on either Saturday, February 11, 5 – 6 p.m. or Thursday, March 2, 7 -8 p.m.
  3. Interested applicants will submit their application to the Common Ground office by Friday, March 17.  
  4. The selection committee (Shelly Graf, Ramesh Sairam, Wynn Fricke, Gabe Keller-Flores, and Nils Heymann) will review all applications and select 6 – 12.
  5. The selection committee will then bring selected applicants to the Guiding Teacher for review regarding goodness of fit for the program.
  6. The selection committee will meet again after consulting with Guiding Teacher to decide if and how to incorporate his feedback.
  7. The selection committee will inform applicants of their acceptance into the program by April 3.

We recognize that there might be many more well qualified people for this program than can be accommodated. Please make sure your application represents a well rounded snapshot of your unique qualifications. This will help the committee fulfill its role as skillfully as possible.

As stated above, our intention is to create a DLT specifically for intended communities (POC, Queer, living with a disability).  There may be 1-3 spots available for people from non-intended communities who can clearly articulate their commitment to dismantling oppression. This training is not appropriate for people new to this practice of understanding or dismantling oppression.  Participants from non-intended communities will not exceed more than 25% of the total participants.

Furthermore, a participant group that is diverse in class, language, and gender identity will also be highly valued in the selection process. Younger folks are especially encouraged to apply, as they represent the future of the dharma.   People who are already in Dharma leadership roles are encouraged to apply.

Characteristics of Ideal applicants (It is not necessary to meet all these criteria to be admitted to the training, but the following are preferred criteria.)

  1. Meditation practitioner for five years or more
  2. The ability to dedicate time and energy to the program
  3. Completed 27-30 nights of residential retreat practice in the Insight Meditation tradition
  4. Depth of practice: familiarity and understanding of the early teachings found in the Pali Canon; history of daily and/or regular ongoing practice; an embodied presence resulting from the realization, integration and active expression of key Dharma principles and practices.
  5. Personal and interpersonal maturity: (1) Personal maturity, regardless of age, that displays emotional and relational intelligence including compassion, patience, equanimity, wisdom, ethical values, and the capacity to work with personal and interpersonal suffering. (2) Dharma maturity allowing the candidate to navigate difficulties and frustrations in practice, in relationships with peers and teachers, and to creatively express the teachings. A history of emotional and psychological self-development is helpful.
  6. Strong communication and leadership skills
  7. Ethical integrity: This includes being aligned and committed to the training and practice of the 5 precepts in all aspects of life. Someone who is recognized as ethical by the communities they are part of.
  8. The aspiration to serve the Dharma out of gratitude, humility, and compassion: A conscious engagement with leadership as a development of one’s own practice, rather than from ambition for spiritual authority, or expression of ego.
  9. A commitment to healing the harm caused by historical racial and other oppression.

To apply, please submit the following:  

Online application which includes:

  • Letter of recommendation from an insight meditation teacher (other than Mark Nunberg) or mentor in a different field who can speak to your readiness for a dharma leadership training. Prompt for teacher/mentor: please describe in 1-2 paragraphs the components that makes this applicant an excellent candidate for this training group.  You may speak to depth of practice, wisdom, lived experience, compassion, maturity and/or temperament. They may email it to with the subject line “Letter of Recommendation for [Applicant’s Name].
  • Personal Statement: You will find in the online application space for a 2-3 page autobiographical essay about the sincere integration of the Buddha’s teachings in your life.  We welcome hearing about the challenges you have had to face and the aspirations you have for the future, including how this training fits into these. Please include any information about your personal history and/or commitment to the dharma that you want us to know but have not stated elsewhere in the application.
  • If you would like to preview the full application prior to submitting online, click here.

Criteria to receive certification upon completion of  training (participants must complete ALL these criteria to receive certification. Some participants may not be able to complete all these requirements by the end of the two-year training, in which case they may ask for an extension.)

  1. 40 Formal Residential Retreat days in the Insight Meditation tradition or equivalent
  2. Complete Study component
  3. Meet Participation Requirement of 11 of 12 small group meetings, and 11 of 12 teaching sessions (in person)
  4. Successfully complete final oral presentation (responding to dharma questions)
  5. Commitment for yearly retreat practice 9+ days per year ongoing
  6. Commitment to daily sitting practice ongoing


Like all programs at Common Ground, this Dharma Leadership Training is offered freely. Two thirds of the donations offered by participants and others in the community wishing to support this program will be shared with the teachers and small group mentors to support their livelihood.