Meditations by Lama Matthew Rice Winter 2017

New Core Classes

Matt 8x10I have been a member of the Rime Buddhist Center since 2000. Over the years I have noticed that the Rime Center does a great job of introducing people to Buddhism, whether it is the Basics of Buddhism or the Core Classes. People have found this a rewarding and enriching experience.  But, over the years I have noticed that at some point people reach a level in their studies that no longer gets met by the series of classes that are offered here.  I have always wondered why that is?  What can we do as a Dharma Center to give people the support and training they need to continue to that next level?

When speaking with Rime members about this I have found a diverse set of needs that they are looking for.  Needs such as further study into the various aspects of Buddhism. People have expressed interest in deeper understanding of the Mahayana and philosophical schools.  Others have expressed interest in learning about tantra and incorporating the Vajrayana into their practice.  While others are looking for a teacher, someone they can connect with on a profound level.  All great aims and ambitions.  But where to start?

When speaking with several of our visiting teachers about this it has become clear that the next level needs to be more of a shedra like system of study. The Tibetan word shedra literally means a ‘center for teaching’. In traditional monasteries, the shedra is the school where monastics study the most important Buddhist scriptures. These study centers are often seen as a counterpart to the retreat center, or drupdra, where monastics spend time in retreat. These two are vital parts of the monastic community. They help to preserve the living lineage of the Dharma through the twin pursuits of study and practice.

As the Rime Center moves forward in is my goal to have developed a program of study that emulates the shedras of Tibet, but available to the non-monastic Rime sangha.  Before, we can get to that point of study and learning we need to bring our understanding of Buddhism up to a level that allows us as a community to benefit from that system. A benefit of this is that as members of the Rime Sangha we will benefit more from understanding the teachings of visiting teachers. Allowing us to connect to and deepen our relationship with them.

Our new set of core classes has been designed to teach the fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism.  This in-depth study will build the foundation of understanding that will support the shedra program in the future.  The expectation is that Rime members will take the core classes consecutively as each course of study builds on the previous one.  The core classes are also set up in a three tier system of study.

The first tier is the twelve weeks Basics of Buddhism followed by a two week class on Taking Refuge.  The Basics of Buddhism class developed by our founder Lama Chuck Stanford does an amazing job of introducing people into the basic concepts of Buddhism, allowing students to explore Buddhism in a workshop experience.  If after the Basics of Buddhism the study feels compelled to become Buddhist the class on Taking Refuge will explore what that commitment means and how it is done.  After that class Refuge vows will be offered to those who have completed the tier and wish to take refuge.

The second tier is a series of four week classes focused on various aspects of Tibetan Buddhism.  Each class will build from the previous course.  The topics of the second tier class are; Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Turning the Mind Toward the Dharma, The Preparation of Practice with the Four Wheels, The Mahayana Path and the Four Boundless Attitudes, The Mahayana Path and Bodhicitta, and Parting from the Four Attachments.  Each Winter/Spring and Fall semester will feature three of these classes.  Taken sequentially they will provide a strong foundation for understanding and incorporating the teaching into our everyday life.  After the second tier of classes is completed, Pratimoksha vows will be offered to those who wish to take the vows.

The third tier is a series of classes aimed at developing a deeper understanding of Bodhichitta and how to apply that understand to our everyday life through practice.  There are two six week classes that will be offered.  The first class is on the Bodhisattvacharyavatara or Introduction to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva’s. This class will be a comprehensive study of all the different practices, meditations, and philosophies that are an essential part of the path of a bodhisattva. The second class is on the Seven Points of Mind Training a famous instruction on ‘mind training’ or lojong brought to Tibet by Lord Atisha and written down by Geshe Chekawa. This class will emphasize the practice of bodhichitta, especially relative bodhichitta and the ‘exchanging oneself for others’.  This powerful practice is intended to be implemented in our everyday lives to help subjugate the self-cherishing mind that is at the root of all suffering. At the end of the third tier Bodhisattva vows will be offered to those who wish to take the vows.

It is my hope that after taking the new core classes, members of the Rime Center will be prepared for the Shedra like system of study giving us that next level of development for our practice.   Again these classes are to be taken sequentially, and Rime members who have taken the Basics can start at the tier two classes.  Make sure to check our new class schedule for the core classes beginning in January.