Dharma Rain Zen Center - Stillpoint
What Do You Hope Dharma Rain Zen Center Will Become?
by Domyo Burk
PREAMBLE OF THE NORTHWEST ZEN SANGHA
Articles of Incorporation
Primary Purpose: To provide for the Transmission of the teachings
and practice of Soto Zen Buddhism. To be a sanctuary of Buddha, Dharma and
Sangha in such a way as to cultivate compassion, love, wisdom and understanding
within the members. To preserve the Transmission lineage. To promote lay
practice first, but also provide for priest training. To provide the facilities
and support the priests necessary for these ends, and to meet the religious
needs of the members, their families and the community at large. To provide
the traditional religious services, counseling and instruction of a Soto
Zen Temple, and to provide additional facilities such as retreat centers,
affiliate temples, etc. as deemed necessary by the membership to fulfill
Secondary Purposes: To provide a framework for other activities
as may be deemed useful by the Sangha for their development in practice,
e.g., the study of psychological matters and family issues, the promotion
of social or charitable works, education, etc. These purposes should be an
adjunct to the Primary Purpose, and support that purpose without outweighing
or obstructing it.
Why Strategic Planning?
Dharma Rain Zen Center exists for, is supported by, and is led by its members.
What DRZC looks like in ten, twenty or fifty years depends on all of us.
DRZC’s Mission (see above, included in the Articles
of Incorporation and the Bylaws)
includes transmission of our lineage tradition; periodically we need to
how we are fulfilling
Strategic Planning is the process of a bunch of members leading the Sangha
through a visioning and planning process to guide the Zen Center through
the coming years. For example, if the Sangha decides our goal is to cap
membership at 250 and stay more or less the same, it will guide our decisions
than, say, a goal to grow to 1,000 members and run a Buddhist school.
So why not just let things develop naturally? DRZC is a vibrant, thriving
community with over 200 enthusiastic members. We have many popular programs,
three nice buildings in a beautiful area of Portland, two great abbots and
a good number of senior practitioners and junior teachers who are helping
to maintain our lineage tradition. Why does anything need to change?
Let Me Start With a Story
Our story begins with a little sitting group that met in Gyokuko’s
(then Andrea Kroenke’s) living room in the early 1970s. The group was
part of the Oregon Zen Priory, based in Eugene, and affiliated with Shasta
Abbey, which is in northern California. The group grew slowly to the point
that Shasta sent a priest to lead the Portland group in 1981. In 1982, Kyogen
and Gyokuko moved to Portland to lead the Priory, and the Sangha took the
big step of renting a house in NE Portland to house the Carlsons and hold
practice events. The Sangha paid rent and utilities, and gave the priests
$100 per month between them, but everything else was up to the Carlsons.
Gyokuko held various part-time jobs until 1986. Dharma School started in
1985 with three kids.
It was in 1986 that the Portland group led by the Carlsons became independent
of Shasta Abbey and incorporated as Northwest Zen Sangha, also known as Dharma
Rain Zen Center. It was frightening for the Sangha to take the risk of buying
the “Dharma House” (2539 SE Madison) in 1987. Some worried it
would sink the Sangha financially. But the Sangha grew, and just a few years
later in 1991 the Zendo (2514 SE Madison — yes, it just happened to
be across the street!) came up for sale and the Sangha bought that too.
In the 1990s the Zen Center continued to grow, little by little. Once the
Sangha realized it needed more space but wasn’t quite ready to invest
in a larger, single-campus property, a Strategic Planning process resulted
in the purchase of a second house (the “Sangha House,” on 20th
and Madison) in 1999. In the early 2000s several people were ordained, after
much careful discussion. Over time, support in the form of room, board and
health insurance (and in a couple cases, a small stipend as well) was provided
for the ordained who were serving the Sangha full-time as staff. Around 2005
we sold the first Sangha House and bought the current Sangha House on Taylor
As of 2010, we have five (soon to be six) full-time ordained staff members,
four transmitted lay teachers, three transmitted priests (in addition to
the abbots), an annual budget of around $210,000, an effective and sound
organizational structure, a nationally-known children’s program that
serves over 100 youth a year, and we can discuss fundraising without looking
like we just sucked on a lemon.
The moral of this story? Change happens, whether we want it to or not,
and it often happens fast.
DRZC is what it is today in a large part because Kyogen and Gyokuko had
a vision: to establish a place of practice for lay people that would both
accessible and offer depth of practice to those who wanted it. In the course
of their monastic training they had encountered an attitude that rated lay
practice second-best after monastic practice. Gyokuko was also determined
to involve families and children as an important part of the Sangha, because
in many places children were seen primarily as an obstacle to serious Zen
practice. Other aspects of DRZC are the result of careful choices: its central,
urban location; open-handed offering of the Dharma without an inner and outer
circle of those who are “really” practicing and those who are
not; free Dharma offerings or those with relatively low fees.
Issues Facing DRZC in the Coming Years
So... haven’t we achieved the Carlsons’ vision? We don’t
want to lose that, do we? As we’ve seen, change happens fast, so even
staying more or less the same will take adaptation. Here are some issues
we face in the next five to ten years.
Issues facing DRZC
Succession and Leadership
Our abbots, Kyogen and Gyokuko Carlson, are 61 years old; ideally they
will both be retired within the next 10 years. After their retirement they
live nearby, continue their student-teacher relationships with their disciples,
and will be involved with the temple to the extent they feel comfortable.
A new abbot or abbots will need to be selected and mentored into leadership
of the temple. This kind of transition — especially from founders to
subsequent leadership — has fractured many a religious community. We
also need to envision how lay leadership, including that of transmitted lay
teachers, will figure into the future of the temple.
Rigor in Practice
The composition of our Sangha is changing. We are still good at welcoming
new people and offering a multitude of different Dharma Gates for them to
enter as they choose. Over time, however, we have more and more senior students
that need new challenges and ways to start looking outward to serve the Dharma.
Also, attendance at our sesshin (meditation retreats) is generally low compared
to our membership, even though sesshin are a vitally important part of our
practice. Our residential program, while beneficial for many, lacks the rigor
and structure that many in our community thirst for.
Children and Families
Dharmagarden (Dharma School and Dharma Camp) is a program for which we
are nationally known, and is one of the primary ways we serve the community.
While it is a popular program, it is clear to many — teachers and parents — that
it could be improved, and also may have great untapped potential to grow
or deepen. A paid Dharmagarden coordinator would be able to organize and
strengthen our program — helping teachers to plan lessons, gathering
materials for them, documenting what has worked and what has not. Better
facilities with dedicated classrooms could increase the possibilities open
to teachers. The current program could be deepened, or it could expand, allowing
age groups to be broken up further to allow for more effective lesson planning.
In addition, we have received many requests from families for more support
for their practice and for more ways to participate at the temple as families.
Space for Adult Programs. Our membership continues to grow. During term
we frequently fill the Zendo and need to scramble for extra seats. Even if
deliberate effort is made to limit numbers, some people will select themselves
out when they face crowding conditions. One way people find intimacy in a
large Sangha is by attending various smaller groups and events; we are limited
in what we can put on our schedule by our facilities. While no one is suggesting
growth for its own sake, we do have a responsibility to share the Dharma
with those who ask for it.
Space for Children’s Programs. We are at
the point that Dharmagarden (Dharma School) cannot grow any bigger because
of our limited space. Most
classes are meeting in crowded conditions, and the spaces they use are far
from ideal for activities, lessons and projects. The high school and middle
school groups meet on the opposite sides of a set of thin glass doors and
can hear each other. Twenty grade school boys plus two teachers are often
crammed into a 15' by 15' space for class — and these guys
would really benefit from access to a gym!
Handicapped Accessibility. No part of the Zen Center is accessible by wheelchair.
Every month or two we have to tell someone that, essentially, they cannot
practice with us. Eventually, as our Sangha ages, our current, active members
will end up needing this accessibility too.
Parking. Parking continues to be an issue at the Zen Center. There is a strong
likelihood that we will lose our use of the Rivermark credit union parking
lot (the one right next to the Zendo). If that lot comes up for sale, our
ability to buy it and preserve it as parking may make all the difference
in increasing the value of our Zendo and keeping the building
Abbot Retirement Support. The temple began saving money to support the
Carlsons in their retirement in 2009, over twenty-five years after they began
the temple. Because they have worked for next to nothing all these years,
their Social Security benefits will be negligible.
Abbot Salaries. The DRZC Board has formed an intention eventually to be
able to pay our current and future abbot(s) some kind of salary — probably
around $20,000 plus benefits like health insurance, room and board. The Carlsons
have been a shining example of living on a shoestring in order to serve the
Dharma, but they have also had the benefit of receiving some money via inheritance.
The Board feels strongly that in order to attract and keep one or two full-time
abbots (who don’t work outside the temple), it is our responsibility
to offer a small salary.
Staffing. The Zen Center’s programs, schedule, activities and facilities
are in a large part supported by its five full-time ordained staff members,
including Kyogen and Gyokuko. Currently, staff members receive room, board
and health insurance. Kyogen receives a salary of $10,000 a year, Gyokuko
about $3,200 a year, and Domyo $2,400 a year. The staff is very grateful
for this support and they are doing the work they love. At the same time
we are often overworked, and many things fall through the cracks. We are
used to relying on cheap labor; when the Carlsons retire, and if any of the
ordained trainees decide to leave, the Zen Center will be faced with a serious
staffing issue. As it is, a part-time paid office assistant and/or a paid
Dharmagarden coordinator would be invaluable.
Income. The Zen Center annual budget is about $210,000. We would need to
double or triple that budget by 2020 if we hoped to address many of the
issues listed here. Some of this increase will come from new memberships,
the longer people are members, the more financial support they dedicate
to the temple, so retention of members is perhaps even more important. Fundraising
will continue to play an important role as well. We need to increase our
income while keeping our emphasis on the Dharma, and making sure it remains
available to all regardless of their financial situation.
What Can DRZC Become?
Then we come to the question of dreams. The issues listed above are things
we need to deal with, even if we want to remain more or less the same.
What about visions of what we, as a community, might like to become? Imagine,
DZRC with a new property/properties that better serve our needs. Possibilities:
a single campus where Dharma School and the adult programs are not across
the street from each other. Plentiful classroom and meeting spaces. Parking.
Handicapped accessibility. Room for a residential program and comfortable
rooms for Sangha members to come and stay for short periods or for sesshin.
Grounds for a playground? Another option, perhaps more affordable, might
be two campuses: one Temple campus, centrally located, with a public face,
offices, classrooms, parking, and a large Zendo; and then a Retreat Center
campus, less than 30 minutes from the center of Portland, with our residential
program and space for retreats. Perhaps the Retreat Center campus would have
room for families?
Retirement community and/or an eldercare program. Some members have expressed
an interest in being able to “buy in” to a piece of a residential
campus, for example, once they retire and want to sell their current house.
There have also been discussions about cooperating with other local Buddhist
groups to set up a Buddhist eldercare facility, to provide our aging teachers
and Sangha members the option of spending this phase of life within Sangha.
Where Does Strategic Planning Go From Here?
The Strategic Planning process is about taking the Sangha’s general
ideas and intentions and distilling them into “SMART” goals — that
is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound goals. These
goals will be described in a document (the “Strategic Plan”)
which must be approved by both the Board of Directors and the Dharma Council,
the elected bodies charged with Strategic Planning by and for the Sangha.
Naturally, these goals may need to change over time, and we may not meet
some of them; a Strategic Plan is not something which binds us to a course
but rather keeps us attentive and mindful of the course we are on. Making
things fairly concrete helps to put our current decisions into context. It
makes us think carefully about our priorities. In the end, it gives us a
document that allows us remember what we discussed and to monitor how we
are doing with respect to our goals.
But before we get to the SMART goals we need input from the Sangha about
what their needs are, what problems they face in relating to the temple,
and what ideas and dreams they have about what DRZC could become. Over the
coming months, the Strategic Planning committee — composed of the abbots,
the development director (Domyo Burk), two representatives from the Board
(Jeanna Annen Moyer and Kakumyo Lowe-Charde), and two reps from the Dharma
Council (Joe Shisei Niski and Genko Rainwater) — will be finding ways
to involve interested Sangha members in discussions about Strategic Planning.
Some of the possibilities are:
- Focus groups, open to all, on each of the areas listed above
- Focus groups composed of different populations within the Sangha (such
as Dharmagarden parents, retirees, Lay Disciples, new members) to consider
all the issues from their unique perspective
- Creating a web page where minutes from meetings, proposals and other
relevant documents will be available
- Regular updates via the newsletter and email
- An online forum for discussion of Strategic Planning issues
We look forward to working with you! Ideally, by the end of fall term we
will have a Strategic Plan that reflects the concerns and excitement of the
Sangha as a whole — something that inspires and presents a common