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One Common Thing

written by Diane Brooks

Organized chaos prevails every Friday afternoon in the sprawling basement of Seattle’s University Temple United Methodist Church.

Soup Kitchen

Homeless denizens of the University District fill the high-ceilinged space, a much-appreciated refuge from the cold, drizzly winter weather. Volunteers hand out sandwiches and hot coffee; men and women await their turns for a hot shower and laundry services (provided twice-weekly by the nonprofit Urban Rest Stop); drug addicts drawn by the church’s needle-exchange program stick around to socialize or to shop at the weekly Thrift Store that temporarily occupies half the room.

“It’s a little ecosystem,” said Rev. Pat Simpson, senior pastor of the church. The Thrift Store, for instance, uses its proceeds to buy sleeping bags, backpacks, underwear and food for homeless clients.

“It’s one of the most heart-warming places of the city,” she said.

In the basement kitchen, more volunteers are busy preparing the Friday Feast — a free, restaurant-quality meal attended by about 150 people each week.

When the weekly “feast” ends at 7 p.m., most of the dining tables will be cleared away as the basement space transitions back into the ROOTS Young Adult Shelter. ROOTS (Rising Out of the Shadows) provides overnight shelter, dinner, hot breakfasts and showers for homeless people ages 18 to 25. Bunks and floor mattresses provide sleeping spots for 45 young people each night.

Members of Seattle’s Nalandabodhi sangha recently turned out to help with multiple Friday Feasts, as part of the international Tibetan Buddhist organization’s focus on homelessness. Each year the global sangha celebrates Lhabab Duchen, one of four annual festival days commemorating special times in the life of the Buddha, by engaging in a mindful activity that emphasizes community engagement.

“It’s a real inspirational time for us to really put our meditation into action and walk our talk,” said Nick Vail, a co-director of the Seattle sangha, during a related Nov. 1 panel discussion at Nalanda West.

This year’s topic was inspired by the May visit to Seattle by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Youth homelessness was the focus of his public talks at Seattle Center.

The recent Nalanda West panel included Kristine Cunningham, executive director of ROOTS; Meredith Arena, a former case manager for Seattle’s YouthCare shelter for ages 13 to 23; and Nalandabodhi member Darcey Quinn, whose 44-year-old brother is homeless, living on the streets of Oakland, Calif.

Quinn said she occasionally searches him out, just to give him a loving hug and her telephone number. She understands he doesn’t want her help, so she always sets an intention before she sees him, to remind herself that she’s not there to “save” him.

“I’m really grateful that we are getting involved with homelessness, because it is helping me understand my brother a little bit better. It’s helping me understand me a little bit better,” Quinn said. “I went in (to ROOTS) thinking that I was going to be identifying with all the folks coming through, and looking at them like my brother. But instead I found I really was focusing on the folks that were there helping, and being really grateful towards them and thinking of all the people who’ve helped my brother, and who are helping my brother.”

She recalled one visit to Oakland, when she found her brother squatting in an apartment.

“The first thing he said to me, when he saw me, was ‘Don’t judge me. Don’t judge me.’ That is something that I remember because when we’re afraid, we have a lot of fear, we judge. So … when I see my brother, or I go to ROOTS, I try to not let my ego and my fears take hold, so that I don’t judge, and I can be more genuine in the experience with people.”

Nalandabodhi provided its ROOTS volunteers with a suggestion sheet about how to connect their mindful activity with their Buddhist studies and meditation. Before going, for instance, it’s helpful to explore one’s feelings, expectations and motivations. While working, one might work with emotions using “mindful gap” and patience; watching the wandering mind; noticing what’s not being accepted. At the end, a dedication of merit and a debriefing – with others or via a journal – might be valuable.

“I thought that sheet was very helpful – making us stop and really think. It gives you a quality of being present, which is helpful, rather than thinking of this as one more thing to check off your list,” said Genko Kathy Blackman, a Nalandabodhi member as well as a priest at Chobo-ji, Seattle’s Rinzai Zen temple.

“For me, it’s coming back to the lines from Shanti Devi that every morning I always say,” she said, as she sliced yellow onions for that evening’s entree – chicken curry with rice and brussel sprouts. “I have a phrase I use as a shortcut: ‘Help not harm.’ Coming back to it over and over again.”

Sharing her workspace was Michelle Bromberg, 23, who also walks a spiritual path when she volunteers at ROOTS.

“I started out interested in helping people in a secular way. But now I’m inspired by my faith to serve,” said Bromberg, a Byzantine Catholic. “Christ calls us feed the hungry and clothe the naked, so it’s nice to be able to do that here.”

Travis Gowin, who has lived on the streets for four years, sat in a basement corner, writing in his journal. He recently turned 26, so he no longer can sleep at the ROOTS shelter. Now he typically spends his nights beneath an awning of University Book Store. He carries his possessions – mostly clothing and his blanket – in a black garbage bag.

Friday Feast is open to anyone, not just ROOTS residents. So Gowin still comes by on Fridays, to hang out and eat. He has a strong philosophical bent, and he shared some of his personal views as they related to the volunteers cooking his dinner.

“Ambient unity among human beings can produce enhanced spiritual development and experience,” he said. “We influence our environment at a subatomic level, and we change the environment through our intentions and practices. Your intentions affect other people. I send out energy to people with either a hope, faith or spiritual intention that other people will do it as well.”

Dzoghchen Ponlop Rinpoche, founder of the international Nalandabodhi organization, two years ago requested that his students do “one common thing” to benefit our world. This has evolved into a global sangha commitment to donate time and resources to charities that help children, teens and young adults.

In addition to the Seattle work with homelessness, Lhabab Duchen projects within other Nalandabodhi centers and study groups include:

Germany — Members are making donations to two organizations that help refugee children. The SOS Children’s Villages give medical care, food and clothing to children of refugees coming from Syria to Europe, food, clothing, etc.). Refugio works with traumatized refugee children in Munich.

Hong Kong — Members are making donations and signing up as tutors for Principal Chan Free Tutorial World, which helps low-income, underprivileged children with their homework.

Mexico City — Members will visit and donate to Casa de las Niñas Ciegas, an orphanage for blind girls.

Halifax, Nova Scotia — Members are assembling an “apartment starter kit” to donate to Phoenix House, to help a young adult, couple, or single parent ready to start out on their own.

Toronto, Ontario — This sangha has an ongoing link with The Children’s Book Bank, which provides free books and literacy support to children in low-income neighborhoods. Members donate cash and new books.

Vancouver, B.C. — This sangha has partnered with Aunt Leah’s Place, which works with foster kids and teen moms.

Tucson, Ariz. — A generous member donates to two local groups that serve homeless youth: Youth on Their Own and EON, which serves mostly LGBTQ youth.

Boulder, Colo. — The Boulder sangha has an ongoing connection with Attention Homes, a program for homeless and at-risk youth.

Philadelphia, Penn. — Members donated umbrellas and backpacks filled with toiletries to Youth Emergency Service, which offers immediate housing to homeless and runaway youth.

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The Heart Attack Sutra – Book Group

Book Group with Stephanie Johnston, Stuart Horn, and Steve Heck

8 Wednesdays in 2016
January 27, February 3, 10, 17, 24, and March 2, 9, 16

7:00-8:30 PM in the Vajra Spot at Nalanda West

The Heart Attack Sutra

‘The Heart Attack Sutra: A New Commentary on the Heart Sutra’ by Karl Brunnhölzl

The Heart Sutra is no doubt one of the most famous and most recited texts throughout the Buddhist world. But apart from being a spiritual text in which the most frequently used word is “NO” and which seems to leave us with no answers, what does it really mean?

The Heart Attack Sutra is available onsite at the Nalanda West bookstore and online at our nalandastore.

All are welcome. Free.

Contact: practice@nbseattle.org


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Introduction to Buddhism continues

Wednesday Open House
7 to 8:30 PM
October 28, November 11, 18, 2015

Buddhism 102:

  • Traveling from Confusion to Original Sanity
  • The Path is the Goal
  • The Play of Confusion and Sanity, “The Four Truths”
  • Trips of Confusion: Working with Emotions



“We’re cultivating our intelligence as opposed to expanding or upgrading its contents. It’s like brightening a room by putting a higher-watt lightbulb in a lamp. Suddenly we can see everything in the room much more clearly.”
— Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

This is the first course in a cycle of teachings on introductory and foundational Buddhist topics.

All are welcome! These classes may be attended as a course or on a drop-in basis.
The courses are free; donations are accepted.

The accompanying source books by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche are available for purchase at the Nalanda Store. It is recommended that the class readings be done prior to each class.

The series is the prerequisite for the Hinayana and Mahayana curricula.

Information contacts:
Kris Shaw krisshawNB@gmail.com
Nadine Selden nadine.seldenNB@gmail.com

Click on calendar at seattle.nalandabodhi.org

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Yoga for Meditators continues

All levels are welcome to participate; no yoga experience necessary!

Smooth sequences of asanas (poses) for more easeful meditation.

When: Saturdaysstretch

November 7, 14, 21, 28 and December 5, 2015
12 noon – 1:00 pm

Where: Vajra Spot (North Building at NalandaWest)

Free for Nalandabodhi Sangha Members

 Donations kindly accepted to benefit Nalandabodhi


Yoga with Nick and Janelle Barry

Led by:

Nick and Janelle Barry
Yoga Alliance Certified Instructors

Questions? Email ashenyima@gmail.com

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday!



* Nalandabodhi and NalandaWest are not liable for any injuries incurred in participating.

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The Mahayana Series: Compassion Without Limit


Monday evenings from 7 – 8.30 pm

studymastsIn the Nalandabodhi Path of Study, your studies of selflessness in the Hinayana are the jumping off point for understanding Mahayana selflessness, which broadens the notion beyond personal selflessness into the vastness of mahashunyata, or the “great emptiness.” The Mahayana Courses begin with an introductory course called “The Heart of Daring.” In the Mahayana teachings we look at the possibility of generating limitless compassion, the unbounded intention to help all sentient beings, known in Sanskrit as bodhichitta.

  • Introduction to the Mahayana: The Heart of Daring (MAH 300)
  • Mahayana View I: Everything is Mind  (MAH 310)
  • Mahayana View II: Not Even a Middle (MAH 311)
  • Mahayana Path I: Bodhicitta and the Six Paramitas (MAH 330)
  • Mahayana Path II: Seven Points of Mind Training (MAH 331)
  • Path and Fruition: The Ten Bhumis, the Three Kayas, and the Five Wisdoms (MAH 350)

There are six courses in the Mahayana series.  

In the concluding classes of the Mahayana in the Nalandabodhi Path of Study, we look at the practices and results of the Mahayana path. The bodhisattva intention to benefit all beings without limitation is made possible by a firm understanding that there are no inherent limitations on compassionate activity. Moreover, we learn that such activity is not a vague invitation to engage in “good works” of an unspecified nature. Rather, the teachings provide a detailed roadmap of paths and levels of accomplishment that are achieved through the specific techniques of the Mahayana path. The final attainment is Mahayana enlightenment. These teachings also provide a bridge to your study of the Vajrayana path.

Contact:  Stuart Horn:  stuarthor@gmail.com

The price for each course is $40 for Nalandabodhi sangha members and $65 for non-members.

Register online here:

Mahayana course

The brief outline on this page is only a general overview of the Mahayana courses offered by Nalandabodhi. The complete detailed syllabus and selection of reading materials is available to Nalandabodhi members and participants enrolled in the Path of Study program.

Learn more about the Mahayana Curriculum.


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