A Common Thread

The Maha Teacher Council at the Garrison Institute in Garrison, New York

On June 8, 230 Buddhist teachers gathered at the Garrison Institute in Garrison, New York, for the Maha Teacher Council, a conference on the future of Buddhist practice in North America. Following the conference, we asked 11 participants the following question:

Buddhism is very diverse—some would even say that the different traditions represent different religions. What was the common Buddhist thread that brought you all together?

My teacher, Ajahn Buddhadasa, talked of “buddhayana.” We are all the sons and the daughters of the Buddha, carrying the teachings of awakening and compassion. In the West, we are getting to know one another, and we are getting beyond sectarianism. No one of us can do everything—monastic practice, social activism, environmental work—so we all have a place in the greater mandala that includes us all.
Jack Kornfield, Spirit Rock Meditation Center

I think we came together, in part, to explore with each other how to find deeply grounded refuge in the buddhadharma in our modern world, how future generations will be able to do so, and how to come from that place of authentic refuge in responding creatively to the deep sufferings and needs of our time.
John Makransky, Foundation for Active Compassion

The common Buddhist thread: an understanding of the law of cause and effect—that volitional actions bring results—and that cutting through our attachment to the concept of self is the basis of freedom and compassionate action.
Joseph Goldstein, Insight Meditation Society

Reduce suffering, elevate fulfillment, improve behavior, understand oneself, and foster loving service through cultivating Mindfulness (defined as concentration power, sensory clarity and equanimity working together): this is a common core that unites all Buddhist traditions.
Shinzen Young, Vipassana Support International

I came seeking unity in the Three Treasures. I was disappointed to find that the “mindful” community remains unable to bridge the gap of diversity; and further, that this vital necessity is not a primary concern.
Myokei Caine-Barrett, Shonin, Myoken Temple

Among the tattoo’ed ones and the gray hairs, the innovators and the traditionalists, there were common threads: a passion for the dharma, an interest in collaboration, and a desire to teach from the essence in a form relevant to the pressing needs of contemporary society.
Acharya Judy Lief, Shambhala

Impermanence: It was like we were all flowing down the river in a boat, pointing to the moving shoreline: youth, diversity, social responsibility, brain science, electronic dharma, Western wisdom. Then we noticed that the boat was moving, too.
Pat Enkyo O’Hara, The Village Zendo

The question of suffering and its end engages all humans whether Buddhist or not, regardless of lineage or tradition, goes beyond differences, and irrevocably ties us all together. We investigated how we understand and teach this profound dharma.
Gina Sharpe, New York Insight Meditation Center

Suffering and compassion for suffering. The most beautiful and meaningful part of our time together at the Teachers Conference this year was when we all participated in an exercise of being transparent and open with the suffering in our lives, past and present. Compassion was present in the eyes of every teacher there. Love saves the world, again.
Noah Levine, Against The Stream Buddhist Meditation Society

The thread of unity, it seems, had less to do with being Buddhist than with having gotten an invitation; lines of division had less to do with distinctions between “yanas” and “lineages” than with distinctions between adapters, modernists, traditionalists, and hybrids. At least no one acted as if they knew all the answers. Everyone seemed ready to learn from others and to consider alternative viewpoints in an atmosphere of friendliness and respect.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bodhi Monastery and Chuang Yen Monastery

What brought us together probably has something to do with the Buddha’s saying “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.” It has such a universal calling. However, while “Buddhism” may be diverse, “Buddhist” communities in the West do not yet reflect the diversity of our multicultural experiences.
Larry Yang, East Bay Meditation Center

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Dominic Gomez's picture

In the Lotus Sutra, several parables teach the one vehicle of the Buddhahood of all people. That would be the common thread that unites us all.