"When one thought ends, right before the next thought begins,
there is a tiny gap called 'now.' Over time we learn to expand that gap."

– Spring Washam

Community Dharma Leaders Program (CDL5)

PROGRAM HAS JUST FINISHED - APRIL 2017! We may have another CDL program but it will not begin before 2019/2020. Please stay in touch with us as we will announce future dates through our newsletter and our website as we know more. Thank you for your interest!

In these demanding times of deep suffering from spiritual, economic, socio-political and environmental ills, the practices of Buddhism can support ethical, wise and compassionate responses. As the Dharma sinks deeper into Western experience, access to practice in diverse, multicultural communities is beginning to widen.  As this bears fruit, leaders who are ethical, understand the principles of Dharma practice, and can elicit clarity, kindness, patience and wisdom within their communities, are urgently needed.

In support of this, Spirit Rock is offering the next iteration of its Community Dharma Leaders Program as  training and support for committed Dharma practitioners who have potential to develop leadership skills. The foundation of the training is the ancient lineage of Theravada, yet, it is also designed to encourage creative, intuitive and innovative responses in applying these timeless teachings to contemporary lives. These teachings offer a Path through the complex difficulties of our world in spiritual, social, political, cultural, interpersonal, and personal contexts.

Beginning in April 2015, the Community Dharma Leaders Program (“CDL5”) will support Dharma leadership at the community level, especially emphasizing daily-life practice. Program teachers Eugene Cash, Gina Sharpe, Larry Yang and Pamela Weiss are committed to shaping a program that will include the comprehensive training and competencies needed to:

  1. Lead sitting groups;
  2. Teach beginning classes and daylong retreats;
  3. Develop community-based sanghas and dharma organizations;
  4. Expand access to the teachings beyond previously served populations;
  5. Embody the skills needed for attunement, empathy and sensitivity to the role of teacher, the communities being taught and within the context of team teaching.
  6. Facilitate rites of passage and develop competency with Buddhist ritual; and
  7. Explore community outreach to people and communities heretofore underrepresented.

The training will consist of five week-long retreats over two years. The program requires each participant to:

  1. Attend all five retreat sessions
  2. Attend Dharma study groups and prepare homework between retreats
  3. Check in with Dharma partners or “buddies” who are also in the program
  4. Participate in online groups between retreats
  5. Maintain regular contact with mentoring teachers and program peers
  6. Experience practical applications of real-time Dharma leadership
  7. Practice Dana in support of all program teaching components
  8. Complete a yearly evaluation of the impact of the CDL program on the participant's activities and personal development in the Dharma.  This evaluation will be discussed with their teacher/mentor who will consult with the teaching team.

Mentoring Commitment
A significant part of the program involves having a mentoring relationship with an experienced Dharma Teacher or Dharma Leader. The participant will check in with the mentor at least once every two months, but preferably more frequently. It would be helpful for the mentor to listen to recordings of selected Dharma talks, answer questions, and give feedback to help to develop the participant’s skills. The mentor relationship will be on a Dana basis, and participants will be asked and reminded on an ongoing basis to work out an arrangement that works for both the participant and the mentor.

Reach of CDL5 Program
CDL5 is intended to be a national, and possibly international, program.   There is an emphasis on including participants from areas that are not currently well served.  Retreat sessions will be held at Spirit Rock, Yucca Valley, California and on the East Coast.  As the Dharma affects a wider swath of society, becoming more fully inter-generational and culturally diverse, participation of diverse communities, especially young adults and communities of color, becomes more essential. 

The prerequisites for application to CDL5 include:

  • A minimum of five years of practice;
  • A minimum of 40 nights of residential Vipassana or Metta retreat practice;
  • Depth of practice: familiarity and understanding of foundational Buddhist Teachings; consistency with a lineage of practice; history of daily and/or regular ongoing practice; an embodied presence resulting from the realization and application of key Dharma principles and practices.
  • 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.
  • Strong communication and leadership skills: Leadership skills often manifest in those whom the Dharma has already called, and are teaching with the support and acceptance of their communities (which we define in a broad way and may include community groups, churches, corporations and other venues) and guiding teachers. People who are already in leadership roles are encouraged to apply.
  • Ethical integrity: This includes being aligned and committed to the training and practice of the 5 precepts in all aspects of life and recognized as ethical by the communities of which they are part.
  • The ability 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.
  • The ability to dedicate time and energy to the program, both attending all modules (excepting emergency) and a commitment to undertake supportive practices in between modules to ensure consistency of study and application.
  • This will be a Spirit Rock Theravada-based training program to develop community leaders. Priority will be given to supporting leadership within western Theravada communities.

Diversity in race, language, class, orientation, gender identity, age, and other underserved cultural groups is highly valued. Qualified candidates from underrepresented communities are especially invited to apply. Other valued criteria:

  • The candidate can serve a geographic region or set of communities with no current Dharma leadership or teachers (geographic regions that currently have few or no CDL graduates include Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Iowa, Texas, Arizona, and Maine). Overseas applicants are welcome.
  • The candidate needs further training in order to assist an active teacher or to support a growing Dharma community.
  • The candidate would reach a population not currently served or underserved by the existing teaching community; for example: youth, young adult, communities of color, Spanish speaking communities, seniors, prisons, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) communities, etc.

It may be helpful for participants to have participated in Spirit Rock’s Dedicated Practitioner Program or another Dharma Study Program such as the BCBS or NY Insight Integrated Study and Practice Program, the Dedicated Practice Course at New York Insight or the Commit2Dharma Program at East Bay Meditation Center. Participation in any of these programs does not guarantee acceptance into the CDL program nor is it required to be accepted into CDL.

Financial Commitment and Program Costs
Participating in the CDL5 program will require a financial commitment.  (Upon accepting the invitation to join, participants will be responsible for the full program cost if there is voluntary withdrawal from the program, since there can be no substitution for that participant’s spot in the program).  Financial assistance will be made available to the fullest extent possible.

The program cost (which includes room and board) will be on a sliding scale. As of March 2014, the estimated range is between $10,000 and $6,500. For scholarship recipients, the minimum cost will be $3,800. The number of scholarship slots will be determined by funds availability. Transportation to retreat locations and Dana to the teaching team and mentors are financial commitments in addition to the program price.

If financial considerations might preclude participation in the program, one possible option is for a participant’s local community to help collectively support the candidate. In that way, the group will be invested in the participant’s development and the participant will directly feel their community’s backing. We encourage CDL5 participants to solicit the financial support of their local Dharma communities or sitting groups. The training, support and contacts a participant gains in the CDL5 program will enhance a local group’s experience for years to come.

We have some concern for financial accessibility of the program when community support is not available. We are keenly interested in supporting people or communities where program cost may be prohibitive. We will continue to explore additional options for financial support.

Scope of CDL5 Training
Graduation will be dependent upon fulfilling all program requirements, as listed above. Exceptions to this policy will be granted only in extenuating circumstances, in the sole discretion of the teaching team.

Completion of the CDL program does not guarantee that participants will automatically receive Spirit Rock authorization to teach. Such authorization is based upon successful completion of all the requirements of the program and an acceptable level of competency demonstrated in the core training areas of the program:

  1. Knowledge basis in the traditional scriptures and ability to articulate the Teachings;
  2. Ability to connect classic teachings to contemporary life in a fluid way;
  3. Teaching sitting groups, Dharma classes, daylong and weekend retreats;
  4. Develop community-based groups and Dharma organizations;
  5. Ability to teach incrementally, or what is classically described as “step-by-step”;
  6. Well-honed organizational skills to support community-based groups and Dharma organizations;
  7. Demonstration of sensitivity and ongoing skill development in extending the teachings to diverse populations;
  8. Embodiment of relational skills with empathy and sensitivity in the role of Dharma leader;
  9. Ability to teach collaboratively;
  10. Developed leadership skills and familiarity with models of teaching and leadership roles; and
  11. Ability to conduct and create sacred space for rites of passage with Buddhist ritual.

Participants who complete the program and achieve such competency will be authorized by Spirit Rock to lead Insight Meditation sitting groups, beginning Insight Meditation classes, non-residential Insight Meditation daylongs and weekend retreats. Completion of the CDL program will not confer upon the participant authority to teach residential retreats or to train other students to become Dharma Leaders or teachers.

Nomination and Application Process and Information
The CDL5 process begins by vipassana teachers and previous CDL graduates nominating candidates for application to the CDL5 program. In this way, each applicant will be connected to a nominating and/or mentoring dharma teacher or Community Dharma Leader throughout the length of the program. This is not a self-nominating program. The nomination process begins in May 2014. The deadline for nominations is July 15, 2014.

Once nominated, nominees will be asked to complete applications. The deadline for all completed applications is September 15, 2014. Initial acceptances will be sent in December 2014.

It is important for a participant to develop a relationship and connection with the nominating teacher. While it is ideal that the nominating teacher be the participant’s mentoring teacher, please note that this is not a requirement, as some teachers may wish to nominate, but not mentor. There is naturally a limit to the number of participants that can be mentored by any one teacher or leader. Where a nominating teacher or leader is unable to mentor their candidate, all efforts will be made to assign a different teacher or Dharma Leader as a mentor.

Retreat Schedule

April 16 - 23, 2015 Spirit Rock Meditation Center, CA
Sept. 29 - 26, 2015 Garrison Institute, Garrison, NY
April 21 - 28, 2016 Joshua Tree Retreat Center, Yucca Valley, CA
Sept. 24 - Oct. 1, 2016 Garrison Institute, Garrison, NY
April 22 - 29, 2017 Spirit Rock Meditation Center, CA

The 399 graduates of previous CDL programs have played a significant role in the spreading of the Dharma over the past decade. They’ve created new Dharma opportunities for many different communities, created new meditation centers, supported senior teachers in communities, and helped to bring the Dharma into a broad range of life experiences in the West. We look forward to the fulfillment of this legacy and responsibility of supporting the Teachings continuing beyond our generation and our lifetimes.

We look forward to receiving your nominations and applications. Many thanks for your practice.

CDL5 Teaching Team
Eugene Cash, Gina Sharpe, Larry Yang & Pamela Weiss


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