New Perspectives on Living a Meaningful Life NalandaWest: a Warm Oasis of Contemplation

Written by: Ceci Miller

NalandaWest in Seattle flies an American flag flanked by Buddhist flags.

NalandaWest, a Seattle event center that for 10 years has hosted esteemed lamas and other Buddhist teachers from a variety of lineages, has begun new, expanded programming that will now bring teachers from a wider variety of wisdom traditions from both East and West.

“The idea is to make the contemplative conversation more accessible to people who consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious,’” said NalandaWest’s new Event Director Elle McSharry. “This population is growing in Seattle and elsewhere, so we’re responding to people’s need to feel connected with something greater than themselves, who aren’t finding that sense of connection in a religious setting.”

Audience member asking a question at a 2011 NalandaWest program.

Audience member asking a question at a 2011 NalandaWest program.

NalandaWest event center is run by the Nalandabodhi community of Buddhist practitioners in Seattle, founded by Tibetan Buddhist teacher and author Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.

“We’re supporting a community as yet to be discovered. It includes everyone who wants to look deeply into what it means to live a meaningful life in this age of smartphones and instant access,” said McSharry. “No matter what religious tradition appeals to you, or whether your personal inquiry is rooted in social activism, science, or the arts, in family or community life, NalandaWest welcomes you to join the conversation.”

For its first program of 2013, NalandaWest hosted cancer survivor and eminent poet Mark Nepo. The program began with a Friday night poetry reading featuring local poets Elizabeth Austen, Jourdan Imani Keith, Peter Pereira and Mark Nepo, who read to a full house.

As the weekend progressed, comments from participants came flooding in: “A heart-opening experience . . . .”, “I now have tools to help me move forward . . . . I take away new wonder and joy at being human. . . . ”

NalandaWest volunteers participate in the Walk to Feed the Hungry 2012.

NalandaWest volunteers participate in the Walk to Feed the Hungry 2012.

“Those responses reflect exactly the type of experience we’re hoping to facilitate for our community,” McSharry said. “And that community is growing well beyond Seattle, because we’re webcasting all of our 2013 programming. This will make it possible to really live our commitment to bring great contemplative programming to anyone seeking a generative resource of warmth and wisdom.”

Drawing from the tradition of scholarship that originated with Nalanda University in India, which thrived from the 5th through 12th centuries, NalandaWest is offering programming inspired by the traditional Tibetan “Five Fields of Knowledge.”

According to McSharry, to NalandaWest these five fields are: creativity, communication, health and well-being, the mind, and direct insight.

“Teachers and presenters bring the contemplative life into everyday activity, meeting us where we are, and giving us a piece of heartfelt wisdom we can take home and really apply,” she said.

“Each program is intended to bring a new perspective, a new set of tools, the radical ‘Aha!’ or even the let-go of ‘aahh,’ that refreshes and renews the spirit,” she added.  “The five fields include all the things we really care about: reinvigorating a commitment to peace, social activism, creative or scientific pursuits, and a mindful approach to caring for family and community.

Yoga class at NalandaWest.

Yoga class at NalandaWest.

“One thing about the five fields is that they make you look at every aspect of life in a deeper way, a more thoughtful way,” McSharry said. “You find yourself meeting old concerns with fresh eyes. You can look at the moments of your life through a different lens.

“Building a mindful community of people who come from various traditions and support each other on that common ground of inquiry is a powerful action for good in the world, and is so important right now,” McSharry said. “The five fields are where contemplative life and social activism meet.”

NalandaWest also will continue to feature the traditional Buddhist teachers the event center is known for, McSharry said.

For instance, in mid-March NalandaWest welcomes Tsoknyi Rinpoche, a well-known married lama and author, who will teach a program on compassion with a practical focus on applying Buddhist teachings in a too-busy, modern world. The program, titled “Creativity and the Heart of Love,” will also be webcast.

Nalandabodhi members talking during a program break.

Nalandabodhi members talking during a program break.

September will feature the wisdom of meditation teacher and popular “Yoga Journal” columnist Sally Kempton, who will lead a transformative workshop based on her latest book, “Awakening Shakti: A Celebration of the Divine Feminine.”

The workshop will introduce participants to the wisdom aspects and energies of three Hindu goddesses: Kali, Lakshmi, and Saraswati.

And in October, thought leader Meg Wheatley will lead a weekend retreat that draws upon the archetype of the spiritual warrior. Participants will explore how this archetype can help them engage fearlessly with the problems of our society.

McSharry is enthusiastic about these new options for NalandaWest program-goers.

“We have so much information available to us in this age, but how do we decide what’s truly important?  How do we create community within all this chaos? How do we stay in touch with what is wise and enduring, and when do we take a break?” McSharry said. “We’re all hungry for experiences that help us take the time to feel more connected to ourselves and to the people around us. At NalandaWest – both at the center and through social media — we want to create an environment where these types of experiences just naturally unfold.”

In ancient India, where scholars from many wisdom traditions gathered at Nalanda University to debate, study, and live together, could they have imagined that generations later, in a city halfway across the world named Seattle, the seed of their contemplation would be replanted in new soil to bear new fruit?

To read Mark Nepo’s prose piece about the ancient Nalanda University, click here.

For more information about NalandaWest and its programming, please visit: www.nalandawest.org.

Link for Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.