Infinite Circle

A Plunge into Community Engaged Zen Practice 

Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community offers a unique program of practice, study, and engagement for those who wish to help heal their own neighborhoods and local communities. Our training in Community Engaged Buddhism brings the history and practices of Socially Engaged Buddhism back to our own doorsteps and plants them in American Zen and the everyday activities of local life. Working together, we deepen our practice of bearing witness and healing action in our communities.

“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are,
where else do you expect to find it?”
Zen Master Dogen

The Infinite Circle provides an opportunity to re-examine our lives and our relationship to social suffering in the context of the non-reactive awareness and action spelled out in the Three Tenets of a Zen Peacemaker: Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Taking Action. A single question threads through our monthly reflections, practices, and gatherings:  How are we to live together in this world?

We will examine some of the most challenging social koans of our times:  Do we like living in a world where economic growth gives millions of people stability and simultaneously condemns millions of people to social exclusion and poverty?  How can we balance our enjoyment of things and our desire for material comfort and prosperity with not being complicit in a consumerist lifestyle that is driving thousands of species into extinction? How do we responsibly provide for our own financial security while standing against the harm caused by the power that is claimed through economic supremacy? Finally, how can each of us cultivate a culture of care, spiritual friendship, and loving awareness with those who have been marginalized and oppressed?  

The Program
The Infinite Circle is not a “training” in the conventional sense. The program lasts either one or two years depending on your path. We meet as a large group monthly for seminars, and in smaller “Buddha Buddy Groups” for deeper exploration of the teachings and practices. By design, we do not rely on experts, so there is no “faculty” for the Infinite Circle. Rather, we learn from the readings, Zen teachings, and each other, using insight, experience, questions, mistakes, wisdom and compassion as our guides.

Study, discussion, practice, and hands-on community work come together in a deepening experience of the neighborhood or chosen community as sangha. If you are a caring neighbor, nonprofit worker, community volunteer, donor or  board member, chaplain, sangha leader or steady practitioner, this program will deepen your understanding of approaching your life as a Zen Peacemaker. While we ground ourselves in the ethical precepts of a Zen Peacemaker, you do not need to have a formal background in Zen or Buddhism. We welcome people from all spiritual, religious and secular wisdom traditions. Infinite Circle students are from diverse backgrounds and together we form and maintain a spiritual-friendship-based practice network that is wide, varied, supportive, ongoing, and global.

This program is donation based, and we ask that each student contribute the equivalent of $108 a month ($1,296 for the year). The revenue from the Infinite Circle supports Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community and its social action projects.

Three Tenets Training: Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, Taking Action
Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Taking Action are the foundation of the Infinite Circle. The Three Tenets shape the curriculum, readings, and activities. You will explore your own fixed ideas about money, class, and power, and practice to liberate them. Through bearing witness practices, you step away from being a bystander and begin to see yourself as every part of the situation of our economy and the role it plays in economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice. Having broken down the barriers of knowing, observing and by-standing, and by deepening your relationship to your local community, you become open to new ways of engaging in beneficial action to address the issues you care most about.

Curriculum
The first year of the Infinite Circle is designed to take participants through a different topic each month for ten months. We will study:

  • “Community Engaged Zen Practice” as an outgrowth of “Socially Engaged Buddhism”
  • The place of contemplative practice in community engagement
  • Notions of kinship, Intimacy and Beloved Community
  • Our personal histories and relationships to money and the economy
  • The causes and conditions of economic marginalization and what we can skillfully do about it
  • Cultivation of a whole-systems-view of economic injustice, including its relationship to race, gender and the environment
  • Looking deeply at personal motivation, social ethics, and moral resiliency
  • Analysis of power and privilege in philanthropy and the opportunities and challenges for philanthropy in addressing economic justice
  • The place of activism, disrupting the status quo, and prophetic witnessing within social change

In addition to monthly seminars on these topics, the curriculum includes participation in monthly small group discussions and periodic bearing witness projects. For example, you may be asked to live on a food-stamp budget for a period of time, engage in generosity as a reflective practice, or bear witness to specific dynamics of the community in which you live.

This is an adult learning process. There will be no grades or paper writing requirements. However, there will be an opportunity to share a creative expression of what you have learned with your colleagues at the end of the program.

For those who continue, the second year will focus on the development of specific skills to lead dharma-influenced projects in marginalized spaces in your community.

Lojong Training in Compassion as a Liberating Power
We will work explicitly on the cultivation of compassion and resilience in order to more fully care about and be with people who are sad, angry, overpowered by addictions, economically stressed and socially strained. We train in compassion also as a safeguard and healing action for ourselves, allowing us to better face our own suffering and blindnesses, maintain appropriate boundaries in our work in the world, and better sustain a caring presence for ourselves and others. We will use Roshi Norman Fischer’s book, Training in Compassion, as a guide to this practice.

We will meet online each month for seminars and small group discussions from January through November, 2021. Participants who wish to explore receiving the Zen Peacemaker Precepts will have the opportunity to do so and a precept ceremony (Jukai) will be held in October. A closing ceremony for all participants will be held in November. Second year candidates may go on to become Community Engaged Buddhist Ministers who can lead meditation, design and hold rituals, and create Bearing-Witness based social programs appropriate to the settings in which they serve.

To learn more about the program, please contact us at: infinite-circle@breadloafmountainzen.org