Willow Branch Sangha

Dharma Discussion Guidelines

Invoking the name of Avalokiteshvara

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.

Guidelines for the Practice of Dharma Sharing

    1. Practice deep listening and loving, mindful speech

      1. Topics emanate from our life and practice. It is best to avoid discussions that are theoretical rather than experiential. Our deepest aspiration is “to learn [Avalokita’s] way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world.” Even though we have the intention to listen deeply our mind will wander. Perhaps we are agreeing, disagreeing, feeling agitated, wanting to respond or drifting. If we are mindful of our thoughts and inner dialog, we can choose to come back to being present with the person speaking. Our speech, like our listening, is the fruit of our practice, a response from within. It is good for the atmosphere of the Dharma sharing when participants take three breaths before speaking, to allow time for the previous person’s words to be fully received. Speaking from the heart about topics that emanate from our life and practice involves speaking with awareness in a way that could be of benefit to others as well as ourselves; speaking with kindness, in a voice that is clear and loud enough for everyone to hear, including those with hearing loss; connecting with others by making eye contact; perhaps smiling from time to time.

    2. Bowing

Before speaking we may wish to make a flower bud with our hands and bow, or put our hand on our heart or use a signal we are comfortable with, we are signaling that we would like to share. Instead of bowing we may also use a “talking stick” to pass around the circle. If a person is inspired to speak, she/he will do so; if not they will pass the object on to the next person.

    1. Saying our name, each time, before we speak

This practice fosters a sense of inclusion for newcomers as well as aiding those of us who might have difficulty remembering names.

    1. Avoid giving advice, even if it is asked for

In general it is helpful to always use the word “I” instead of “you”. Speaking from our own experience eliminates the opportunity to give advice. If someone asks for advice it is fine to share our experience.

    1. All that arises is confidential

“What is said here stays here.” Confidentiality secures the safety of the group and helps avoid gossip. Also, after the Dharma Discussion, if we want to talk to someone about what they said in the group, we must first ask if it is okay. Sometimes a person does not want to talk more about what they said and this is a respectful way to honor that.

    1. Refrain from speaking for a second time

We don’t speak again until it appears that everyone who wants to speak has spoken. This ensures that everyone can speak and provides a space where we can benefit from all of our Sangha wisdom. We are encouraged to speak mindfully, “not too much and not too little” for the number of participants. Near the end of the time, the facilitator may offer an opportunity for those who have not spoken to do so if they wish, and may address any unanswered questions.

    1. Share with the whole circle

Whatever we share is for the benefit of all those present. We do not engage in cross-talk with another participant. If we ask a question, we ask the whole group, and if we answer a question, we speak to the whole group and not just the person who asked. If we ask a question, we should not expect an answer straight away. Another topic may be addressed after the initial topic and only when someone feels ready will the previous question be addressed. However, if towards the end of the sharing, the question has not been addressed, the facilitator may do so to the best of his/her ability.

These guidelines are offered for the safety and confidentiality of the whole Sangha . Thinking of the wonderful Dharma Sharing Guidelines as trainings and learning to apply them skillfully in all of our interactions will help us to cultivate compassionate communication wherever we are.

The Mindfulness Bell Winter/Spring 2008,p.34-35