Mission & Ethos
Prajna Fire’s mission is to empower practitioners to engage spiritual practice with integrity, creativity, and joy. by making available authentic teachings of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, which founding teachers Yeshe and Zopa received directly from great living lineage masters in Nepal and India, to all who seek to eradicate suffering and cultivate happiness to its fullest potential, individually and collectively, whether Buddhist or not.
LINEAGE & HISTORY
Founded in 2016 by Karma Yeshe Chodron and Karma Zopa Jigme, Prajna Fire is an offering of gratitude and respect to their teachers and a portal for Western students to access time-tested methods for studying and practicing the Buddhadharma, in the form of meditation training, philosophy studies, cloister practice, individual spiritual counsel, and discussion groups.
Since 2001, Yeshe and Zopa have received transmission of the Dharma from their root guru Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, Mahamudra master Kyabje Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche, and meditation master Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche and Lama Lodu Rinpoche. They trained in Tibetan Buddhist thought and meditation at His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche's Rigpe Dorje Institute at Pullahari Monastery in Nepal, under Drupon Khenpo Lodro Namgyal, Khenpo Chokyi Gyaltsen, and Khenpo Sherab Gyaltsen. They completed their three year cloistered meditation retreat at Thrangu Rinpoche’s Vajra Vidya Retreat Center in Crestone, Colorado under the guidance of Khenpo Jigme and Khenpo Lobzang.
Firmly grounded in the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Prajna Fire shares traditional methods for cultivating experiential understanding of Buddhadharma with a modern inflection.
Our approach is to implement trustworthy study and practice methods that encourage holding the paradox of immanence and transcendence creatively, by encouraging near-term healing, societal engagement, community building, and transformation as integral aspects of the path to liberation and omniscience, in a manner that empowers practitioners in their own spiritual development.
STATEMENT OF VALUES
Work in Progress
As an emergent Dharma mandala, we welcome input on how we can improve in honoring, greeting, and meeting your needs. Contact us any time with feedback.
Anti-oppression and inclusivity
Aware of the systemic inequalities knit into our society, Prajna Fire is committed to diversity, empowerment, environmental sustainability, generosity, respect, social justice, and transparency.
We are committed to continuously decentering whiteness and patriarchy as primary (and at times, only) lenses for viewing experience generally and the Dharma in particular. Instead, we seek to foster dynamic spaces for life-affirming fluidity, creativity, and possibility.
In particular we value supporting those belonging to marginalized groups to engage the Buddhadharma with comfort, and encouraging those belonging to privileged groups to hold the aspects of their experience affected by our societal power differential with accountability and humility. Hostility towards difference, whether overt or subtle is discouraged in every possible way.
Honoring individual experience and the history of our physical places is a valuable part of co-creating mandala, the vivid individual-collective experience of our world.
Thus, when introducing ourselves and interacting with others, we invite everyone to share their preferred pronouns and encourage use of pronouns with which others identify. Not presuming that pronouns are obvious from our own or others' appearance is itself a practice. It lays a vital foundation to receiving and understanding the diversity of human experience, and co-creating an inviting and welcoming space for everyone to be themselves in an environment of safety and equity. Learn more here.
To acknowledge the history of appropriating indigenous lands prominent in the Americas and beyond, we name the Indigenous lands we inhabit, honoring the ancestry of the peoples and earth native to the place. This, too, is an enriching practice of identifying the history of our immediate environment, and locating our place in that history. Learn more here.
Sharing Dharma as reciprocal generosity practice
The kindness of our Benefactors and supporters who offer dana in excess of program costs makes it possible for us to make our Dharma offerings available on a donation-optional basis. In response to their requests, the comparable value of each program is provided as a benchmark for making offering decisions.
Rather than stating a suggested donation amount or range, we leave the choice to offer dana as suitable for their circumstances in the hands of each participant.
Those able to offer at the comparable value and beyond have our enduring gratitude. Their generosity supports our Dharma work and scholarship fund, keeping our offerings accessible to all, despite the inequities built into society.
We are glad to be able to offer our programs as a reciprocal practice of generosity, and hope this approach provides both freedom and helpful information for all.
Buddhadharma often leads us into uncharted, possibly even uncomfortable territory. Prajna Fire asks that those engaging in its Dharma offerings be willing to experiment with views or ways of doing things that might not line up with their existing perspectives.
Challenging our own views is a central approach to encountering Dharma, others’ perspectives, and the world at large with spacious and unencumbered receptivity. In particular, asking “What if this were correct? How would that change my conduct, my views, my lifestyle?” can be an extremely beneficial exercise for accessing new vistas with curiosity and openness.
PRINCIPLES FOR INTERPERSONAL DYNAMICS
Prajna Fire is premised on understanding the Buddadharma is far more than a dry set of teachings put into practice individually. Rather, the Dharma extends deeply into the realm of lifestyle and even vocation, touching not only ourselves but all with whom we have contact and personal connection.
Moreover, Prajna Fire recognizes the deep-seated power dynamics at play in spiritual settings, as well as the heightened impact of unclear boundaries and confusion experienced by seekers in a spiritual context, not to mention violation of wholesome boundaries and clarity. We strive to provide a safe space for exploring spirituality without concerns about improper interactions of any scale.
In keeping with this view, everyone participating in any Dharma activities in which Lama Yeshe or Lama Zopa are teaching, translating, or leading spiritual practice, regardless of location or medium, is considered a Prajna Fire student, irrespective of any other existing connections between them, such as secular students, family, friends, coworkers, peers, et cetera.
Romantic and/or sexual relationships between teacher and student are prohibited.
All students have equal access to teachers. For the sake of the wellbeing, clarity, and understanding of all students and the community as a whole, appropriate dual relationships (such as colleagues, friends, family, and the like) which some students may hold with teachers are treated as secondary to the teacher-student connection.
Accountability & Self-Care
In all our interactions, each of us in the Prajna Fire community strives to hold ourselves responsible for the ways we may misunderstand or hurt others, whether consciously or unconsciously. When we recognize a rift in our connections to others, we take it upon ourselves to acknowledge our emotions and request an opportunity to discuss it with those involved. When asked by another to discuss our connections, we make ourselves reasonably available.
We practice self-restraint in making assumptions about others’ mindset, intentions, or emotions, aware that they are beyond our ambit and that little good comes of it.
Similarly, we acknowledge ultimate responsibility for our well-being and wholesome boundaries, discerning situations that feel unsafe or hurtful and exercising exquisite self-care. Possible responses include stepping back, redirecting our attention, or even deciding that a gathering, sangha, or mandala does not suit us.
Prajna Fire invites all participants to practice compassionate presence in noticing our differences, whether deriving from birth or social constructs. We aim to be reflective of and sensitive to the differences in our social contexts, our legacies, our lands, and our material conditions. As we come from many different parts of the globe, we work to cultivate openness and curiosity about each other’s worlds and the social, spiritual, political, environmental, economic, and historical forces that shape it.
Buddhist sanghas and mandalas are communities of healing. Engagement often coaxes wounded spaces out into the open. Indeed, spiritual development invests the psyche like nothing else.
One natural outcome of this dynamic is a series of seismic shifts in the power differentials we perceive within, as well as between ourselves and others--including teachers, fellow students, and other spiritual seekers. Similarly, embedded emotional programming in the form of shadowed energies, inner storylines, control dramas, and the like can arise unconsciously.
We invite Prajna Fire participants to consider addressing these dynamics in the spirit of discovery and self-compassion that Buddhadharma encourages. In particular, psychology, spiritual counsel, and other trustworthy therapeutic modalities are valuable partners with spiritual practice for healing recurring issues regarding power, emotional wounds, trauma, and personal boundaries.
We strive to avoid planning a response as we listen to others. Instead we are willing to be surprised, to learn something new, listening with our whole being. In discussions with our peers, we strive to emphasize learning over offering unsolicited advice, problem-solving, or instruction.
We practice nonjudgmental compassion toward ourselves and others, respecting our own and others’ opinions and experiences as our own. We practice vulnerability and avoid criticizing the way others and ourselves show up.
When speaking, we strive to attend to and speak about our own experiences and responses, rather than speaking for a whole group or expressing assumptions about the experience of others. We practice emphasizing concrete, immediate, and self-contained expression over conjecture, embellishment, and hyperbole.
At all times we refrain from blaming or shaming ourselves or others, whether expressly or indirectly. We recognize nonviolent communication as a good starting point for conscious, receptive dialogue, and the relational awareness it requires.
Distinguishing Intent & Impact
Prajna Fire encourages each of us to do our best to understand and acknowledge the impact of our actions. However important, intent alone is an inadequate gauge for evaluating our actions. Diminishing the impact of physical and verbal action by overemphasizing intent often adds insult to injury, with little benefit gained.
Step Back / Step Up
Our gatherings foster full participation by all present. We ask that we all take note of who is speaking and who is not. Those who tend to speak often, we ask to consider “stepping back,” and those who tend not to speak often, to consider “stepping up.”
Right to Pass
We are always free to say “I pass” when we do not wish to speak.
“Both / And” Speech
Whenever feasible, we practice substituting “and” for “but” to acknowledge and honor multiple realities rather than solidify polarities.
The Gift of Skillful Feedback
Prajna Fire urges students to provide feedback on its offerings and teachers for every encounter with our Dharma offerings. To the extent feedback to other students accords with the principles above, we practice constructive speech that is direct, kind, true, and timely.
At Prajna Fire, personal details and stories shared in the space of community remain private. We encourage participants to take home learnings, even sharing them with others, without identifying anyone other than ourselves at any time. If we want to follow up with anyone regarding something they said during a session, we ask them first and respect their wishes.
We acknowledge and appreciate deeply the influence of East Bay Meditation Center and Bhumisparsha in shaping our Statement of Values and Principles for Interpersonal Dynamics.
Prajna Fire recommends the ethical guidance of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, a modern distillation of the traditional Bodhisattva precepts of Mahayana Buddhism created by Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
We invite practitioners to explore embodying these principles, reproduced below:
The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings are the very essence of the Order of Interbeing. They are the torch lighting our path, the boat carrying us, the teacher guiding us. They allow us to touch the nature of interbeing in everything that is, and to see that our happiness is not separate from the happiness of others. Interbeing is not a theory; it is a reality that can be directly experienced by each of us at any moment in our daily lives. The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings help us cultivate concentration and insight which free us from fear and the illusion of a separate self.
The First Mindfulness Training: Openness
Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as a guiding means that help us learn to look deeply and develop understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic or discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and the world.
The Second Mindfulness Training: Non-Attachment to Views
Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.
The Third Mindfulness Training: Freedom of Thought
Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are determined not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever — such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination — to adopt our views. We are committed to respecting the right of others to be different, to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue.
The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Awareness of Suffering
Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop understanding and compassion, we are determined to come home to ourselves, to recognise, accept, embrace and listen to suffering with the energy of mindfulness. We will do our best not to run away from our suffering or cover it up through consumption, but practice conscious breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our suffering. We know we can realise the path leading to the transformation of suffering only when we understand deeply the roots of suffering. Once we have understood our own suffering, we will be able to understand the suffering of others. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer, so we can help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.
The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Compassionate, Healthy Living
Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, we are determined not to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying nor to take as the aim of our life fame, power, wealth, or sensual pleasure, which can bring much suffering and despair. We will practice looking deeply into how we nourish our body and mind with edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. We are committed not to gamble or to use alcohol, drugs or any other products which bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness such as certain websites, electronic games, music, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. We will consume in a way that preserves compassion, wellbeing, and joy in our bodies and consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of our families, our society, and the earth.
The Sixth Mindfulness Training: Taking Care of Anger
Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, we are committed to taking care of the energy of anger when it arises, and to recognising and transforming the seeds of anger that lie deep in our consciousness. When anger manifests, we are determined not to do or say anything, but to practice mindful breathing or mindful walking to acknowledge, embrace, and look deeply into our anger. We know that the roots of anger are not outside of ourselves but can be found in our wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in ourselves and others. By contemplating impermanence, we will be able to look with the eyes of compassion at ourselves and at those we think are the cause of our anger, and to recognise the preciousness of our relationships. We will practice Right Diligence in order to nourish our capacity of understanding, love, joy and inclusiveness, gradually transforming our anger, violence and fear, and helping others do the same.
The Seventh Mindfulness Training: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment
Aware that life is available only in the present moment, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to be aware of what is happening in the here and the now. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, in all situations. In this way, we will be able to cultivate seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness. We are aware that real happiness depends primarily on our mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that we can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.
The Eighth Mindfulness Training: True Community and Communication
Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. Knowing that true community is rooted in inclusiveness and in the concrete practice of the harmony of views, thinking and speech, we will practice to share our understanding and experiences with members in our community in order to arrive at collective insight.
We are determined to learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting, and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. Whenever difficulties arise, we will remain in our Sangha and practice looking deeply into ourselves and others to recognise all the causes and conditions, including our own habit energies, that have brought about the difficulties. We will take responsibility for all the ways we may have contributed to the conflict and keep communication open. We will not behave as a victim but be active in finding ways to reconcile and resolve all conflicts however small.
The Ninth Mindfulness Training: Truthful and Loving Speech
Aware that words can create happiness or suffering, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully, lovingly and constructively. We will use only words that inspire joy, confidence and hope as well as promote reconciliation and peace in ourselves and among other people. We will speak and listen in a way that can help ourselves and others to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will protect the happiness and harmony of our Sangha by refraining from speaking about the faults of other persons in their absence and always ask ourselves whether our perceptions are correct. We will speak only with the intention to understand and help transform the situation. We will not spread rumours nor criticise or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.
The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting and Nourishing the Sangha
Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practice of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal power or profit, or transform our community into a political instrument. As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body. As a true cell in the Sangha body, generating mindfulness, concentration, and insight to nourish ourselves and the whole community, each of us is at the same time a cell in the Buddha body. We will actively build brotherhood and sisterhood, flow as a river, and practice to develop the three real powers – understanding, love, and cutting through afflictions – to realise collective awakening.
The Eleventh Mindfulness Training: Right Livelihood
Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that contributes to the wellbeing of all species on earth and helps realise our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of economic, political, and social realities around the world, as well as our interrelationship with the ecosystem, we are determined to behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens. We will not invest in or purchase from companies that contribute to the depletion of natural resources, harm the earth, or deprive others of their chance to live.
The Twelfth Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life
Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, compassion, and the insight of interbeing in our daily lives and promote peace education, mindful mediation, and reconciliation within families, communities, ethnic and religious groups, nations, and in the world. We are committed not to kill and not to let others kill. We will not support any act of killing in the world, in our thinking, or in our way of life. We will diligently practice deep looking with our Sangha to discover better ways to protect life, prevent war, and build peace.
The Thirteenth Mindfulness Training: Generosity
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating generosity in our way of thinking, speaking, and acting. We will practice loving kindness by working for the happiness of people, animals, plants, and minerals, and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.
The Fourteenth Mindfulness Training: True Love
[For lay members]: Aware that sexual desire is not love and that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a deep long-term commitment made known to our family and friends. Seeing that body and mind are not separate from each other, we are committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy and to cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness for our own happiness and the happiness of others. We must be aware of future suffering that may be caused by sexual relations. We know that to preserve the happiness of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with compassion and respect. We are determined to look deeply into the Four Nutriments and learn ways to preserve and channel our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will regularly meditate upon their future environment.
[For monastic members]: Aware that the deep aspiration of a monk or a nun can only be realized when he or she wholly leaves behind the bonds of sensual love, we are committed to practicing chastity and to helping others protect themselves. We are aware that loneliness and suffering cannot be alleviated through a sexual relationship, but through practicing loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness. We know that a sexual relationship will destroy our monastic life, will prevent us from realizing our ideal of serving living beings, and will harm others. We will learn appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy. We are determined not to suppress or mistreat our body, or look upon our body as only an instrument, but will learn to handle our body with compassion and respect. We will look deeply into the Four Nutriments in order to preserve and channel our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal.