Lakeside Buddha Sangha
Jack and Laurie Lawlor P.O. Box 7067 Evanston, IL 60201 USA Tel: (708) 475-0080
The Chicago-area Lakeside Buddha Sangha observed its fourth anniversary last June, marking over 200 Sunday evenings of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and Dharma discussions. "Magic!" is how Sangha member Ruth Kane often describes the three hours she spends each Sunday meeting with her Sangha in the candle-lit meditation hall that once served the community as its corner grocery store. Lakeside Buddha Sangha came upon this unusual rental space in a rather unusual way: its landlord found Lakeside! "I was hanging a poster from a stepladder during the 1991 Mondelein retreat with Thay," explains Jack Lawlor, "and a retreatant tapped me on the back and whispered, 'Would you like a zendo?' I couldn't believe it. I thought I was in a Jimmy Stewart movie and it was Christmas."
Of course it is the people, not real estate, that give life to Lakeside's manifestation of the Dharma. Approximately 80 people now attend local Sangha activities at least quarterly; last summer, an average of 27 people attended each weekly sitting. Lakeside meetings begin with an hour of sitting and walking meditation. After a break to socialize, we have a formal Dharma discussion led by a Sangha member. Sangha member Jon Frye observes, "Although our rounds of sitting and walking meditation are the heart of our practice, the hour afterwards is extremely important to me. It provides an opportunity to meet others in the Sangha in a more informal way."
Weekly topics are announced in advance in Lakeside's monthly newsletter, and we have discussed such diverse topics as family reconciliation, mindfulness in the workplace, meditation and creativity, mindfulness and the art of counseling, and loss and bereavement. Michael and Arlene Brennan have led sessions on practicing Right Speech in the American political forum, and on the care and support of ailing family members. Demonstrations which draw upon the talents of local Sangha members have included sessions on oriental brush strokes and a spellbinding session on the art of flower arrangement led by Ilze Arajs, an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ilze and Laurie Lawlor, a children's book author, have facilitated discussions on the relationship between mindfulness and artistic expression, and Sue Tague has led sessions on the relationship between mindfulness practice and poetry.
Former Trappist Jim Jarzembowski has led many discussions on the Buddha's life based on Thay' s poetic biography of the Buddha, and Jack offers a periodic "Foundations of Mindfulness Practice Series" intended not only to introduce newcomers to the practice, but also to refresh and nourish the practice of longtime Sangha members. He has also led a series on the "Six Perfections of the Bodhisattva Way" to nourish the Sangha's study and discussion of the precepts.
Lakeside enhances its weekly activities by taking turns organizing regional retreats and Days of Mindfulness in the countryside with sister-Sanghas practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh in Madison, Milwaukee, and DeKalb. In 1995, seven regional Days of Mindfulness and retreats were held within a four-hour driving radius of Chicago, typically attracting forty to fifty participants. Sharing organizational responsibilities reduces the administrative burden on any one Sangha, and the interaction helps nourish and renew the Midwestern extended community. Each event includes abundant sitting and walking meditation, outdoor walking meditation, and silence, interspersed with Dharma talks by Jack, group Dharma discussions, bonfires, and song. Lakeside Sangha members also participate in the larger community in many ways. Many members are professional caregivers in the fields of social service, teaching, community organizing, medicine, psychotherapy, and home health care. Laurie Lawlor and Jon Frye are hospice volunteers.
Lakeside members participate in activities sponsored by the Chicago-area Dharma council comprised of 25 temples and centers, and are active in interfaith programs sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. Jack is serving his second term on the national Board of Directors of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and keeps local Chicago groups advised of BPF's efforts and programs.
Ed. Note: Ever since Jack and Laurie Lawlor worked closely with the Community of Mindful Living to bring Thay to Chicago in 1989, we have been impressed by their commitment to nurturing an active Sangha practice. We encourage anyone interested in studying the development of a lovely Sangha to write Jack for copies of the Lakeside Buddhist Sangha newsletters and his Sangha manual. (See page 37 for details.)