Convocation is Naropa's traditional ceremony, occurring once a year in the beginning of the fall semester, during which we come together as students and teachers to celebrate the start of another academic year. During convocation, we create and join a community that welcomes each moment whole-heartedly with beginner's mind, so that we might gently wake each other up, all year long.
It is my pleasure to welcome our students, faculty, staff and Naropa Trustees to the opening of our new academic year. As Naropa grows our summer offerings, on-line courses, and shorter certificate programs the traditional academic rhythm is somewhat challenged. But I think that there is great value to marking moments in the life of a community and I think the being able to gather together, physically sharing the same space, breathing the same air and taking a little time to mix our minds and hearts together in planned and unplanned ways is an opportunity too good to pass up.
We owe thanks to our many colleagues who imagine this Convocation and work so diligently to create the container, and fill it with both the traditional and the unexpected.
The chance to take time in our life’s journey to study, teach or serve a university is a privilege which is inaccessible to all but a tiny fraction of our fellow sentient beings. Billions are uncertain about where they and their families will get the next meal, access even rudimentary health care or maintain safe shelter. We share a world in which in which direct experiences of poverty, injustice, environmental degradation, racial, ethnic and religious bias and violence surround us. There is no moat, no border fence and no skillful ignoring of the truth which offers protection from seeing suffering, and experiencing suffering. What we do have as human beings is the chance to grow and evolve as human beings who, as our founder Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was fond of saying, aspire first to become less of a nuisance to others, and then with diligence and taking advantage of good fortune, find the means to be helpful, first from honest witnessing and then by compassionate and skillful action.
Naropa was created to be a place where students, in concert with faculty could develop the ways of witnessing and learn the skills which allow us to share our innate wisdom and compassion.
From the beginning we said that Naropa was built on a model of Contemplative Education. That defined the ground from which the ability to openly witness both ourselves and others emerged. The fact that no one really knew what we were talking about was somehow liberating. We could explore and experiment, accept and criticize and do it all on a pretty level playing field where anyone calling themselves an expert was most likely not. In one sense the current situation is no different. Despite the proliferation of all things mindful from Pre-K though PhD’s, in business, in government, in the military and more, the contemplative practitioner still has a chance for a fresh start each time she sits on a meditation cushion, practices yoga or other contemplative arts, enters a spiritual home with a willingness to be open minded and open hearted and even slides into an MRI machine to contemplate while on display to researchers. Pointing out our innate ability to show up every time as if it is the first time, was the great gift offered by the great teachers, in our case embodied by Trungpa Rinpoche. We can go beyond the verbal and the conceptual from which openness and creativity can arise.
From being offered the time and space to discover the always fresh ground, Naropa faculty are committed to then sharpening skill and intellect in its many manifestations. Naropa’s undergraduate and graduate degree programs, and our new centers such as Authentic Leadership, the Joanna Macy Center, and the Center for Bhutan Initiatives did not arise randomly, but provide challenging and focused ways in which students and faculty may most effectively be of service. The reemerging 6th School, our center for extended studies and professional development will share our work and our passion with a bigger world. (And I am happy that David Rand accepted the position of director of that School and hope you can meet him).
CACE, the Center for the Advancement of Contemplative Education will hold a roundtable in this room next month looking at the ways in which contemplative pedagogy is manifesting in higher education. CACE supports the Naropa faculty as they apply contemplative tools in the classroom and share our inspiration with faculty around the world who want explore how our work could be relevant to theirs. This mutual sharing brings richness back to Naropa while sparking others to consider breaking the silos between their personal contemplative disciplines and their professional work. Several Naropa Faculty including CACE Senior Advisor Professor Judith Simmer-Brown will present at next spring’s conference at Howard University called Building Just Communities, looking at the responsibility of contemplative pedagogy to social justice movements. How it could help us look at oppression inside and outside our communities and how we can engage marginalized students.
Most of you are well aware that our Naropa Community has been deeply looking at these issues, with a new urgency resulting from the bright light shone on our own manifestation of bias, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt. The disruption of last spring was an important reminder that we can and must do better as a community, and at the same time that engaging from our contemplative foundation offers opportunity for genuine progress. Shortly we will share the stage with members of the Coalition for Cultural Transformation who will give voice to the work of so many in the Community to address these challenges.
When Naropa is represented at Howard University, when we speak of bias within our community and outside, I hope that it will be from the dual places of vulnerability and of commitment.
Thanks to all of you for merging your personal journey with the grand Naropa journey. We are all most enriched from shared inspiration and I hope we can enter a new year with appreciation for the well favored circumstances which allow us to be here and with commitment to engaging honestly and kindly.