Sebene Selassie

Sebene Selassie, Executive Director of New York Insight Meditation Center, joins us to speak about organizational models in contemporary Western sanghas.

Times change. We’re not in Deer Park or Vulture’s Peak two and a half thousand years ago, we’re in Central Park and Pike’s Peak in the twenty-first century. What people do, what we think, how we relate to one another, our societal constructs, have evolved, and the ways in which our institutions reflect the needs of the people they serve are evolving, too.

Sebene Selassie received a BA from McGill University where she majored in Comparative Religious Studies and minored in Women’s Studies, and an MA in Media Studies from the New School. For 20 years she has worked with children, youth, and families in underserved communities as a coordinator, manager and director of social service and arts programs; she specializes in youth development and youth media. Sebene has worked as a consultant combining social change leadership and mindfulness practices including building inclusive communities, creating learner-centered curricula, leading social action arts workshops, and teaching meditation. She is a graduate of the Community Dharma Leaders Program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA and a current student of the Professional Coaching Course training program at New Ventures West.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice McNulty’s Nectar.

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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “Wood and Bamboo” from his CD, Traditional and Modern Pieces: Shakuhachi.

No Comments

  1. Doug Smith on April 13, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Great interview, Ted. Thanks! Sebene is great.

    I should note for anyone who clicks through that NYIMC’s present website is kind of clunky. They were able to raise enough funding last year to get a redo, so with an eye to anicca, it will get an upgrade sometime in the near future.

    I know one of their ongoing issues has been funding. There is a lot of emphasis put on “dana” or generosity, since teachers at NYIMC aren’t paid by course fees, which go to rent and upkeep of the center. As Sebene said, it’s not cheap to run a place like this in NYC. As a result, teachers are compensated by voluntary donation, and recently they’ve put up notices about ‘suggested donation amounts’, with ranges. I know that rubs some people the wrong way, but until and unless they are able to raise substantial outside funding, or some sort of large endowment, I don’t see another reasonable alternative. (I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect teachers to go unpaid, nor for the center not to be able to rent an adequate space).

    I imagine this isn’t so much of an issue depending on where each center is located, etc. But it is an issue in Manhattan.

    • mufi on April 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      Doug: As a former Manhattan (Upper West Side) resident, I know what those rents are like (viz. the highest in the country, the last time I checked). What concerns me is the price of retreats & other programs even outside of NYC.

      For example, I give myself a case of sticker shock every time that I check the schedule at the Insight Meditation Center (IMS) in Barre, MA (which is the nearest analog to the NYIMC for me, now that I live in the Mid-Hudson Valley), on the off-chance that something affordable comes along – even at the low end of the sliding fee scale and not including suggested donations to the individual teachers.

      Say what you will about what’s fair market value from the center’s POV. I won’t even argue with you. But it seems to me that prices like those are likely to discourage the financially insecure or liquid asset poor from registering or applying in the first place – even though financial assistance is available and IMS claims to commit “substantial financial aid each year to one third of [its] retreatants.” After all, who wants to feel like a charity case?

      Just sayin.’

  2. Mark Knickelbine on April 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Hey, is anyone else having trouble downloading the mp3 file?

  3. Mark Knickelbine on April 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    What a great interview, Ted! First, how wonderful for Sebene that she has a job that combines her organizational skill with her love of the dharma — no worries about Right Livelihood here. Second, I can’t remember where I’ve heard or read a more penetrating analysis of the organizational challenges of non-traditional sanghas. This is such an important conversation to be having and I’m glad we’re having it here!

    • Ramsey Margolis on April 19, 2013 at 10:56 pm

      Mark, you’re absolutely right, this conversation is of tremendous importance to the development of secular buddhist communities. I’ve been pondering Sebene’s words all day and at some point will pen (key?) a longer appreciation of this.

  4. Ramsey Margolis on April 26, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Ted’s conversation with Sebene raises important questions if secular Buddhist practitioners are to develop communities in the towns and cities where we live. So important that I listened to it for a second time.

    Do people choose to be self sufficient as a buddhist practitioner? Some, certainly. Sitting with others, though, makes treading the eightfold path so much easier.

    Of necessity, a secular approach to Buddhism almost demands that authority and responsibility is shared among peers. We all need to be capable of understanding and practicing the four tasks, of taking responsibility for our own practice, and being the spiritual friend for others. This doesn’t preclude us from having teachers, rather it’s an acknowledgement of how rare a genuine and truly inspiring teacher is.

    That NY Insight started as a group of practitioners without a guiding teacher, and that it wasn’t until eight years later that they felt they were in a position to appoint one I find reassuring.

    Like Sebene, I’ve put energy into creating and building community. ‘A sense of service to all beings’, is how she sees her work. Sounds right. Learning through practice, reading and listening to downloaded dharma talks is no substitute for being in a room with others, and developing ongoing spiritual friendships.

    And I do so agree with Ted, just gazing at the back of someone’s head is not enough, which is why when the opportunity arose to bring Winton Higgins from Australia to New Zealand, his teachings were part of a workshop, rather than a silent retreat.

    Organisation building, as Sebene puts it, is part of the process of building strong healthy communities. Building community is what I do, and I look forward to seeing more communities taking shape around the globe.

  5. Doug Smith on August 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    For any subscribers, there’s a nice interview with Sebene in the new Tricycle HERE.

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