Leading a Gathering

Offered with a bow of appreciation for your kind and diligent preparation of our time together. Please note that these guidelines pertain for the most part to Tuesday and Friday meetings.  Sunday and Wednesday meetings do their own scheduling and meet in private homes.

Advance preparation

  • Feel free to take home the bell the week before you lead.
  • Review these guidelines and obtain contact information for your scheduler.
  • Review/research topic; prepare and practice your dharma talk/presentation (feel free to discuss with scheduler, especially if the topic is new to you, or if you are new to leading).
  • Please consider that each talk should include Buddhist teachings as well as one’s own personal experience of them. Speaking one’s own experience without relating it to the Dharma, or simply reciting teachings without personal grounding are generally not fitting for most weekly SnowFlower Sangha meetings. We seek to combine Understanding (the Dharma) with Love (speaking from the heart of personal experience).
  • Be sure to leave enough time for discussion. Starting April 1, 2015, both Tuesday and Friday will end at 8:30. Suggested format: Leaders end meditation period by 7:55; end talk by 8:10 or 8:15; end discussion period by 8:25.
  • Send a reminder message to the listserv informing members of your topic a few days before you lead: snowflower@yahoogroups.org.
  • Make copies of any handouts you wish to distribute relating to your dharma talk.
  • Arrange to bring flowers for altar.
  • Note: If you need assistance with any of the leadership tasks–setup, greeting, reading, inviting the bell, etc. — ask the scheduler or sangha members ahead of time or as they come in.

Opening the Friends Meetinghouse

  • Please plan to arrive by 6:30 p.m. to set up the meditation hall (Meetinghouse Sanctuary).
  • Turn on hallway lights, if needed. Acquaint yourself with the lights in the meditation hall. Switches for the overhead lights are to the right as you enter. Switches for the wall lights are on either side of the stage.
  • Check the room temperature. In the winter, if the room seems too cold, you may turn up the heat by pressing the “up” arrow button on the thermostat. The system will automatically revert to “run” settings two hours later.

Setting up the meditation hall

  • Gather the following for setting up from the closet to the right of the stage: Buddha and Bodhisattva statues; meditation cushions; the supply crate with tablecloths, candles, donation basket, photos of Thay, signs.
  • Roll out the library cart and place it opposite main door to the meditation hall.
  • Place (large) “Welcome to SnowFlower” sign on a chair in the hallway outside the door to the meditation hall.
  • Tape “Scent-Free Zone” sign (attached to side of library cart) to the closed (left) door.
  • Place “Meditation in Progress” sign on the back side of the right door (this door stays open until the start of the first sit).
  • Entry Table:
    • Move the piano bench from the stage to just inside the entry door. Cover it with a cloth and place on it Kuan Yin, donation basket, and welcome documents. These may include Welcome to SF brochure, current newsletters, small photo of Thay, handouts relating to that evening. Most of these documents can be found in the white envelope on the lower shelf of the library cart.
  • Altar:
    • Use the round table as an altar. It will be up on the stage by the piano.
    • Cover altar with a cloth and place the Buddha statue, flowers, candles, photo of Thay on it.
    • Stash extra materials and the supply crate out of sight on a back bench.
  • Leader sitting space:
    • Set up your sitting space to one side of the altar (chair or cushion) with bells, clock, and any papers or books close by.
  • Group Sitting Space:
    • Stack extra sitting cushions to the right of the entry door next to the second row of benches.
    • Make room for walking meditation by removing one row of chairs from each side, stack against the walls.
    • Chairs may be arranged in semicircles or left in straight lines. Allow center space for 10 cushions.

Opening the session

  • At 7:00 p.m., wake the bell and invite the bell once. (Please refer to “Bell Basics” laminated card for specifics.)
  • Welcome everyone to SnowFlower Sangha. Invite everyone to introduce themselves by stating their first name (start with yourself). Also mention that you are leader for this night only, and that we typically have a different leader each meeting. This is to let new people know that the leader is not a permanent fixture, but rather an impermanent manifestation!
  • Invite newcomers or visitors to identify themselves as such (“so we can welcome you”, or “so we can give you special attention if needed”, or something friendly that won’t make the person feel put on the spot).
  • If there are new people, welcome them again and mention the written materials on the entry table. Let them know that you and/or other Sangha members will be available to answer questions at the end of the meeting. Ask for a show of helping hands.
  • Explain briefly the format of the evening (e.g., sit, walk, sit). Do so more elaborately (e.g., Explaining Sitting and Walking Meditation and bells) and in more detail if there are new people, less so if there are no new people.
  • You may wish to mention the evening’s topic and offer a pertinent reading or instruction.
  • Request that the entry door be shut.

First sit (approximately 20 – 25 minutes)

  • Wake the bell and invite it three times, completing three breaths between each invitation.
  • At the end of the sit, wake the bell and invite it once. Bow.

Walking meditation

  • Explain Walking Meditation basics if needed. Wake the small bell and then invite it for the first time. Rise, put away cushions, and form a circle.
  • When everyone is in the circle(s), invite the bell the second time. Bow.
  • Invite the bell for the third time; turn left; begin walking.
  • After 10 — 15 minutes, invite the bell for the fourth time.
  • When people are facing into the circle, invite the bell for the fifth time. Bow.
  • Move slowly towards your seat, rearrange yourself and have the large bell at hand.

Second sit (approximately 20 – 25 minutes)

  • Wake the bell and invite it three times, completing three breaths between each invitation.
  • At the end of the sit, wake the bell and invite it once. Bow.
  • Instructions for offering a guided meditation:
  • When leading a guided meditation, it is most important to remember that when people are meditating, they could be startled by sudden words. To avoid jolting people, the bell is gently used before words are spoken. Waking the bell, rather than inviting it with a full sound (by touching the rim of the bell firmly with the inviter and not moving the inviter away) does this. It muffles the sound. (For more complete information, consult Thây’s book, The Blooming of a Lotus.)

Dharma talk

  • Present your talk being mindful to leave enough time for discussion (see details in Advance Preparation above). When you are finished, bow.
  • If there are new people, explain why we bow during the sharing period. Open the floor for discussion. You may
  • wish to mention that silence is also a wonderful way to take in the topic.
  • At about 8:25, announce that there are just a few minutes left.
  • Ask if there are any additional comments. A few minutes later, invite the bell once.

Closing comments and circle

  • Sharing the Merit is offered before announcements.
  • Ask if there are any announcements.
  • After announcements explain the suggested $2.00 donation and ask people to put money in the basket by the door as they leave.
  • Mention the notebook on the entry table in case newcomers wish to be added to the listserv.
  • Invite new people to stay and meet Sangha members, and encourage Sangha members to stay and talk with them after the closing.
  • Invite everyone to form a circle, hold hands, and, if they wish, offer names of those who may need support. Stay in circle for a few minutes allowing for names to be spoken. Initiate the arm-raising and then bow.

Rearranging and closing down the building

  • Put the documents back in the white envelope on the library cart. Collect and store extra handouts in use that evening.
  • Return all supplies to their storage spots.
  • The money is handled by a representative of the Finance Committee, but if no one picks up the money, take it home for safekeeping and return it next time (or follow instruction in the log on who to send it to. Please write the amount and an estimate of the number of people in the log on the library cart.
  • Make sure the sanctuary is left clear and tidy. Close windows, turn off lights, and lock front door as you leave.

Tuesday only

Tuesday leader is to make contact with the Friday leader beforehand about how the space should be left. If the Tuesday leader has been unable to contact the Friday leader, the Tuesday folks reset the space according to the Friends standard.

Friday only

Place chairs back into straight rows and make sure that there are only two soft gray chairs per row. Four rows on either side of the room. Maximum seven chairs per row. Leave no aisle-wide space (just bare maneuvering space) between the bench at the stage and back row of chairs. See specifics on inside of closet door.

Sangha Cancellation Policy

It is sangha policy not to cancel a scheduled sangha meeting. In case of illness or inclement weather, however, scheduler and leader will discuss the options, decide together what to do, and notify the listserve no later than 3:00 p.m.