Reflections on the Lenz Foundation Retreat

(by Mandala) I remember the first time I heard Rama discuss the foundation he intended to establish. I was at a meeting of a small group of his students who were working on technology projects with him. First we discussed the various projects, then Rama began to speak, almost casually, about establishing a  foundation. He didn’t go into a lot of specifics, but he did say that the foundation’s purpose was not to promote his teachings, rather it was to support Buddhism in America at large. He envisioned, for example, establishing fellowships for Buddhist studies at universities like Naropa. He intended to fund the Foundation through his estate, and he suggested that as our businesses flourished, contributing to his foundation might be a happy thing for us to do. 

So over the years, I have always thought of the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism as a project of Rama’s that it would be fun to support. And over the years,  I have helped with some technical tasks, and I have become a friend of the Foundation.  

Rama authorized two of his closest advisors to establish and run the foundation. They serve on the Board of Directors to this day, and have been joined by one of Rama’s students. The Board is supported by an Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee includes women and men from the Buddhist community (monks, practitioners and scholars) most of whom never met Rama and know little of his work. The Committee has also always included at least one or two of Rama’s students. Today I am one of four of Rama’s students serving on the Committee. As such I was invited to and attended the retreat the Foundation held in Borrego Springs earlier this month. Several other students of Rama’s also attended the event — among them successful spiritual teachers and business people with ideas for Rama-related projects.

The purpose of the retreat was to consider the work the Foundation has done over the last 15+ years, and to prepare for the future. We had presentations on finances and trends in grant making. We hiked in the desert. Some of us meditated together (to Zazen music) in the mornings and enjoyed meals together. We participated in guided discussions on the pressing issues of the day, including: What is American Buddhism? What should the Foundation’s role be in shaping American Buddhism?

Prior to the retreat, I also had a chance to view about a dozen short videos from grantees, who discussed the impact the grants had on their programs. One night at dinner, I mentioned to the head of the Foundation the story I shared above, about first hearing Rama discuss his vision. I told him that I saw Rama’s presence in the way the Foundation operates, and in the programs of the grantees. 

As I reflect on the retreat, and my great good fortune to have studied with Rama, I am filled with gratitude and a renewed awareness of my responsibility to the Buddhist community.