Open Circle Sangha

This profile was last updated in 2003

History

A small group of people interested in meditation, some of whom had been to the Zen Center in San Francisco, began to meet in 1986. David Cooper, who attended the San Francisco Zen Center in the 1970s, and Georgeanne Paul have been the “core” of the group since its conception. Georgeanne became involved with Buddhism in 1987. She was ordained at the Community of Mindful Living in Berkely in the tradition of Thich Naht Hahn and initially worked with the Open Way Sangha in Missoula. Her emphasis has gradually shifted from this tradition to her more recent involvement with Soto Zen at the San Francisco Zen Center. Here she went through Jukai, a boddhisattva initiation. This is a lay ordination and the first step in a formal ordination.

The group became a continuous sangha in 1989, adopting the name Open Circle. The sangha is comprised of six regular participants with five or six others that come and go. Many more people attend the yearly retreats, which are often coordinated with the Bozeman Zen Group. The retreats are not restricted exclusively to Zen practitioners. Many people from all walks of life are said to come to enjoy the silence and peace. The Open Circle Sangha does not have an independent, public center of their own. They currently rent the yoga room in the Aikido Dojo Center/Movement Arts Building. Members from Open Circle Sangha are involved with the the Helena Interfaith Circle.

Activities and Schedule

Weekly Group Meditation Practice
Sundays 8:00-9:30 a.m. at the Movement Center/Yoga Studio
The weekly group meditation practice is primarily zazen. The meeting includes silent meditation, either sitting or walking, concluded with a reading. Once a month on separate occasions, the sangha recites the Five Precepts and the Heart Sutra.

Weekly Book-Study meeting
Study groups meet on Thursday evenings at various Helena sites.
Meditation Instruction
Instruction is provided by either Georgeanne Paul or David Simpson upon request.
Retreats
Retreats are typically held annually, often in cooperation with the Bozeman Zen Group. Recently Tenshin Reb Anderson of the San Francisco Zen Center lead their annual retreat.
Prision Outreach
Open Circle of Helena, the Bozeman Zen Group, and the Open Gate Community of Missoula (a non profit corporation dedicated to prison outreach that grew out of the Open Way Sangha of Missoula) work together with the Full Circle Sangha of the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. Once a week people from each sangha sit with Full Circle, and help facilitate occasional retreats for the inmates.

Description

Open Circle Sangha meets in a Yoga studio at the Aikido Dojo Center/Movement Arts Building. A sign outside the meditation room reads, “enter emptiness with emptiness.” The room’s only furniture is a small altar at its center. On the altar sits a burning candle, a bowl of flowers, an incense bowl, and a stone Buddha.