A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. November's Theme: "Birthing"
Volume 5 Issue 1 ISSN# 1708-3265
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The Envelope Please
An Interview with Jacqueline Kramer
by Aleesha Stephenson
Where you born into a Buddhist family? What was your spiritual upbringing as a child?
I was born into a Jewish family but my mother was very ecumenical. She taught comparative religions at the Jewish Sunday School and was not asked back because she did not favour one religion over another. When I was a little girl my mother began practicing yoga and meditation. Her teacher was a Religious Science Practitioner and when I was a teenager she brought me to her for counselling so I was exposed to the Western mystical tradition fairly early on. She also brought my brother to the retreat centre where he first met our Buddhist teacher Anagarika Dhamma Dinna. My entire family has gone on meditation retreats although only my brother Greg and I really practice Buddhism seriously. My father helped many Buddhist non-profits on the business end of things so I got to experience Buddhism from that perspective as well. I became a Dharma nerd as soon as I could read and carried a copy of "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones" in my purse when I was a teenager. When I look back on my childhood I can see spiritual teaching was definitely a calling for me, although I had poor self-esteem and resisted the calling.
What exactly is "practicing Buddhism seriously"?
Practicing Buddhism seriously is a subjective thing but I can give you my personal response. To practice seriously is to have an awareness and some knowledge of the basic tenets; 4 noble truths, 8 fold path, impermanence, selflessness, the Divine Abodes, etc. This is gained by reading and study. The other essential aspect of the serious practice is engaging in both moral training (the 5 precepts) and the meditation practices such as vipassana, or mindfulness, satipanna, or concentration, and loving kindness practice. It helps to be a part of a Sangha and to go on regular meditation retreats but this is not always possible for busy parents.
Was there an "aha" moment where you knew you were meant to teach? Please share it with us.
For me it was more of a "who me?" than an "Aha". I had been practicing Buddhism for 3 years before I became pregnant with Nicole. When I applied what I learned from Buddhist practice to pregnancy, birthing and mothering, it was amazingly useful. Finding it so beautiful and practical I went on a hunt to find out what other women had to say about this amazing process. I could find almost nothing, a little indigenous wisdom, some alternative explorer types had discovered the power and beauty of birthing, the early home birth movement, but there was no literature on mothering and homemaking as a spiritual practice. It was soon after that the book which was to be Buddha Mom came pouring through me. Throughout the process I kept saying to the Universe, "Who me? I'm not the best mom or homemaker or Buddhist. What do I have to teach? I can't even write." This resistance to the call went on for years but the book persisted and the Universe won. I finally surrendered to my calling.
Can you assist someone who's interested in Buddhism to begin their path?
Oh yes! There are many levels on which one can enjoy the Buddha's teachings. One can have a faith they are devoted to, such as Christianity, Judaism, etc., and learn "living tools" such as mindfulness and loving kindness from Buddhism and return that knowledge to their religion of origin. One can explore Buddhism with curiosity about this Eastern Wisdom tradition with an eye to history and spiritual technologies and insight into human psychiology. One can also be led by the heart into the beauty and poetry of this deep, rich tradition. There is a lot of great Buddhist thought-provoking material to read and practices which can transform your life, at whatever level you wish to enter it.
Can you tell us about the Hearth Foundation?
My father came to my home during his last months of life. While he was there he asked if there was anything he could leave me. I asked if he would leave me my mother's non-profit, The Foundation for Human Development, but that had already been dissolved so he created the Hearth Foundation and left it for me as his parting gift. The Hearth Foundation has many layers to it, like a good onion. We are dedicated to supporting and inspiring mothering and homemaking as a spiritual practice. We do this through online classes, workshops, and community building; offering resources and supporting moms to share their wisdom with one another. At this point a great deal of it is done on our website, but we are starting to go into communities and meet moms face to face to help them build mothering Sangha where they are. The online classes allow moms to continue developing their spiritual practice without leaving their homes and in their own time, essential for busy moms with different schedules and on different time zones. Our moms come from all over the US and Canada as well as from England, New Zealand and Australia. It is remarkable how close these online Sanghas can become. At the core of the Hearth vision is an awareness that this is the time in history when mothers are coming into their power in the world. When mothering is honoured and joyful we create healthy, happy families which impact the community and radiate out to shift the course of the world. Women have been demeaned throughout history and mothers have been alternately demeaned and glorified, neither of which are healthy views of mothering. Mothering is, at its core, a path of loving-kindness. It is a practical, hands-on, everyday, profound practice. Hearth Foundation is dedicated to seeing mothering for what it is and supporting moms to really understand the value of their day-to-day lives and use those lives to bring out the best in themselves, their families, and humanity.
Do you have a vision for the future?
I have a vision of a grassroots spiritual revolution starting in homes all over the world where women of all religious persuations discover the beauty and power of their everyday lives and radiate that joy to their families, communities and beyond. I see women helping lift one another up and coming into harmony with men. I see women stepping into their power and men opening their hearts. When we do this we naturally love and care for the Earth and kindness becomes the only choice. It's already happening in pockets here and there. I see it building until it is the dominant energy.
You mention your father helped many Buddhist non-profits. Are all Buddhist organizations non-profit and how can we help?
Non-profit status is a creation of the IRS. It is a way for churches and charities to solicit funds without paying taxes on them, thus creating both an incentive for people and other organizations to donate receiving a tax write off and allowing the non-profit to conduct fiscal business without the burden of taxes. Many Buddhist and other religious organizations do have non-profit status. One can help support a non-profit by donation of money and often by donation of your time and expertise. Many of us have volunteers who help operate the organization. Hearth Foundation has been gifted by the volunteer support of a Webmaster, Wendy Myers, who created our website free of charge; Heather Thorton, who registers new students, and Heidi Howes who is my teaching assistant. All these women were in the very first group of students for the online lessons. Out of gratitude for what they gained in the classes they offered to help the program.
I had dabbled in Buddhism for several years, but had my first life-altering Buddhist experience while reading Buddha Mom. Today's environment tends to look down on homemakers/householders, and I had certainly never heard of it referred to in a spiritual sense, until Buddha Mom. I found my peace in Jacqueline's words. Therefore, I could not be more excited when given the opportunity to enrol in her first offering of the Lay Buddhist classes. I never had any formal training in Buddhism or meditation. I have never been to a retreat or temple. I was so grateful for the opportunity to learn and be immersed in this new and peaceful experience. As a busy mother living far from Buddhist culture, I was given an opportunity to learn meditation and the foundation for a faith that has given me so much, an opportunity I would not have had without Jacqueline's classes.
Each lesson is offered with a great deal of kindness in such a wonderful environment. All information is given in a way which is welcoming to both seasoned Buddhists and newbies, our class had both. It never felt intimidating or overwhelming. The classes were open and honest. Each woman shared and learned. We grew together and because of each other. I have made new friends and am so thankful for the opportunity to now volunteer at the Hearth Foundation, so that I don't have to leave! This has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life!
In a nutshell, I will never be the same. I was transformed from a doubtful housewife with very low self-esteem in relation to my role in life to a wonderfully happy and peaceful Buddhist mother and wife with beautiful days filled with spiritual moments. I know it sounds too much to be true, but the power of breathing, pausing, appreciating, living consciously and making peace with your past cannot be underestimated. I owe this all to Jacqueline and her amazing classes.
Heather Thornton, student/volunteer
As a busy parent, connection to a Sangha via online classes has been extremely valuable. I also appreciate how Jacqueline has kept classes together in a progression of topics and discussions. Having the same 'classmates' online for several discussion periods has fostered a deep sense of security and comfort and has allowed us all to open up and do some deep work. Online discussion boards have allowed me to further my dharma study at a time when small children often make it impossible for me to attend talks and events at local temples. Jacqueline is a pioneer in bringing dharma to families while embracing technology.
My online study with Jacqueline has been life-changing. Her teachings embrace and work within the parameters of motherhood and householding; empowering mothers to practice from wherever they may find themselves, and encouraging Sangha in an otherwise often isolating world for mothers today. She has been an inspiration to me, as have all the other students as well. I am continually grateful that I read Buddha Mom 5 years ago and found a truly great teacher!
Heidi Howes, Washburn, WI
I was wobbling along experimenting with Buddhism, not really sure where to go, but knowing I would like to have direction. A friend told me about Buddha Mom and I signed up for the first available class. I am so thankful for it. The Sangha gave me a centre and helped me focus on my spiritual path. Every day I am grateful for the strength I receive from my practice and it has helped guide me through some hard days.
I live in an area that is so centred on wealth and status. Jacqueline's fabulous classes offered not only a place to learn that there is a place to centre ourselves in something more important that the material, but allowed me to meet others who are of like-mind. Getting to know other women with similar values to mine and, as a group, getting a chance to really explore those values within a Buddhist context has been a wonderfully enriching.
Religiously I have always felt different from my family and friends. The older I got the more disconnected I felt. I knew I needed a centre. I had been searching for many years for a community which shared my sentiment for tranquil peace and was less restrictive. I finally found Jacqueline. I'm a wife and mother of 2 with little time to myself and Jacqueline's classes gave me the down time I so desperately needed. Finding Jacqueline was one of the best things to ever happen in my life to give me peace.
I highly recommend lay Buddhist classes at The Hearth Foundation. As an online class it allows great flexibility to participate within one's own schedule. The lessons help build a strong foundation for practice and provide a clear understanding of the Buddha's teachings. Our teacher, Jacqueline Kramer, is always available to answer questions and provide support. I have found my interactions with the Sangha to be very inspiring and insightful.
I loved being in the Shrine Room II class. It had a powerful and seemingly magical effect on my life. Suddenly I found myself doing more of the things I love and less of the things that bring stress (and still getting chore-like stuff done but without stress).
Anyway, thank you for providing my life with a new kind of beauty, calm, enchantment and love of life.
Several weeks later I still practice almost every night (I think I've missed only one or two). And life is still, and seemingly forevermore, imbued with a fresh new beauty and calm, and compassion for myself and everyone around me (especially my little son).
The Hearth Foundation online class that I took with Jacqueline Kramer was very valuable to my practice and provided me with an opportunity to take part in a class with others that is not available in my area. Jacqueline is an inspiring teacher who speaks to other women and mothers with genuine compassion and a desire to help. I feel that I've benefited greatly from taking the Shrine Room class and have signed up to the Three Refuges class next month.
Jacqueline Kramer's Hearth Foundation is a wonderful place for women to gain knowledge, support and nurture their journey through mothering and Buddhist practice. I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in her online classes. What a beautiful Sangha she has created.
The Sangha I experienced during these classes was amazing. The closeness we felt, almost immediately with one another the depth of our sharing I know it assisted my healing and enlightenment tremendously.
Jacqueline's words melt into the depths of my understanding, assisting me to remove the veil from my eyes and simply see what is around me. My experience of life (from my everyday chores to a butterfly in the garden) have changed. I am living within this moment in a way I never knew existed.
The practise of daily meditation, focusing on the breath rather than on my thoughts (allowing my thoughts to drift by and not becoming emotionally attached to them) has assisted me in yoga, dealing with stress, even falling asleep at night. I was laying in bed, stressing about something and I found myself saying, "Aleesha, focus on the breath, do not become emotionally attached to this thought." and my stress level disappeared. I was able to fall asleep instead of laying there for hours getting myself worked into a frenzy. These classes have taken me to the place I thought I lived. When the veil fell from my eyes I discovered I had been standing on the edge looking in rather than truly experiencing life in the moment.
Jacqueline Kramer is the director of the Hearth Foundation. She has been studying and
practicing Theravadin Buddhism for 30 years, is a Religious Science Practitioner and student
of the world's wisdom traditions. Her root teacher was Annagarika Dhamma Dinna who taught
in the Sri Lankan tradition. She also studied with Ven. Ananda Maitreya, Achan Sobin Namto,
Ven. Punnaji Mahathera and Ayya Khema. Her work with mothering and homemaking came out
of an insight she had one afternoon while out in her back yard. As she looked into the eyes of the neighbour's cow she had an experience of unity and love for the planet and the desire to help protect the planet for her newborn daughter and all other beings. She realized this was her life's purpose. Jacqueline writes a weekly newsletter, books on mothering as a spiritual practice, and has created online lay Buddhist practice classes which she offers, as is the Buddhist tradition, at no cost. She is a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and friend.
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Any advice given is for informational purposes only.
Any advice given is for informational purposes only.