About Our Sangha


Springs Mountain Sangha is a Zen Buddhist practice community: a group of people who study and practice the Zen way of awakening together. Our tradition has an emphasis on meditation and shared inquiry, and in particular, we are part of a stream of Zen in which koan inquiry is practiced in a number of forms and venues.

We are a part of The Open Source, a network of individuals and communities in the western United States engaged in Zen practice together. (link to page). We meet three times weekly at Shove Chapel, on the Colorado College campus in Colorado Springs, for silent meditation and sutras, talks, discussion or informal conversation. We offer frequent classes, koan practice and study groups. We also hold one-day, weekend and longer meditation retreats. It is also possible to meet individually with our teachers, Sarah Bender, Sensei and Andrew Palmer, Sensei. Please contact them at sembender@gmail.com or alpsensei@gmail.com for more information.

All are welcome to all of our events. If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll join us!

While Zen is very much an individual undertaking, it is more powerful practiced in community. Some of us attend regularly, some only rarely. We consider a member anyone who wishes to be considered a member. There are no membership dues or sign-up requirements, though we welcome, and in fact depend on, donations. Decisions are made as a whole or by an elected steering committee, and there are a number of ways to participate. Members bring offerings of flowers, incense, food, readings, their own writings or thoughts, and most importantly, their own sincere practice (See Support SMS page).

Zen practice doesn’t require abandoning other religious traditions. Rather it tends to deepen our understanding of religious traditions and practices; and the wisdom of other traditions enriches our practice of Zen. Our particular stream of Zen comes through the Sanbo Kyodan, formed in Japan by Hakuun Yasutani Roshi. It was further developed by Robert Aitken, Roshi, who founded the Diamond Sangha, and now by the Pacific Zen School, under the leadership of John Tarrant and Joan Sutherland. This lineage is characterized by a lay practice rather than a monastic one; a teaching style rich with encouragement and wide in scope, including both Soto and Rinzai teaching methods; and by a dedication to embodying the dharma in 21st century America, welcoming insights from sources old and new, Eastern and Western. For more information on the Pacific Zen School, which includes John Tarrant’s Pacific Zen Institute and Joan Sutherland’s Open Source Project, please see www.pacificzen.org and http://joansutherlanddharmaworks.org/ (see the About Open Source page).

Evolution of the Sangha

The roots of this sangha go back to 1996. We held our first retreat in 1997. In the summer of 1998, we adopted the name Springs Mountain Sangha and invited Joan Sutherland, Roshi to be our holding teacher. Sutherland Roshi came to Colorado to lead retreats, trained our leaders, created our liturgy and worked with individual students. Although she has now retired from active teaching due to illness, her generous offering of her powerful teaching continues through her book, Acequias and Gates, her other writings and her recorded talks.

In September 2006, Sarah Bender became a sensei with Joan Sutherland’s Open Source, as well as our first resident teacher. In February, 2011, Andrew Palmer also became an Open Source Sensei. Andrew offers teachings for Springs Mountain Sangha, and serves as Cadet Buddhist Program Leader at the United States Air Force Academy. Andrew is the resident teacher for Wet Mountain Sangha, in Pueblo. Sarah received full transmission from Joan Sutherland, Roshi in June 2017.

The Sangha’s business is managed by the SMS Steering Committee. Sarah Bender, Roshi, as our Resident Teacher, is an “ex officio” member of the Committee. The other members are elected to the group once per year in an All Sangha Meeting. The Committee meets on a regular basis (usually monthly) to coordinate upcoming events, manage Sangha’s finances and to see to the welfare of the Sangha and its members.

2018 Members of the SMS Steering Committee:

  • Ex-officio: Sarah Bender, Roshi, sembender@gmail.com
  • Chair: (TBD)
  • Treasurer: Brandy Lancaster, bdl0824@gmail.com
  • Secretary: Robert King, kingrh@comcast.net
  • Kelly McFarland, s.kelly.hls@gmail.com
  • Frank Actis, frank.actis@netscout.com
  • Liz Cramer, elizabeth.cramer51@gmail.com
  • Steve Milligan, steve_milligan08@comcast.net
  • Clay Taylor, bluewildrye@gmail.com