13 October 2011


I've had occasion recently to mull over what sangha does, can, or ought to look like in our present environment. 

For my part, I would start out with what the Buddha himself offered as the whole of the holy life: "admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie."  This implies engagement, and it speaks to me of genuine human interaction, appropriate concern, noble correction and encouragement.  On this model, my spiritual development is tied to the spiritual development of my brothers and sisters.  They are not at all ancillary to my practice.  Sangha is not a collection of discrete, isolated egos.

On this model, we take each other's lives and aspirations as being bound up with our own.  The practice center and its leadership is not a "resource" for "clientele," the way a grocery store has goods for consumption, and all one need do is stop in.  It drives me nuts when the checkout clerk feigns personal interest in me by trying to thank me by my name printed on the receipt; I'm just there for the groceries.  I would feel disappointed, however, knowing I could practice with a group of people for 10-15 years, and the main people involved with the center wouldn't know my place of employment and my general field of work, or how many kids I had and their approximate ages; I'm not just here for dokusan and teisho.   Sangha is not neutral or standoffish.

Taking "admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie" as my cue, I understand my place as a more senior member to be one that both models that friendship, etc. and facilitates its happening among others.  This doesn't mean being chummy, though goodhearted joviality is not off the table.  Above all it means that I model and facilitate this boon of a practice that has been handed down to me.  People see me sitting, people see me working out the precepts in my life, people see me in possession of that joy and equanimity and the rest that are the fruits of practice.  That means in the first instance that they can actually see me; I do not hide but open up and reveal myself to them, warts and all.  Sangha is not a place for airs and postures.

And I am not above correction.  Friendship, companionship and camaraderie is the stuff of equals.  If someone feels they need to pussyfoot around me, then I'm not being a good friend.  If someone finds me inapproachable, then I'm not much of a companion.  If someone can't count on me in a common pursuit, then camaraderie is nonexistent.  Sangha is not a place for rump-kissing or fawning, denying problems or excusing defects, maintaining strict divisions of labor or standing on hierarchy.

I'm a lucky guy.  By and large, I've found any number of admirable friends, companions and comrades over the years.  Both of my teachers have been men in whose presence I've tasted the holy life, and they've prompted me to be more than I had ever thought possible.  I've found excellent spiritual kin in so many of the men and women who have practiced here over the years, and I only hope that I've been a fraction of the friend they've been to me.

I guess I'd wrap it up by saying that sangha is a place that leads to deepest gratitude and wondrous ease!

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