Expanding our Experience of Sangha

Jeffrey J led a session on Expanding Our Experience of Sangha this week.

Our Sangha operates somewhat on a “drop-in” basis. Where might we take the sense of “community” in Sangha? Other “religions” offer much in terms of interaction and spaghetti dinners. How might we reflect on, and nudge, our understanding of “Sangha”?We will engage with each other to listen, ask, offer what we can about what our practice is, where we want to take it, what we can offer to each other.

 Thich Nhat Hanh writes, ” A sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. “

Our civilization, our culture, has been characterized by individualism. The individual wants to be free from the society, from the family. The individual does not think he or she needs to take refuge in the family or in the society, and thinks that he or she can be happy without a sangha. That is why we do not have solidity, we do not have harmony, we do not have the communication that we so need.

The practice is, therefore, to grow some roots. The sangha is not a place to hide in order to avoid your responsibilities. The sangha is a place to practice for the transformation and the healing of self and society. When you are strong, you can be there in order to help society. If your society is in trouble, if your family is broken, if your church is no longer capable of providing you with spiritual life, then you work to take refuge in the sangha so that you can restore your strength, your understanding, your compassion, your confidence. And then in turn you can use that strength, understanding and compassion to rebuild your family and society, to renew your church, to restore communication and harmony. This can only be done as a community—not as an individual, but as a sangha.

In order for us to develop some roots, we need the kind of environment that can help us become rooted. A sangha is not a community of practice in which each person is an island, unable to communicate with each other—this is not a true sangha. No healing or transformation will result from such a sangha. A true sangha should be like a family in which there is a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood

Participants broke in small groups to practice mindful listening of each other’s experience of, and needs around, our sangha. We then reconvened to share out. Some of the notes from that sharing. Our sangha…

  • is a safe space to practice, to speak from body and heart, feeling of community without judgement or responsibility
  • fosters willingness to share, to show what we are grappling with
  • provides accountability because it is there every week
  • offers a rooting connection, the comfort of kinship, compassion
  • is an anchor, weekly medicine
  • helps me remember the teachings through discussion, energizes how teachings apply in my life
  • is a grounding spot after retreats. 
  • is a place to practice metta for dealing with others
  • tea in the middle is really nice

Thoughts on what might change:

  • develop more of a “community” sense? Potluck gathering?
  • Consider tea at the end?
  • consider social justice action as a non-partisan “community of concern” that builds bridges as opposed to take sides. Example of group holding space in discussions between local citizens and police.
  • Doing a “retreat day” of greater length
  • “Hosts” vs “guests”