Who is Sangha?

This week Annie will facilitate.

I remember many years ago, one of our sangha (mindfulness community) members, someone with whom I had practiced for many years, went off on a trip to "find himself." He traveled to Asia and spent many weeks in a forest monastery in Thailand. Then, he went on to Plum Village and spent several months practicing there during the winter rains retreat. 

When he came back to our Wednesday morning sangha, we were so excited to hear the wisdom he had gained. I remember so clearly one morning when he shared with us the most powerful piece of wisdom he had received. He said he had learned that everyone everywhere was looking for one thing -- sangha. And this was something we had right here, a community that practiced meditation and deep listening and sharing together. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, he had the one thing everyone was looking for.

I was surprised because I had often taken the sangha for granted. But his experience struck me and made me see how lucky we really are. I've been reminded of this over and over through the years when sangha members share about how important this space has become to them, and how they sit with us during their most joyful and most difficult moments. 

This past week, one of our dear members passed away (Susan Newborn) and her family asked for us to send her some information about the sangha, because it had been such an important part of Susan's life.

Sangha Matters.

This is why Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) says, The next Buddha will be the sangha." And why the Buddha himself said that spiritual friendship is the whole of the spiritual path. 

We need each other. You matter to the sangha. Without you, there is no sangha. 

Thay defines sangha in a Lion's Roar article as:

"A sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. The essence of a sangha is awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony and love. When you do not see these in a community, it is not a true sangha, and you should have the courage to say so. But when you find these elements are present in a community, you know that you have the happiness and fortune of being in a real sangha."

To me, sangha means that we practice for each other. When I am lost, I see your practice and I remember to breathe and walk with mindfulness. And when you see me you remember to be fresh and aware. As Thay says, we practice awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony and love with each other. And these take effort.

Our individual awakening cannot happen without collective awakening and collective awakening cannot happen without individual awakening. When we are sitting on our cushion bringing awareness to our breathing and the present moment we are offering something precious to the other people in the room, and even those who are not in the room. Our solidity goes out into the world as a gift freely shared.

One of the reasons I have been drawn to this particular practice, with Thay, is because of his emphasis on sangha. We sit and walk together not simply to make ourselves into a better version of who we are now. We sit and walk together to help each other and to transform our relationships with each other and with the world. We sit to heal the entire world simultaneously with ourselves.

I love this excerpt from the Monastics of Plum Village, One Buddha is Not Enough, where they are describing a retreat in which Thay canceled his attendance at the last minute (because of his health) and the sangha had to come together to lead the retreat without him:

"This powerful energy of our collective practice also enabled us to look into our past experiences with love, loss, expectations, and disappointments. By staying together as a Sangha, we broke through our habitual patterns of avoiding and running away from pain. Transformation and healing took place in every person, monastic and lay, beginning and long-term practitioner. We experienced directly the immense value and strength of our spiritual community, our Sangha. We realized that Thay and his teachings will continue well into the future, because we are a Sangha. Wherever we are, when we come together as a community of practice, we can generate this powerful energy of peace and healing."

There is so much we can do as a sangha. 

The monastics went on to write:

"Realizing that our burdens don’t originate with us makes them lighter. We don’t have to hold them by ourselves; our ancestors will help us. And if we practice with others, our community, our Sangha can help us, too, to carry our baggage until we’re ready to put it down."

So this week when we get together on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, can we be aware that we are sitting for each other? That we are sitting for Thay and the monastics? That we are walking for our ancestors and our descendants? That we come together, not just for the sake of ourselves, but for the healing of the world?  

Especially as Thay moves closer to his continuation in another form, and we aim for a leader-ful and teacher-ful community, what do you need from sangha right now? And what can you offer the sangha? 

You matter to the sangha.

And when we share our reflections after our meditation period, let's consider what sangha means to you, how you support the creation of sangha, how we practice to welcome everyone and anyone into the sangha, and what is the place you want to occupy in OHMC sangha today? Do you need the sangha's support? Do you want to offer support?

"The monastic brothers and sisters held several meetings to discuss the best way to support our teacher and our retreatants. The practices of deep listening and loving speech were practiced more intensely than ever. Unified by the urgency of the situation, and by our love for Thay and our lay brothers and sisters, we experienced a profound solidarity in our brotherhood and sisterhood. Every person stepped up to take on responsibilities that we might have hesitated to in other times. We realized that the success of the retreat depended on the energy of the whole community, the whole Sangha, and as monastic practitioners, we had to contribute our best." (the Monastics of Plum Village, One Buddha is Not Enough

with love,