The two comments to my one of my previous posts on community have been most thought-provoking (thank you Casey and Nathan!) and triggered in me some further reflection on what tribe I want to belong to and what I can contribute with. One of the questions that came up for me was: at what point does a group of people become a sangha? What’s a sangha? Then came the webinar with Dosho that so promisingly was entitled “Ingredients of Community”:
The quotes from Zen ancestors that Dosho offered in the presentation left me with no answers as to what made a community of practitioners and were more about unskillful ways to relate to others in the community (don’t-do-this-be-nice-and-drop-the-judgements). I think if we have a shared intention, we will figure out the ways to be around each other that would be in tune with that intention.
One of the teachers whose teachings and methods resonate with me, Ken McLeod, offers the following words on Sangha:
“…More generally, the Sangha consists of all individuals who practice the Dharma with the intention of waking up into the mystery of being. The Sangha is the community based on shared intention, not on a mutual dependence. Just as the term Buddhism incorrectly implies belief, so does the term Buddhist incorrectly implies believer. A person who practices the Dharma is, more accurately, a follower or traveler of a path, the path that Buddha Shakyamuni discovered.
The path is far from easy… Fellow travellers, companions on the path, provide us not only with support but also with the benefit of their own experience and understanding…” (Ken McLeod, “Wake Up to Your Life” p. 44-45)
Nathan’s word of caution on chasing harmony made me reflect on what harmony meant to me. Avoiding difficult situations because they carry potential for conflict has its price. I like the image Nathan chose for a sangha – “a stewing place”. It makes me think of stew or a soup where ingredients get mixed and sometimes we just don’t know what comes out. At each stage the stew tastes slightly different. Besides, those flavours and textures of the individual ingredients together make a unique and wonderful mix that is richer than any one of the ingredients. How can we encourage and allow each ingredient to open up to their fullest potential? I think one of the conditions is finding the right temperature: not too cold and not too hot. And that we all agree on what it is we are co-creating (the shared vision or intention).
It occurred to me that it is easy to mix the intention and the methods for its realisation. We can be so keen on establishing the format that best serves the purpose (sometimes we bring it from the outside and adopt it without questioning or trying to change because it’s been tested and because it’s easier this way) that we can forget why we did it in the first place. I believe that working inside out offers more opportunities for growth. In fact, that this is the pre-condition for growth. We need to be ready to tinker with the form, to experiment. If not because the present form is not satisfying, then for the sake of rocking the boat. Not an easy thing to do as it often can bring a whole lot of resistance: just try to reshuffle the deck by taking somebody else’s seat in a class where there are no assigned seats but where people tend to take the same seats time after another. I did that a couple of times and was amazed at the confusion it caused. I see meditating in a circle and discussing Dharma topics not as a goal but as a method to realising our purpose.
When I first joined the group a few months ago, I was very keen on not bringing my own agenda into it and decided for starters to show up whenever I could and contribute with whatever I could. I can see now that sometimes I held myself back because of the fear of promoting my agenda and not stirring stuff too much (or maybe because of me being aware of the propensity to do just that, stir too much?) Ken’s words remind me that if we all share the intention of “waking up into the mystery of being”, we will not fear to challenge our own ideas of what those methods should be like and will be open to polishing those edges that we will be unavoidably discovering when rubbing against each other.
This said, it seems to me the middle way is the golden way but how do we find that in a sangha? Now more than ever I am convinced it is extremely difficult to work through those issues (starting with welcoming them rather than shutting them out and even rattling the cage intentionally) without a teacher.