sangha building - creating the buddhist practice community excerpt

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(-)CG lz- P-r) _SANGHA BUILDINGCreating the Buddhist Practice Communityby Jack LawlorCONTENTSChapter One Sunday Evenings with FriendsChapter Two Why Practice with a Sangha?Chapter Three Getting StartedChapter Four Sangha ActivitiesChapter Five Sangha Family, Sangha ValuesChapter-Six How to Be a Good Member of A SanghaChapter Seven Sanghas and the Practice of Engaged BuddhismChapter ThreeGETTING STARTEDA Sangha is also a community of resistance, resistingthe speed, violence, and unwholesome ways ofliving that are prevalent in our society. Mindfulnessis to protect ourselves and others. A good Sanghacan lead us in the direction of harmony and awareness.The substance of the practice is most important.The forms can be adapted...Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching PeaceHow does one form a Sangha? There is less mystery to this than youmay think. Do you have friends? How do you organize a social event forthem? You can initially create a Sangha in much the same way.Reflect on how you may have organized an intimate dinner party atyour home. Not an "open house" or a "cocktail party", but, say, a mid-winterdinner party designed to provide people with an opportunity to share warmth andfriendship with one another. Let's think about how we organize such an event.First, there is the question of the guest list. For this type of party, you tendto invite people with something in common. You seek people who are open,trusting, conversational, and who have a certain something else in common --something a bit ephemeral, but which might be described as sincerity, or naturalinquisitiveness about life. And so you might invite people to your first Sanghameeting. Inviting people to a spiritual practice can be done in a manner as graciously1 8as offering a meal -- in fact, you might also offer a meal!One often hears about Buddhist practitioners who live in isolated areas, or wholive in a region thought to be intolerant or suspicious about non-hierarchical orEastern religious practices. Might the seeds of a small Sangha nonetheless beavailable, right in front of us, and we fail to see it? What of the book store owneror librarian who consistently stocks a small shelf of books on the subject ofmeditation? What of the local physician who has confided in us the need fora stronger spiritual base among the adults in the community? What of theparents of our children's friends, who seem as stressed out and fatigued aswe are, yet have expressed an interest in finding some way to renew theirstrength in order to better fulfill their responsibilities? There may be friendslike these all around us. They are treasures, they are a potential Sangha.In urban areas, there may be additional resources for building a Sangha.There may be recent retreats or public Dharma talks in your vicinity. By attending,you can meet people to invite to the creation of a Sangha. Don't be too shyabout it; others share your aspirations, and are equally tired of practicing alonein the company of books and cassette tapes. Above all, be responsive to theneeds of newcomers. Try to see the Sangha through their eyes. This insightis critical to Sangha building. People who are new to the practice will appreciatethe atmosphere you have created. One member of a local Sangha, who hadpracticed with the group for six months, described it this way at a retreat ledby Thich Nhat Hanh:I have often brought someone with me [to thelocal Sangha]. I felt right from the beginningthat the group was so welcoming andrespectful and you didn't get the sensethat "these are the top dogs" and"we're the underdogs" or the newcomers.1 9It was a very welcoming, respectful environmentand I think it's very attractive. I think that'swhat draws people.Once we've arrived at a guest list for our dinner party, additional planningis required. We seek to offer our guests something they share in commo

TRANSCRIPT

  • (-)CG lz- P-r) _SANGHA BUILDING

    Creating the Buddhist Practice Community

    by Jack Lawlor

  • CONTENTS

    Chapter One Sunday Evenings with Friends

    Chapter Two Why Practice with a Sangha?

    Chapter Three

    Getting Started

    Chapter Four Sangha Activities

    Chapter Five Sangha Family, Sangha Values

    Chapter-Six How to Be a Good Member of A Sangha

    Chapter Seven Sanghas and the Practice of Engaged Buddhism

  • Chapter Three

    GETTING STARTED

    A Sangha is also a community of resistance, resistingthe speed, violence, and unwholesome ways ofliving that are prevalent in our society. Mindfulnessis to protect ourselves and others. A good Sanghacan lead us in the direction of harmony and awareness.

    The substance of the practice is most important.The forms can be adapted...

    Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching Peace

    How does one form a Sangha? There is less mystery to this than you

    may think. Do you have friends? How do you organize a social event for

    them? You can initially create a Sangha in much the same way.

    Reflect on how you may have organized an intimate dinner party at

    your home. Not an "open house" or a "cocktail party", but, say, a mid-winter

    dinner party designed to provide people with an opportunity to share warmth and

    friendship with one another. Let's think about how we organize such an event.

    First, there is the question of the guest list. For this type of party, you tend

    to invite people with something in common. You seek people who are open,

    trusting, conversational, and who have a certain something else in common --

    something a bit ephemeral, but which might be described as sincerity, or natural

    inquisitiveness about life. And so you might invite people to your first Sangha

    meeting. Inviting people to a spiritual practice can be done in a manner as graciously

  • 1 8

    as offering a meal -- in fact, you might also offer a meal!

    One often hears about Buddhist practitioners who live in isolated areas, or who

    live in a region thought to be intolerant or suspicious about non-hierarchical or

    Eastern religious practices. Might the seeds of a small Sangha nonetheless be

    available, right in front of us, and we fail to see it? What of the book store owner

    or librarian who consistently stocks a small shelf of books on the subject ofmeditation? What of the local physician who has confided in us the need for

    a stronger spiritual base among the adults in the community? What of the

    parents of our children's friends, who seem as stressed out and fatigued as

    we are, yet have expressed an interest in finding some way to renew their

    strength in order to better fulfill their responsibilities? There may be friends

    like these all around us. They are treasures, they are a potential Sangha.

    In urban areas, there may be additional resources for building a Sangha.

    There may be recent retreats or public Dharma talks in your vicinity. By attending,

    you can meet people to invite to the creation of a Sangha. Don't be too shy

    about it; others share your aspirations, and are equally tired of practicing alone

    in the company of books and cassette tapes. Above all, be responsive to the

    needs of newcomers. Try to see the Sangha through their eyes. This insight

    is critical to Sangha building. People who are new to the practice will appreciate

    the atmosphere you have created. One member of a local Sangha, who had

    practiced with the group for six months, described it this way at a retreat led

    by Thich Nhat Hanh:

    I have often brought someone with me [to thelocal Sangha]. I felt right from the beginningthat the group was so welcoming andrespectful and you didn't get the sensethat "these are the top dogs" and"we're the underdogs" or the newcomers.

  • 1 9

    It was a very welcoming, respectful environ-ment and I think it's very attractive. I think that'swhat draws people.

    Once we've arrived at a guest list for our dinner party, additional planning

    is required. We seek to offer our guests something they share in common. At a

    dinner party, the focus is on the meal. For a Sangha, the focus is on meditation.

    Meditation serves as a wonderful common denominator. Contemporary lay

    people have a genuine appreciation for the calm, the silence of meditation, once they

    have been introduced to it an an accessible, non-threatening manner.

    Regardless of your friends' religious, economic, or ethnic backgrounds,

    they will enjoy meditation as the main course. Anyone can appreciate it,even with only a modest degree of instruction. Just don't make the meditation

    rounds either too long or too short. Twenty minutes will do nicely. Create

    an atmosphere of compassion and mutual support by inviting people to change

    meditation postures, quietly, during the conduct of the sitting should the need

    arise because their knees or ankles have "gone to sleep". Allow people

    who are uncomfortable with sitting in the lotus positions to sit upright in simple,

    straight-backed chairs.

    Invest your friends in the creation of the Sangha by sharing responsibilities

    and tasks. Share the role of being the bell master. Share the task of initiating

    the meditation by lighting a candle, or if no one is allergic, a stick of incense.

    Above all, don't create a sense of hierarchy between those who have meditated

    before, or been fortunate enough to attend retreat, and those who haven't.

    You are friends enjoying the same path, with varied degrees of knowledgeand experience about different aspects of the way which' you wish to share

    with one another. A participant at a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, who later

  • 20

    helped found a local Sangha, described the motivation of Sangha members

    this way:

    ... the people who made the retreat simplywanted the support of other people who hadthe same dream and vision, the same desireto practice.

    After the hour of formal sitting meditation is completed, feel free to relax.

    Share refreshments: everyone certainly enjoys food, and its lends to the senseof community. Carefully baked or selected c000kies or cakes, accompanied

    by herbal teas, are always welcomed. The food should not only be carefully

    prepared, but also carefully presented, reflecting respect for both the food

    and for your friends. Carefully arrange the cookies and napkins on a simple

    offering tray. Carefully prepare the tea in simple, aesthetically pleasing cups.

    After five or ten minutes of informal conversation, invite your friends

    to reassemble, sitting in a more closely knit circle, facing one another. Begin

    enjoying the refreshments by passing the trays to one another, perhaps bowinggratitude as you give and receive. Then, taste the food. Truly taste and

    come into contact with it! The tea may offer you an aroma that you have overlooked.

    The cookie may contain a deep, sweet flavor that you haven't tasted for years.

    Your meditation has left your senses free to come into full contact with the cookie,

    with the tea, with the world.

    The second half of your evening can be devoted to coming into contact

    with your friends through Dharma discussion. At your first meeting, you might

    discuss things which are very simple and direct. Perhaps you could invite

    each person to more fully introduce themselves. In doing so, they can

    be asked to describe how they became interested in meditation, and how

    they think it fits, or might fit into their daily lives. In addition, people

  • 21can be encouraged to ask questions about meditation. People usuallyhave questions about posture, exercises for following the breath, etc. Yourfriends can draw on their experiences in helping one another.Questions like these are also useful in exploring the subject of forminga Sangha to make group practice of meditation and discussion consistentlyavailable.

    Before everyone is too tired, you may wish to bring the meeting toa close. Don't be afraid, however, to ask your friends if they wouldlike to meet again. In response, some people will express their desire to doso immediately; others will be afraid to make a firm commitment, and one ortwo may be already out the door! At this point, you may have-doubts aboutthe future propects of your Sangha.

    Please allow me to provide a few personal insights into Sangha buildingat this tender juncture in a Sangha's development. First, young Sanghas havea much better chance of success if two or three people have a quiet, unintimidating,yet totally absolute and unshakable resolve to make group practice available ona weekly or bi-monthly basis. Sangha-building is a lot like the thesis of themovie, Field atDreams,, which in turn was based on W.P. Kinsella'snovel, Shoeless Joe: "If you build it, they willl come." But remember this:even in Field ol Dreams, "they" did not come running as soon as the fieldwas built. The ballplayers came in ones, twos and threes; the neighboringIowans were skeptical and took a long time to see the baseball field forwhat it was; and who's in this for big numbers, anyway?

    Second, Sangha development will tend, rather ironically, to occur

    in inverse proportion to its leadership's overt zeal to build it. By "overt

    zeal", I mean a "wear on your sleeve", missionary type ai-nbition to change

  • 22

    the world, to convert, and to extract obligations from others. This approach

    is inappropriate in the contemporary West. We must nuture the organic

    growth of "guilt free" Sanghas which people want to attend apart from any

    sense of insti

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