Spiritual Friends

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Dear Still Water Friends,

To become a Buddhist, one simple statement is required: “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community).” Accepting the Buddha and the teachings were no-brainers for me. Accepting being part of a Sangha and opening my heart to the community—that’s been one of the sharpest edges in my practice.

According to Thich Nhat Hahn, taking refuge in the Sangha isn’t optional. Without this practice, we’ll eventually cease to be a practitioner. He compares being without a Sangha to a tiger who comes out of its home in the mountains and wanders into the plains—a place where the tiger is sure to perish.

According to Thay:

When real love and harmony exist, the Sangha becomes a living organism, and you are not there as an individual anymore, you are there as a cell of the Sangha body. When 300, 500, 1,000 people listen to the bell, the collective energy of mindfulness is very powerful and it will penetrate into the body and the mind of everyone.

To build a real Sangha, you need to know how to make use of the Buddhist practice of love. In the Buddhist tradition, the term “love” is translated as brotherhood or friendship, maitri. We translate maitri as loving kindness; it comes from the work mitra, which means friend.… When we love each other, we’re not in possession of the other, we’re not an object of consumption for the other person. Love has the substance of maitri inside, that is, the capacity to offer friendship and happiness.

Another element of true love is compassion, karuna, the kind of energy that helps remove suffering and transforms pain in the other person. When we’re a Sangha practicing together, we’re powerful, we don’t become victims of our despair, and together we can live in such a way that we can be a positive factor for social change, bringing hope, and easing the pain of others. When you have the Sangha within your heart, the Sangha will be with you everywhere you go and anything you say will be what the Sangha wants to say to bring comfort, hope, and relief to the people around us.

This Thursday, we’ll discuss where our edges are in taking refuge in the Sangha. What does it mean to take refuge? How do we relate to a spiritual community while living in Washington DC in 2009? What is a spiritual friend, and how do we access the Sangha within ourselves?

I hope you’ll join us.

Scott Schang