My comment from the Shambhala SunSpace post: Going It Alone: What’s your experience as an unaffiliated Buddhist? This article is a prime example of a “corporate” blog doing it well. The post is engaging, encourages communication and responces are well-meaning.
The question posed is…
What’s your experience of being an unaffiliated practitioner? Are you content with going it alone, or is it a struggle? What have you found helpful in your practice and study? Are you unaffiliated by choice or by circumstance (i.e. no Buddhist center in your town, etc)? Add a comment to share your thoughts on this and keep an eye out for the Spring Buddhadharma, which will offer practical advice for anyone who is traveling the path without a teacher or sangha.
The Sangha operates as an extreme, rigid form of practice. Some prefer it as the center of their practice and some don’t. It should, however, never be the definition of practice. While serving an important pupose in the rooting of Buddhism more firmly across ethnic and racial borders in the West it is limited (usually) to the coasts and urban areas. The rural Buddhist is largely left out in the cold and out of the loop.
Even for many in urban areas or with a rich Buddhist community from which to tap, restrictions and responsibilities of household life are a barrier. These restrictions and responsibilities become exactly the things we spend most of the day doing so we incorporate our practice. Our life and work is our Sangha, our parents and friends our teachers, our online community becomes our iSangha. Our restrictions and responsibilities no longer hamper us but provide a new venue for understanding the Dharma.
Sanghas also occasionally monopolize the Dharma. They are taught in a tradition and attempt to provide instruction but tend to at the expense of other teachings. By being teacher-less, I am able to grab from a much larger pool.
I live in the Great Plains. In my town we are lucky enough to have two very small Buddhists groups. For a Midwestern town this is practically a smorgasbord. We are a loose group of learning, struggling and eager Buddhists. Guidance is accepted as it is available. I prefer this situation to that of a large Zendo or temple. It affords me the freedom to practice from each of the vehicles as I see fit and study Buddhism without the constraints of a hierarchy or institutional dogma (notice I do not state religious dogma).
While sometimes I do wish to be involved with a larger group or a more experienced teacher, I do enjoy the realization that my teachers have been eclectic and diverse even when they don’t wear saffron or black. I read the Buddhist scriptures and struggle over the meanings; I sit and struggle over the pain and the concentration, I drink with other lay-practitioners that struggle over the same things. I think my sangha is just fine the way it is. and when all else fails, I check my iSangha…;p
I practice in my house, on my deck. I pull from what I can. Be it Zen or Tibetan; esoteric or practical. My practice evolve and changes as I change and evolve. I like it that way. Oddly enough, I still look at those beautiful temples and large sanghas with some amount of longing but I tend to prefer where I am now. A small, eager and struggling home-practitioner, a house-holder. Where others a digging a large and deep well of Dharma, I am digging a wide and shallow trench. Who is to say that my wide practice is better or worse than the deep practice of those affiliated with a sangha?
Either way, I flit from one Buddhist element to another. Chanting, zazen, chanting, visualization, whatever. I try them out for a year or so before I determine where they sit in my practice. When I feel the need for more guidance, I can check any number of reputiable teachers that podcast their dharma talks or find translations on line…if anything I am in Buddhist purgatory without a sangha. It isn’t the best of situations but it isn’t the worse and most importantly it is based upon my own striving and ability.
summary: Unaffilliated Buddhism is like camping in the wild (like really roughing it). You learn what works because you have to and because there is no other teacher than yourself. However, any aid you may receive from people (parent, teacher, friend, another lone Buddhist, online) becomes your sangha. Others may be staying at the Holiday Inn but you are in a lean-to made of sticks next to a river hoping that you aren’t going to be ravanged by a bear. You jump at sounds but become much more intuned with YOUR practice rather than someone else’s.
Holy Crap! I talk far too much. Read the 57+ comments on this post. It gives a nice cross-section of the readership of Shambhala Sun (at least the ones that communicate online).