A question raised on a previous post as well as on Twitter (constantly) and will be featured in this Spring’s BuddhaDharma is “What is up with unaffiliated Buddhists?”. I commented on this over at Shambhala Sunspace as well as posted my comment here.
It has, of course, started some conversation. Some of which I feel it neccessary to address. First some preliminary reading…
How do you square your opinion that “the Sangha should never the the definition of practice” with the Buddha’s teaching of the Sangha as one of the Three Jewels? – simple. not one of the jewels defines practice as a whole. Plus does a “sangha” constitute a lineage holder or informal group of practitioners? Where do you draw the line at calling someone a “poor” Buddhist? Or not a Buddhist at all?
I’m not sure why you would come out of the gate calling Sangha a “rigid” and “extreme” practice. What is your experience of this? Any large Organization Buddhist group that I have sat with eventually put restrictions on practice. Some more so than others but there was always a “right” and “wrong” way.
This notion that if you commit to one school of Buddhism it means that the Sangha would somehow block your experience of other schools is just silly. There are crossovers and inter-school teaching and blending all the time. – Not from my experience. If I walked into a “proper” zendo and asked to practice in a way that was different from but not distracting to the group, I would be told “no”. Why? Because it is not the way “they” do it.
Daido Roshi (RIP) met his Zen teacher Maezumi Roshi at the Tibetan Buddhist Naropa University where he’d been invited by Trungpa Rinpoche. Trungpa was so enthralled with the eating meditation of oriyoki that he incorporated it into Shambhala practice and it is still taught. – Great story! I respect both those teachers. Good practitioners/teachers accept other teachings and methods. I can not think of two teachers that were as influencial as Looi and Trungpa to where I am now.
Zen Buddhist monasteries in the US invite Tibetan, Vippassana and Theravadan guest teachers lead retreats. Insight Meditation centers have many traditions teach. – Blah, Blah and Blah. I live in South Dakota. So it is a moot point. Those same monasteries put their own dogmatic spin on the Dharma and expect the attendees to follow it. Not my point anyway. Shall I travel to San Fran or Upstate NY to be a “real” Buddhist? Not an option.
So if participation in a Sangha isn’t going to prevent you from participating in or learning other practices, what is going on? – As explained below. If you consider my family, small community of misfits and online “fair-weather” friends as a Sangha then I am fine. If you don’t, then I think your definition of Sangha stifles exploration and inventiveness. Although, I like how you can gleam from my blog my personal experiences from Organizational Buddhism and prove your point. Impressive.
I think that many unaffiliated Buddhists let their ego do the walking and talking. “Oh, I think this about that.” “I don’t want to be hemmed in or pinned down” isn’t more than the small self running the show. – “You think?” Good job. I think everyone falls into that trap at some point in their practice. And the person or group that is “pinning me down”? What of them? No ego there, I am sure.
We sit down on the cushion and follow the breath for 20 minutes. After 5 minutes the mind may say, “my mind isn’t quiet yet. Maybe I will start mindfulness of the body” and then a while later, “this isn’t working, maybe I will count my breaths” and so on. When we do this, we let the small mind dictate the terms and our practice can wind up scattered and shallow. – Yes, meditation is difficult. Agreed.
The Sangha is like this. If we don’t commit, our experience of it stays contingent upon our ever-changing dissatisfaction. – Commit to what again? Coming in every Sunday or Tuesday? My commitment to sitting daily in my home is just pissing in the wind, I suppose….
We Americans want the big buffet style pick-and-choose what we want on our terms. This is why Joko Beck said that in America we have Two Jewels and a rock. – Never read Joko. But as stated my sangha is alive and well.
We’d rather have 300 electronic friends than commit to show up. Because that’s what Sangha is – showing up. I commit to show up every week and support your practice by being there with my butt on the cushion even when I don’t feel like it. – I have both. Sometimes I sit and sometimes I don’t. I accept failure and try to learn from it. As per showing up – see below. But I am still confused at your insistance that a sangha has to be some place you go to.
The Buddha called “spiritual friends”, the Sangha, the “whole Path.” Some unaffiliated Buddhists are still looking for their teacher or a community that speaks to their heart. Others are not more than fair-weather friends. – I found mine already. See below.
It sounds very nice. You are very lucky to be close to so many supportive Sanghas. I practice with a small group out in the midwest. No problems here. We are Christian, agnostic, atheist, Buddhist (Theravadan, Zen and Tibetan), Yogi and newcomer. But they don’t define my practice. Were I to move out of area, I would till practice and be a Buddhist.
Joko Beck sounds like she had a similar situation. How very lucky for her. So being Buddhist is defined in part by being around other Buddhists?
“We’d rather have 300 electronic friends than commit to show up. Because that’s what Sangha is – showing up. I commit to show up every week and support your practice by being there with my butt on the cushion even when I don’t feel like it.”
That also sounds nice. Support. Can you bring that group out to the rural areas? Thanks. That would be great. Many don’t have that option. My practice isn’t as simple as you described it. I don’t flit from method to method randomly like a bee from flower to flower (or a crow from carcass to carcass) but I do try to keep my practice fresh and fluid. Some prefer static, I suppose. The choose is open to all of us.
My Sangha is made up partly by my “online” friends (those fair-weather ones you described). They support and question my practice. We communicate daily concerning the difficulties inherit in our practice. We don’t always agree but we spend plenty of time working though the tough parts.
My sitting group also helps but to define Buddhist practice by commitment to a group is limiting. If a sangha is simply showing up then I “show up” every morning and occasionally in the evenings. My meditation bell is the sound of my daughter waking up. My sangha is my family and friends and my temple is my house and work. I try to never leave my Sangha and exist with it from day to day. For better or for worse.
I am still “unaffiliated”. I have no interest in a teacher nor spending money on dues for a “real” sangha. My small informal group (online and “real) is as wonderful as my family.
It seems that your definition of Sangha is stifling.
My first post should have replaced the term “sangha” with “Organizational Buddhism”. However, too many consider those two terms synonymous. I am unaffiliated to any school,organization or teacher but I do have a support network. Is that a sangha or is a sangha designated by lineage and an “accredited” teacher?
When I see the term “unaffiliated” I am not sure what that means. Unaffiliated to what? To an organization? or perhaps a school? Does my little homespun sitting group of misfit toys constitute a sangha? If so what does that mean?
Is “showing up” the cornerstone of a person’s Buddhist practice? My practice is not defined by a place that I pop into once or twice a week. Nor is it defined by the people there. My practice is defined by the only one doing the practicing. Namely me. It is defined by where I am at that moment. Home, work, in the car, alone or with others.
Too often organizational Buddhism creates far more focus on the finger than the moon. This is not to say that organized Buddhism is bad but from my experience I felt more limited in that environment. For me it was a poor “sangha” indeed. People rather throw quotes around that they heard from their teacher than to think and analyze the Dharma for themselves.
The simple fact is that when I tried to explore Buddhist practice beyond Zen in those places, it was largely ignored or belittled. I realized quickly that small and grass-roots is a better approach to practice and the Dharma.
Rather than some fat American stuffing himself at a buffet, I am a farmer tending to my garden with the tools that serve me well. In the end we all need to do that if we are to realize Buddha-Nature. Sometimes that extends one’s practice outside of the set prescriptions of Buddhist practice.and into other areas.
The fact that my commitment is questioned because I am unaligned with a specific school is the most insulting part of this comment. For the definition of commitment to be of someone else’s choosing and not my own is counter-productive.
“Can I join your Sangha?”
Friend, if you are reading this then you already have.
We are all hermits practicing on a mountain. Thoughts?