Having studied Buddhism for over ten years, I was blessed to have finally found Bhante Sujatha of the Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple. (or perhaps he found me)
I felt I had been on the right path for a long time, and knowing that Buddha took this path alone to reach enlightenment, I felt that practicing on my own was the best choice for me.
I had only tried once before to be apart of a Buddhist group, and quite honestly they were too far off from what I had studied. They seemed very ritualistic and believed in deities. This was not something I had found to be true in my studies.
So I always just studied and practiced in my own way, feeling this was best for me.
But the first time I sat and spoke with Bhante, he told me me that I was missing something. I asked him what that was, and he responded “the sangha”.
When I asked him why this was important, he explained that the support of Noble friends is extremely helpful in our practice. So I asked why Buddha could achieve enlightenment by himself, and we need the sangha. Bhante agreed, and said yes this is possible. But Buddha was a special person, and most of us need the support of others who are on the same path. This is the Triple Gem, with the Buddha as an example, the dhamma as the teachings, and the sangha as the community of Noble friends.
And I was clearly missing one of the gems.
Ananda, Lord Buddha’s long-time personal attendant and monk-disciple, asked the Buddha:
“Lord, is it true what has been said, that good spiritual friends are fully half of the holy life?”
The Master replied, “No, Ananda, good spiritual friends are the whole of the holy life. Find refuge in the sangha community.”
Thich Nhat Hanh said:
“Taking refuge in the sangha means putting your trust in a community of solid members who practice mindfulness together. You do not have to practice intensively—just being in a sangha where people are happy, living deeply the moments of their days, is enough. Each person’s way of sitting, walking, eating, working, and smiling is a source of inspiration; and transformation takes place without effort. If someone who is troubled is placed in a good sangha, just being there is enough to bring about a transformation. I hope communities of practice in the West will organize themselves as families. In Asian sanghas, we address each other as Dharma Brother, Dharma Sister, Dharma Aunt, or Dharma Uncle, and we call our teacher Dharma Father or Dharma Mother. A practice community needs that kind of familial brotherhood to nourish practice.”
Now that I have been blessed to be apart of the sangha, I completely understand why this is so important and nourishing.
Not only do I witness so many examples of loving kindness and compassion first hand every day, but I also have become aware of the connectedness to all living beings. This is truly the greatest sangha, the World we live in.
We are all Brothers and Sisters, Moms and Dads, Aunts and Uncles to one another. Not a one of us is alone.
So I hope, if you were like I was, you will consider becoming a part of a sangha. Find a community that supports and nourishes your own loving kindness and compassion. I believe that soon you too will see how quickly your Family grows.
May you be well, happy and peaceful.