Monday, March 17, 2014


Nick and I had agreed via email to do a bit of zazen or seated meditation yesterday morning, but at the last minute he had to cancel: He was the only one in his family available to look after a small child in his clan. Nick wrote that he had considered bringing the baby along to zazen -- to "start him early" -- but then dismissed the idea. He was kidding, or anyhow that was how I took his meaning.

Kidding and yet it made me wonder as well.

Factors: 1. Children have malleable minds. 2. The Christianity of the country I live in has a contractual obligation to proselytize, to bring in members to the one true religion. 3. This obligation is not so different from any other "one true religion." 4. To the extent that anyone might call Buddhism a religion, there is the matter of "sangha" or community -- an aspect that is counted as part of the Triple Treasure of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Every religion has its community, but what is it, if anything, that makes sangha a treasure? I know others can answer this question with flowery, feels-good words, but once anyone gets past the p.r., what does sangha mean? I'd be a liar if I said I knew.

In point of fact, if my experience is any guide, it really is supportive and nice to hang out with people of an apparently-similar persuasion. At wobbly moments, my determination has been revived. And more than that, it is has been nice to think I was not entirely crazy ... and to be grateful to see that if I were crazy, well, at least I had some "Buddhist" company: If so many others say something is right and true, then I can forgive myself for not examining whether what I like is actually right and true. So to some extent, I can feel supported in my Buddhist practice.

But "support" is a curious customer. On the one hand, if I rely for support on someone or something else, how "Buddhist" could that actually be? Is Buddhism and the treasure called sangha nothing more than some harmonious group hug ... a socially agreeable venture that would be lost without social agreement? On the other hand, whatever efforts I may make on behalf of my practice do indeed need all the help they can get and I am as grateful as a thirsty man in a desert.

My baseline axiom in all of this sounds sort of like, "Buddhism is not about standing on someone else's feet. It is about standing on your feet."

And to the extent that that axiom holds water (which, for me, it does) others may blur the question by suggesting that sangha is a group of "companions." The trouble with that is that it simply raises the question of what a "companion" might be.

Going alone is not quite right and going as a group is not quite right. So what, if anything, is right about sangha and its treasured status? I honestly don't know, but my closest guess might be ...

Sangha is not so much a community of people -- which is pleasant, but not, in the end, assured -- as it is the circumstances that arise from moment to moment. "Support" is not so much an unmoving boulder on a bright mountain peak or a yes-man group hug, but rather the teachable moments that cannot be escaped.

So-called sangha is nothing more than life, and why or whether that should somehow be a treasure is up to each individual sangha member. Child or adult, trying to convince or convert someone else is a fool's errand that cannot help but end at a foolish destination.

Not that any of this matters much.

Just noodling.

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