Sangha means the community of people who are guiding their daily lives by practicing meditation and studying the Buddhist teachings. When we take refuge in the sangha, we acknowledge the central role that other Zen practitioners have in our practice. We join a practice community and take refuge in the companionship we find there.
That means that we have friends, fellow refugees, who are working with the same guidelines as we are. Everybody in the sangha struggles with their own discipline. Friends in the sangha provide a continual reference point that supports our ongoing learning processes. We act as mirrors for each other and remind each other that we are not alone in our training. That is the kind of companionship that is meant by sangha. We are all in the same boat; we understand each other, share a sense of trust and a sense of larger-scale, organic friendship.
So taking refuge in the sangha means being willing to work with our brothers and sisters in the dharma, while being independent at the same time. Nobody imposes his or her heavy notions on the rest of the sangha. Instead, each member of the sangha is an individual on the path in a different way from all the others. As trust builds in the sangha, we offer each other the right to point out each other’s ego trips and to share the wisdom of the moment. At the same time, we feel safe enough to demonstrate our own weaknesses and let others see through us. Companionship within the sangha is a clean friendship — without expectation, without demand, but at the same time, fulfilling.
Once we have taken refuge in the sangha we no longer regard ourselves as lone wolves who have such a good thing going that we don’t have to relate with others. We recognize the value of building community. We become generous with our time, and out of gratitude for the teachings remain a member of the sangha in order to benefit those who are finding Buddhism for the first time. The idea of sangha is one of constantly opening and giving.
The discipline of taking refuge in the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha is something more than a doctrinal or ritual thing: it is being physically infected with commitment to the Buddhist life of wisdom and compassion. These refuges transmit the teachings into our mind-body systems. After taking the three refuges, the energy, the power and the blessing of basic sanity that has existed in the Buddhist lineage for the 2,500 years enters our way of life, and we finally become a full-fledged follower of the Buddhist teachings. When we do this, we are living the life of a Buddha.
Suggested Practice: For the next two weeks notice the quality of your relationships. Can you call your friends on their ego trips without fearing rejection? Do you feel comfortable exposing your weaknesses? Do you share a path of spiritual practice?
Kuya Minogue is resident teacher at the Creston Zen Centre and will be offering classes on the 16 precepts of Soto Zen Buddhism at 7 p.m. on Thursday evenings through April 17. For more information, visit www.zenwords.net or call her at 250-428-6500.