Monday, May 3, 2010

Reflections: Visiting Antaiji - A Few Notes on Sangha

Anyone with any commitment to Buddhist practice knows of the Triple Gem, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, because we take refuge in it on a moment-to-moment and daily basis, or when we chant if nothing else. For many years now I have used the word 'Sangha' loosely to refer to the group of people I gather around me (or go to) to support my practice and, if I'm lucky, they may actually get and even laugh at my jokes now and then. In the states, Sangha and "support group" appear to share similar meanings these days in at least some cases and that may not be a good thing, but who am I to may be what's needed there. As I write this, I also begin to wonder what I mean by 'take refuge' since I haven't taken monastic vows or vows in the formal sense. As a partial answer, what it means to me is a recognition and acceptance of a grounded source to which I can go and return to at any given moment, given that I still venture out into the secular world and have to navigate the stress and confusion that can result from those ventures.
But the Pali word 'Sangha' originally had a much more precise meaning, a meaning that I am learning on a practical level through experience these days. Like right now, even though its a 'free day', its time for breakfast!

tenso in kitchen before breakfast

...And now, an hour-and-a half later, the nine or ten of us here have had a wonderful breakfast, the dishes have been washed, and the dorms and hondo, etc have been thoroughly cleaned, things I would have spent my weekend on in the past, alone and likely with a bit of irritation, interruptions, and frustration along the way. Is everyone off relaxing now? Not at all, most everyone is doing a little extra thing, sorting their daily portion of rice, repainting a door, patching cement steps, or writing a blog (cough, cough.. Okay, I have plenty on my schedule for later and maybe someone will benefit or someone will come here who wouldn't have otherwise.) Dochosan is riding the tractor working on getting the new rice field ready for planting.
Here at Antaiji, Sangha is less of an entity and more of a process. A process in which 'I' is let go of in favor of 'just doing'. That manifests itself in a lot of ways. For example, when you arrive you are taken on a guided tour of procedures and rules for various activities. Even having read up on Antaiji, it's impossible for most to remember it all, including me. So you are bound to be corrected not just once, but several times, until you get it right. You learn to let go of the typical psychological responses to correction. My motto, an old friend, "don't take it personally" works well here. Try to do better. Realize that the purpose of correction is just to have the Sangha run smoothly. Typically, the person doing the most correcting, in trying to be helpful, is being the most compassionate of all.

"You should never be waiting for something to do."

Another example is that, as you may have gathered from above, if you aim to truly be part of this Sangha, there really is little 'free time'..or as I have come to think of it "self time", there is just time when the schedule is a bit more flexible and the doing is a bit more random. So if you aim to truly be part of this Sangha, you do it by giving up self-related notions and activities, and what results is a time-space that is filled with generosity of spirit, a buoyancy in which you can rest. An important note to this is that, though individuals in the Sangha (including, or maybe especially, me) may fall short from time-to-time, hopefully enough individuals practice Sangha that this sense of buoyancy of the Sangha is maintained. It is the institution of Sangha we take refuge in, not any given individual at any given time. In short, Sangha is a process of no-self, everything is just as it is... there are no major dilemmas that require mental gymnastics to sort through and, to the extent that I let go of I, "I" can be happy and at peace. Sangha is the chance of a lifetime to live the Buddha-Way and through our efforts and the efforts of those around us, if we are lucky, gain a glimpse of the happiness of nirvana through practice... Letting the Sangha be through me.


Jordan said...

Interesting post...

Usually I hear of the Sangha being more like a rock grinder. Folks bounce off each other wearing away the rough spots until they become polished.

It is nice to see a different prospective. Thanks for sharing it.

Happi said...

As a beginner here, a beginner's mind is essential.. When you've been here longer I imagine the mindset is harder to maintain and not only because you have to teach the newbies. There are only 3 long-term residents here right now and conflicts between them are minimal. I asked and things can be more like a rock tumbler depending on personalities. The rest of us are on the quiet side right now and that helps too. Finally, some people who intended to stay longer left, not that they left because of personality clashes, but if they had stayed...?

I was one of the first to arrive this season. After the first day of being corrected I started saying thank you. Maybe that helped set the tone.. who knows? There's more I could say but I'll save it for my most likely next post about the first couple of days here...

Thanks for stopping by!