‘Sangha’ is most often used to describe the gathering of people with whom we practice; most often it is the people we meet weekly, say, at classes. Sometimes ‘sangha’ expands to include the people we meet on retreat, or even all buddhist practitioners and beyond to anyone dedicating themselves to following a path that will lead them to living awake.
We can think of sangha as a ‘community’ that will support our efforts to live wakefully.
Let’s look further.
Traditionally, the sangha is those who have commited their lives to following a path of awakening, more explicitly, those who have taken ordination. Monastics have provided the main avenue by which teachings have been passed down through generations. In that sense, the monastic sangha is the very foundation of the dharma.
We can also look at the sangha as the original bodhisattvas. The boshisattvas represent compassionate presence in the world; they are not so much individuals as an ongoing response to the pain and suffering of life. Bodhisattvas are not present in the world for themselves, but to help others become free from suffering. The bodhisattva sangha represents the ideal of dedicating your life to compassionately responding to what arises in your experience.
So we have sangha as monastics, as the original boddhisattvas, and as the group of people with whom we practice who provide support as we embark upon a different way of experiencing the world.
Let’s go a little deeper. If we actually look in to our experience of sangha, we realize that in the moment of experiencing, what we see as sangha members is awareness arising as experience that we then name ‘sangha’ in order to refer to the experience. It’s easier to say ‘sangha’ then ‘several shapes and colors that seem to produce the experience of sound that tends to correspond with thoughts and emotions that arise seemingly inwardly’.
So, sangha is experience; experience that supports our practice of living wakefully. What if all experience could be our sangha, in the sense that it helped us in our movement towards waking up? – our partner coming into the kitchen for tea in the morning, the wind outside, the cup we pour the tea into, the people we meet as we go out into the world, including the one tailgating you, the emotions that rise up, the deep seated fear that raises it’s head at seeming random times.
We hang out with these experiences, all the time. What if we began to see them as our sangha, giving us support in our efforts to live wakefully?
We bring together ‘sangha as those that support us in our efforts to live wakefully’, and ‘sangha as all experience’, and step deeper to ‘sangha as unrestricted experience’. All experience, not just what makes it through our filters.
We do spend a fair amount of time with All Experience. What if what arises becomes something seen as a support? What if we let go of restricting experience, filtering it? What happens then?
When we can be in all of our experience, without restricting it, without the confusion of grabbing on to what we like and pushing what we don’t like away and ignoring everything else, what we do will be more apt to meet the situation. Now sangha becomes the awakened actions that arise from opening to all of our experience. We move a little bit towards the bodhisattvas, becoming an ongoing response to the suffering we meet in our world.