What is Sangha?

A sangha is a community of practitioners.

Everyone who comes to practice is a member of the sangha. Even if we go to sangha meetings once every few months, our presence and our practice can contribute to the vitality and harmony of the sangha.

In society, much of our suffering comes from feeling disconnected from one another. We often don’t feel a real connection even with people we live close to, such as our neighbors, our co-workers and even our family members. Each person lives separately, cut off from the support of the community. Being with the sangha can heal these feelings of isolation and separation. We practice together, share a room together, eat side by side and clean pots together. Just by participating with other practitioners in the daily activities, we can experience a tangible feeling of love and acceptance.

Thich Nhat Hanh often says that the sangha is a garden, full of many varieties of trees and flowers. When we can look at ourselves and at others as beautiful, unique flowers and trees we can truly grow to understand and love one another. One flower may bloom early in the spring and another flower may bloom in late summer. One tree may bear many fruits and another tree may offer cool shade. No one plant is greater, or lesser, or the same as any other plant in the garden. Each member of the sangha also has unique gifts to offer to the community. We each have areas that need attention as well. When we can appreciate each member’s contribution and see our weaknesses as potential for growth we can learn to live together harmoniously. Our practice is to see that we are a flower or a tree, and we are the whole garden as well, all interconnected.

Nourishing the flower

We need to be aware of which conditions will support the flower’s growth and which conditions will obstruct its growth. We need healthy seeds, skilled gardeners, and plenty of sunshine and room to grow. When we engage in sangha building, the most important thing to remember is that we are doing it together. The more we embrace the Sangha, the more we can let go of the feeling of a separate self. We can relax into the collective wisdom and insights of the Sangha. We can see clearly that the Sangha eyes and hands and heart are greater than that of any individual member of the sangha.

We have the opportunity to help build our sangha in every moment, by participating in activities of the Sangha and contributing our energy and insights. To sustain our own practice when we leave the practice center, we need to know how to build a Sangha. Let us be active in establishing connections with those around us. When we realize our true nature of interbeing, we naturally seek to connect with others by sharing our practice and seeking the support and guidance of our fellow practitioners.

Thich Nhat Hanh instructs us to be energetic in the practice of mindfulness. The past is finished and the future is uncertain, only in the present can we discover the miracle of life. Living in this spirit, we are already valuable members of our Sangha. We will know how to engage in the continuous process of building a refuge for many beings.

Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us all to be Sangha builders, following the footsteps of the Awakened One (the Buddha), who was a great Sangha builder. When we are able to live and practice in harmony in a small community, we can then share this harmony with the larger Sangha, our family and friends, our co-workers, and our co-practitioners. When there is joy in the practice of Sangha building, then we know that we doing it correctly.

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