No? Well, to refresh your memory, they are:
- Do I speak at the right time, or not? Is this the right time?
- Do I speak the facts, or not? Am I saying what’s really true?
- Am I speaking harshly or gently?
- Do my words benefit beings or not?
- What is my motivation? Do I speak with a good heart or is my heart malicious?
I wonder, how does my last Fence post (pun intended) stack up against these criteria? Not so well, I’m afraid.
This post will introduce Prajnatara Bryant, the leader of the sangha I spoke of in Part I.
Prajnatara composed a kind and thoughtful comment that she was unable to post because of an apparent glitch in the comment function of my blog software. So she emailed it to me, and I’m posting it here because there is much to learn just from these brief words (highlighting, image choices and notes are mine):
I enjoyed your post, and as a “group skeptic” myself (albeit the leader of the sangha you are referring to), I thought I’d jump in!!
As you know, our sangha is made up of a very diverse group of, as you write, “spiritual friends.” Among us are atheists, a Catholic nun, a Christian theologian, shamanists, and old faithful and brand new Buddhists, influenced by every school – Tibetan, Zen and Pureland. There is no one way to believe or practice here, and our only dogma is that we be vigilant and awake to the tendency toward dogmatism.
Among us, as in every corner of modern society, lives a healthy wariness of religiosity. Historically, religions have a lot to account for. The hunger for power is boundless, and when married with religion is overwhelmingly destructive. On the other hand, a gathering of spiritual friends, joining to learn, practice and support one another, is the best of what religiosity offers and remains a beacon of hope in an increasingly isolating world.
Sue, you site the Buddha’s injunction: “Don’t just believe in me and what I’m telling you; instead, try out what I’m telling you and find out for yourself.” Obviously wise counsel.
The Buddha also said that of the three jewels [Note: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha] the most important is the sangha. Why? Well, I think most of us “spiritual types” are very much like you in that we enjoy our own company and relish the peace of our private solitude.
The Buddha, though, was pretty insistent that a dangerous aspect of being human is ignorance, which is the tendency in all of us to believe that we hold the answers, that we see things clearly, and left to our own devises we will arrive, after a great deal of work, at wisdom and compassion. Certainly, the Buddha wouldn’t discourage private work on oneself, but he would also encourage being in relationship with others on the path as a way to grow naturally in wisdom and compassion. He himself spent his entire life working in community.
Why a sangha? A sangha is the place we increasingly learn to be ourselves. We are able to do so because members dedicate themselves to each other. Our dedication arises out of the deep desire to live the dharma in a real, concrete way.
This is not easy, as there is a tendency whenever people encounter one another to make mistakes and hurt each another. At times we are silent when we should speak and other times we speak when it would be best to remain silent. In a sangha we are never fooled for too long about who we truly are. We get angry, defensive, hurt, and are given to low self-esteem. Hopefully, if spiritual maturity is dawning in the community, we can make real mistakes and still know ourselves to be welcomed.
It is all a process. Sometimes people leave in a huff and a puff and other times they stay and grow; it is all ok. This work is not for the faint of heart and, as Dharmavidya writes, it takes real honesty, selflessness, humility, and gratitude. I would add it takes a willingness to be dependent on others and to recognize and appreciate that dependency.
All this said, Susannah, there are many seasons in our lives, and sharing a spiritual path does require discernment. I honour that you are taking these questions so to heart.
Namo amida bu,
Thank you, Prajna. You have helped me more than you know!