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Spiritual Practice for a Global Sangha, by Ruben Habito, Part 2

December 10, 2016

The question that each one of us faces then is this: what is the scope and extent of this “us” which we acknowledge as our circle of belonging?

4080981419_9718b5cea3_oClick here to read Part 1 of  Spiritual Practice of a Global Sangha.

The Sangha: Companions on the Path

As Buddhists themselves would affirm, however, the truth realized by the Awakened One concerns not only those who identify themselves as Buddhists by reciting the Triple Refuge, but all living beings. To realize this truth leads to liberation from suffering and enables a life of wisdom and compassion. Thus it is a truth that is valid for all, and not just for some.

This is affirmed in the following expression from an early collection of sayings attributed to the Buddha. “The truth is one, there is not a second. One who knows does not dispute what is known.” (Sutta Nipata 884)

Thus, all those who seek the truth that leads to liberation, to wisdom and compassion, are included in a deeper level of meaning of the word “sangha.” On the part of Buddhists, this reflects an inclusive attitude, or in technical terms used in the theology of religions, an inclusivistic Buddhist stance, one that would embrace all beings in search of the truth as included in “sangha.”

What does this mean in practical terms?

If we acknowledge that we too are seekers of the truth, we realize that it is we ourselves who are being referred to by the term “sangha.” In other words, “Sangha are us.”

The question that each one of us faces then is this: what is the scope and extent of this “us” which we acknowledge as our circle of belonging?

One level would be the community that we identify with in our search for ultimate truth. Our sangha is that community that we find ourselves belonging to in this endeavor to live a true and meaningful life, the community of fellow seekers of truth in whom we find inspiration and support.

It can be our local church congregation, our Bible study group, the book club to which we belong, the circle of friends with whom we can freely discuss important issues of life. For those who are fortunate in belonging to a group that engages in spiritual practice in common, such as meditation, prayer or other forms of devotion, the people in that circle are the ones who constitute one’s immediate sangha.

It is really a joy to be with people who are on the path, seeking the most important things in life, together. We experience one another as treasures, and we seek to uncover more of what these treasures contain. Therefore, we behold one another and relate to one another with mutual appreciation and gratitude.

If this horizon of sangha dwells in our minds and is kept alive in our hearts, we will have what we need to go beyond the petty conflicts and squabbles that inevitably occur as we humans do things together. The manifold issues that come up or don’t come up in group meetings take their toll on the way people in the same immediate circle relate to one another.

Each of us carries our own baggage from our heredity, our environment, our temperament, our past associations, our past successes and failures, which cannot but affect the way we see things and want to do things. The unacknowledged or ‘unclaimed’ baggage we carry can become an obstacle in the way we relate to one another and can lead to open conflict or dropping out of the group altogether.

Read Part 3 of Spiritual Practice for a Global Sangha.


Written by Ruben L.F. Habito and originally published on the Maria Kannon Zen Center website, as Spiritual Practice for a Global Sangha.

Ruben L. F. Habito served as a Jesuit missionary in Japan from 1970 to 1989 and taught at Sophia University for many years. He now serves as Teacher (Roshi) at Maria Kannon Zen Center (Dallas), and is on the Faculty at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. His books include Experiencing Buddhism: Ways of Wisdom and Compassion (Orbis, 2005), and Living Zen, Loving God (Wisdom, 2004).

Image: Seeker, by Hartwig HKD, CC by-ND 2.0, from Flickr.Com

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