Posted inOther Teachings

Spiritual Practice for a Global Sangha, by Ruben Habito, Part 4

December 24, 2016

As we look at this circle of interconnectedness, we will see that it excludes no one in this universe. In some way or other, everything, every sentient being is part of that sangha that makes me who I am.


Who belongs to my Sangha?

Let us pause at this point to reflect on our own life context, to enable us to see the dimensions of our sangha more clearly.

We can ask ourselves: who are those who belong to my sangha? Conversely, what is the sangha to which I belong?

An intimate level of sangha that we belong to is our family. We are who we are because of our parents, our siblings, our immediate family and relatives. So, our familial relations would be a basic level in which we can identify our sangha. These are the persons who have made us who we are, from birth and childhood on. We may still have struggles with some of them, or we may have issues we need to settle with family members. But we are invited to look at each of them, and realize that we are who we are precisely because our families have allowed us to be who we are. Gratitude arises from that realization.

Widening the circle further, all the people we have met in our lives, such as the people who may have taken care of us when we were children, or whoever friends of our parents may have been who came and hugged us even once, are also part of our lives. Kindergarten, grade school, high school teachers and classmates, and all our friends and acquaintances through the years, all have made us who we are. All are included in our sangha.

In Japan, there is a saying, “Even the touching of the sleeves in meeting another on the road is a wondrous karmic connection.” Even if we do not know the person we pass by walking in a corridor, that encounter already determines who we are, and that person becomes a part of the circle that makes me who I am.

In taking a meal for example, if we consider how that meal got there, we will see the hands of many people behind this morsel of food. We may see the truck driver who brought the bread from the bakery to the retailer, the farmers who grew the wheat in their fields. If we consider all those connected to us in eating this piece of bread, we realize we are naturally connected with many living beings, and owe a debt of gratitude to each one, for helping us become who we are.

As we look at this circle of interconnectedness, we will see that it excludes no one in this universe. In some way or other, everything, every sentient being is part of that sangha that makes me who I am.

Their medieval monk, Saigyō, was sitting on top of a hill one early evening, just after the sun had set. He was looking at a village nearby, and saw the rooftops, and the smoke coming out of the chimneys. He describes what he felt in a short poem: “I do not know the reason why, tears of gratitude moisten my eyes.” As he thought of the families preparing their evening meal, the mothers taking care of their children, the fathers returning from their farm and washing their feet before entering the house, the scene brought to him an overwhelming sense of gratitude. When that sense can come to us, we realize the wondrous reality that makes me who I am right here, tears of gratitude can overwhelm us.

As I am led to see who my sangha is, I realize that I am never alone in this life. Cicero reports the dictum, “Never less alone than when alone.” In other words, I feel least alone when I am by myself. That sense of being-with can come to us more profoundly when we are by ourselves, just sitting in silence, and able to appreciate things for what they are.

The whole earth community then is our sangha. Each child who goes to bed hungry at night is “us.” We cannot hold back the tears, this time not of gratitude, but of pain and sorrow, that there is such a fact that children have to be hungry or die of malnutrition and poverty. They are “us.” Each person treated unjustly, discriminated against, harassed, assaulted, murdered, is us. Yet also each one who treats others unjustly, who discriminates against, harasses, assaults, or murders, a fellow sentient being, is us.

There can never be anyone we can regard as “those others” apart from ourselves. There can never be anyone who is left outside our field of concern. As we see the world, and see all beings as not separate from ourselves, we are able to feel the pain of the world, inflicted from many different directions, as our very own pain. This experience of the world’s pain as our very own is what can unleash the power of com-passion in us, drawing forth energy and vision and zeal to give ourselves more thoroughly toward the healing of the world’s woundedness. Each one of us who is able to embrace the world as his or her sangha is then called to self-giving, to putting time and energy and resources in directions that would lead to this healing.

Click to read Part 5.


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: Slide, by Tyler Merbler, CC by 2.0, from

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