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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
SUMMER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 57 bleed over into the attitudes within the sangha as a whole. This state of mind, in which one feels that people should be either “in” or “out” with no gray areas, is destructive to developing greater personal openness and a bigger view within one’s own practice. Puritanical views of discipline and conduct also seem to arise in the sangha from the same substratum. It’s not that unethical behavior is okay. Rather, it’s how we look at and express morality and how we work with problems in ourselves and others. Ostracizing or shunning someone in the sangha because, for example, they drink or smoke or (insert vice here) does not seem like particularly Buddhist behavior. With all of these changes and intricacies in Western Buddhism, the role and meaning of sangha is being redefined. The Western secular or lay sangha that is the most familiar model for Western practitioners is quite distinct from the traditional view of the sangha as the ordained community of monks and nuns. But in some respects, the distinction between monastic and lay disciplines may not be as great as it seems at first glance. While I have great respect for those who become monastics, I would venture that there are myriad interpersonal difficulties and politics at play in monasteries and nunneries, in Asia as well as the West. For all of us striving to be a community of Buddhist practitioners, how do we live up to the definition of the sangha as one of the three jew- els? Seeing the Buddhist community as a jewel may be a particularly difficult task for Western Buddhists. Do we really think of our relation- ships with other practitioners as a source of san- ity? They may be a source of dependency or of alienation, but a source of wisdom? On a mundane but helpful level, we see our- selves and our dilemmas reflected in other mem- bers of the sangha, which can be immensely helpful and sometimes provide inspiration and solutions. We see the mistakes we make, and that others are as human as we are. We may be hum- bled to see that our realizations are no greater nor more profound and unique than those of our peers. For me, traveling to India for the first time in 2010 was an eye-opener in terms of appreciating the three jewels and particularly the value of the sangha. Like so many Buddhists from around the world, a major focus of our family’s trip was pilgrimage. We visited a number of the sites connected with Shakyamuni Buddha, including Bodhgaya, where he attained enlightenment. There was a palpable feeling of immense space and peace at Bodhgaya. Being a rationally minded Westerner, I was quite stunned by it. My sense of connection to the historical Bud- dha grew immeasurably, as well as an apprecia- tion for the quality of wakefulness. Feeling the power of this place was beyond my conceptual framework. This experience of atmospheric wis- dom emanating from ancient ruins happened at a number of sites in India. Seeing so many empty ruins in India also heightened for me the reality that Buddhism had virtually died out there for centuries. I had known this before intellectually, but it was vis- cerally shocking to realize that such a powerful place as Bodhgaya had gone to ruin with no com- munity to maintain or protect it for hundreds of years. Stones removed from the Mahabodhi Temple had been used as cobblestones in nearby ➤ continued page 82 Seeing the Buddhist community as a jewel may be a particularly difficult task for Western Buddhists. Do we really think of our relationships with other practitioners as a source of sanity? LIZAMATTHEWS