We call ourselves a ‘Sangha’ – which means a community of people who are all walking together on a spiritual path. A Sangha has a great deal of strength; its members are able to protect each other, to help each other in every aspect of the practice, and to build the strenghth of the Sangha. We can take refuge in the Sangha in order to succeed in our practice. The Sangha has a collective energy. Without this energy, the practice of individual transformation is not easy.
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 neighbours, 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. Just by participating with other practitioners in group activities, we can experience a tangible feeling of love and acceptance.
Power of a sacred forest
We can also use the expression the “Sangha body”. We can visualize the Sangha body as a forest. Each member of the Sangha is a tree standing beautifully alongside the others. Each tree has it’s own shape, height, and unique qualities, but all are contributing to the harmonious growth of the forest. Looking at the trees standing steadily alongside each other like that, you can sense the beauty, solidity, and power of a sacred forest.
The energy of the Sangha body has the capacity to protect and transform us. As a member of the Sangha, all we have to do is to make our contribution to that energy. This is called Sangha building.
Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us all to be Sangha builders. 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.
The best way of building the Sangha is to turn ourselves into a positive element of the Sangha body by the way we walk, stand, sit, or lie down in mindfulness. When others in the Sangha can see our stability in this way, they also will become solid.
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.
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.