Right now, as you are reading this article you might appreciate you are participating in a form of a large virtual sangha (spiritual community). Your interest in receiving and reading these newsletters already places you in a macro-level sangha among like-minded people who aspire to be free from suffering, and to awaken from the many trance states that deprive us from being fully alive and available to what is actually happening in any given moment.
You might take a few moments after completing the reading of this paragraph to feel as fully as you can, the posture you are in (no shifting yet please!) and what sensations are most alive in the body? Where in the body can breathing be felt? Pause and connect as best you can. What can be felt through the face, and more specifically through the eyes, mouth, nose? Pause and connect as best you can. Are any discernable emotions or qualities of mind manifest? Pause again to reflect.
And now, adjust the posture to what you imagine would be more conducive to allowing you to be alert yet comfortable, and engage in the same exercises as suggested in the previous paragraph. Before you consciously shifted your posture and did the pausing mindfulness exercise, you might have been in a physical and/or mental trance state which had implications for what you discerned during the suggested exercises that immediately followed.
If you engaged in the above exercises, did you gain any insights from your experience? Now imagine being in a virtual class and having the opportunity to share your experience with others, doing the same or doing altogether different exercises and sharing your experience. What else might you learn?
Other forms of sangha include retreat settings, Kalyana Mitta (Spiritual Friend) groups that commit to meet regularly on an ongoing basis, or close-knit affinity groups or special topic classes. While many might prefer to participate in these offerings in person, their offerings in virtual form provide certain unique benefits. These include facility of participation among those having accessibility constraints (e.g., dis/abilities, travel time, lack of convenient public transportation) from where offering might otherwise be made, greater opportunity for multicultural participation (within the U.S. or international), and a small carbon footprint.
Participation in any of these venues can greatly inspire daily formal practice as well as our capacity to be mindful in everyday life (e.g., work, family, or social engagements). Given that we have different cultural identities, the meaning and form for how we practice in sanghas may be different for each of us. While Thich Nhat Hanh describes the essence of “true sangha” as awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony, and love*, these attributes may be difficult to realize without sustained effort and commitment to the practice. In this regard it can be helpful to remember that we must first experience and understand it before we can be free from it.
May our practice be to the benefit of all beings. May all beings awaken and be free.
* Lion’s Roar Magazine, The Practice of Sangha, July 7, 2017