2:34PM Apr 27, 2022
Good morning. Today is April 24 2022, and for this Dharma talk, I'm going to explore one of the three treasures, Sangha, the others being Buddha and Dharma. It was exactly a year ago to this very day at an online Sangha meeting that Roshi announced the establishment of a new initiative at our Center, the Sangha Programs Office. And as a staff member assigned to oversee this still fledgling office, I've been spending a good amount of my working hours thinking about all things Sangha. But the seed for this initiative, actually was planted well before the pandemic, and it started in the context of conversations among trustees and officers. And it's part of their job to, from time to time, look at how things are going at the Center, make an assessment and determine whether anything should be done differently. And we're very fortunate to have a Center member and officer whose professional expertise is in organizational strategic planning. And that's Barry Keesan. He's been a great resource. Our center is 56 years old. And it's the second oldest in the United States. So we really benefit from having lots of long term practitioners here. We also benefit from the sustained support for practice that has been fine tuned for decades, including our sittings and so sesshins, ceremonies and other traditions. But at the same time to really put this in perspective, our Center is actually still quite young, especially if you consider the fact that some of the temples in China date back hundreds and hundreds of years, the oldest being over 1000 years. And some of you may have even heard this story, told by Bodhin-roshi of what Sogen-roshi said when he visited Arnold Park in 1976. That was the year of the Center's 10th anniversary. Sogen-roshi was visiting from a Rinzai temple in Okinawa and he was a friend of Roshi Kapleau. And this is what he said when he came here, "The first 100 years are the hardest". So we've got, you know, 44 more years to go, to make it through this hardest part. Just think of all the changes happening in the world in our lifetime -- social, political, economic, technological, cultural, ecological -- all these forces that are at work, constantly changing and transforming the way we live, the way we work, the way we communicate, and also our goals and our priorities. So amidst all this change, how do we ensure that our Center continues to thrive for generations and generations to come?
So with the support of the trustees, and Roshi and Sensei, it was in early 2019, that Barry set out to conduct a series of informal interviews with a couple dozen local Sangha members, and he was trying to get a sense of what people's experiences have been at the center. And those interviews served as the groundwork for conducting a survey that took place last year in February of 2021. It was called the Sangha renewal survey, and it was sent to Rochester area members only in mainly because the questions focused narrowly on people's experiences with everyday life at the center, like attending sittings. and participating in activities throughout the year. So this, this is pre pandemic experiences. Before we got to where we are now where we have so many members engaging with the center and with each other online. The results of that survey was very affirming. The findings included an outpouring of praise and gratitude for all the center does to support practice. But when it came to the experience of being in the Sangha here, the survey pointed to a need for change. respondents reported that although the Sangha feels really welcoming and supportive, at the same time, it was just really hard to get to know people. There was a desire for the center to sponsor some social activities to kind of foster those connections. And, and that's even with our long standing posts, sitting you know, Sunday brunches, and Tuesday night teas. You know, aside from saying hi, and goodbye before and after a sitting, it can be difficult to get to know people. And so that's what all led to the establishment of the Sangha programs office that was launched a year ago, today. And just so you know who we are. So I serve as the Sangha Programs Manager, Denae reading as the Sangha engagement coordinator, and Michel Greenwood as administrative support. We're all xencenter staff. We're working on this part time because we do have other roles and responsibilities. But we also have the help of volunteers like Luca, Hakala, Crystaline, and Barry, who has been our chief guide. So together, we've been working on building an infrastructure to support Sangha programming. And in a nutshell, what we do is we're trying to provide all the background support that goes into offering an activity or an event. That includes technological support, scheduling, registration, you name it, we're so we're not the ones creating or leading the events. That's where Sangha volunteers come in, but we're the support system. Setup and take down, that's another thing we provide. And one of the first actions we took as a team was to conduct another survey. And that one was for the whole Sangha. And it was an interest survey that asked questions about the kinds of activities and events that Sangha members would be interested in and to the top things that people were interested in, and this should come as no surprise, one, informal social activities, again, chances to get to know each other. And then secondly, opportunities to learn more about Buddhism.
And a couple of examples of these in the over the past year, we had this online, informal social our called Happy Friday, that was created and led by Brenda rebe, a local Sangha member. And then we've had two Dharma study groups that were online, one that was weekly for that went for like a short term, led by Katherine or get singer and we have a monthly one called Dharma reflections. That is ongoing, and that's led by Larry McSpadden. And these are all Sangha members who, you know, took the initiative to do these things and the Sangha Programs team is providing them the support they need. I should mention, too, that another outcome of that Sangha renewal survey was this other project that involves looking at the feasibility of expanding the dining room here at Arnold Park. So anyone who's, you know, been here for post Sunday brunches or Sangha meetings, knows how crammed it can be, how loud it is, and quite limiting so if it is possible to expand it. That's good. they'll be a real game changer for in person activities. And now, the Sangha Programs team has been constrained by pandemic restrictions when it comes to in person activities. Even though that's the case, we are gradually working on building this infrastructure. So we can offer high quality programs on an ongoing basis, not just tailored to our Sangha, but also open to the wider community. And it's a real work in progress. It's challenging, and also wonderful at the same time. And to use a analogy I just learned from a conversation with a Sangha member a couple days ago, we're flying the plane while building it at the same time.
Alright, so that's kind of the backstory of the Sangha Programs Office and why I landed on on this topic, and no doubt, you'll be hearing more about what we're doing at the annual meeting next month, because we we did a strategic planning meeting. Not too long ago, a day long meeting, it was pretty intensive. And we wanted to kind of sharpen our sense of what our mission and vision is for this office. And we asked ourselves things like, what will Sangha look like and feel like five or 10 years from now? If we're successful? And we'll be reporting the results of our strategic planning session to the trustees next month. And then yeah, after that, at the annual meeting to the whole Sangha, so stay tuned for that. Alright, but really, for this talk, I wanted to focus on some foundational questions about the nature of Sangha, you know, starting with the basics, what is Sangha? How do we understand it? As one of the three treasures? How has it changed over time? And how is the the experience of being in a Sangha rooted in practice? And also, how can we each contribute to creating the kind of Sangha that we inspire, to aspire to be a part of? So these are questions directly related to the Sangha Programs Office, but they're also relevant to everyone listening to this talk. You know, how can we create the sense of community we aspire to have, without a shared commitment to bringing it to life. And as part of my own self education, you know, in my role as a Sangha Programs Manager, for months now, I've been collecting little readings about Sangha quotes and excerpts that jumped out to me. And I quickly discovered that there doesn't appear to be any single book devoted solely to the subject of Sangha, at least not in the Zen school. So I'm going to be drawing from multiple sources, both print and online. And this might get a little unwieldy Alright, for starters, though, the word Sangha in Sanskrit means assembly, association, or can community. But there's this other translation that I came across, that I've found to be really especially rich and meaning and that is that Sangha is an aggregate, aggregate a whole body formed out of disparate elements or in physics, fluid mass of fragments and particles. I love that imagery. And when when it comes to the body, of Sangha, what it looks like, in the beginning, of course, there was no online or virtual dimension as we experience it today. When online sittings and worse workshops and so Sheen's were established in 2020 in response to the pandemic It totally transformed my sense of Sangha, who was so wonderful and continues to be, to now be able to really get to know people who live at a distance from from Rochester. Whereas previously, I might have only seen them briefly, you know, before or after. So Shane are at a special event. And it's, it's been a real lifeline in terms of our ability to do zozen together across the miles, and stay connected. And for me, the only downside is the extra screen time. And that's something we all have to kind of adapt to, I guess.
But for much of the history of Buddhism, Sangha strictly referred to the monastic community, as it did in the historical Buddha's lifetime. And in her biography, on the life of the Buddha, Karen Armstrong, she describes how the Sangha originally consisted of an order of monks who meditated every day traveled to this place, and that preaching the Dharma, and it was their visible presence that helped attract lay disciples, as well as novice monks. And it was largely an oral culture at the time. So the only way for laypeople and others to learn of the Dharma was to hear it firsthand, either from the Buddha himself, or from one of the monks. And as a community of monastics the monks had to learn to live together and work and practice together, setting aside their selfish inclinations and being considerate of one another. And, on this point, this is what Karen Armstrong has to say. She writes unskillful states such as anger, guilt, unkindness, envy and greed, were avoided not because they had been forbidden by a god or were sinful, but because the indulgence of such emotions was found to be damaging to human nature could say damaging to the community. The compassion, courtesy consideration, friendliness and kindness required by the monastic life constituted the new asceticism. And if you don't know what asceticism is, prior to the Buddha's awakening, he had, he had experimented with these, you know, extreme practices of self and bodily denial, like going without food and going without eating and drinking, sleep draft deprivation, and that was a popular popular thing to do, was a whole movement at the time. But ultimately, the Buddha came to realize that the path to enlightenment is the middle way, not not denying yourself not rejecting anything, being one with what is
so in any case, in the monastic setting, interacting and engaging with one another with one another, was part of practice for the monks, and later was also part of practice for the nuns. There are two stories about a Nanda that I want to share a Nanda was the Buddhist personal attendant. And these stories are especially relevant to understanding the nature of Sangha as we experience it today. And one is the story of how he convinced the Buddha to welcome women into the Sangha. The society that the Buddha emerged from was patriarchal. And that was typical of the Axial Age, the age that most of the world's religions emerged. And so the notion that women were inferior was a part of the Buddha's social conditioning. And the story goes that is that he, you know, at first was resistant to the idea of ordaining women, but after he did so, it's also not surprising that the nuns were true did differently they were not treated equally to the monks, again, recognizing that in the context of a male and masculine dominated society, you know, that's how things were. And still, for the Buddha should do that we have to put this in perspective, it was a pretty radical act to ordain women in that context. And Karen Armstrong says that it was really the first time that it had given women an alternative to domestic life and alternative to being a mother and raising children. The other story about a Nanda that's relevant to our look into Sangha involves a conversation he had with the Buddha. You know, having served by the Buddha's side as his attendant for many years and Nanda often shared his insights with him. And the story goes that one day, a Nona a Nanda turn to the Buddha and said, Lord, I've been thinking, spiritual friendship is at least half of the spiritual life. The Buddha replied, Say not so a Nanda say not so, spiritual friendship is the whole of the spiritual life. So in this exchange, the Buddha dispelled anon this idea that Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are separate. The Sangha does not exist as this separate entity to support the way it is the way it's the whole of it.
Karen Armstrong goes on to say about Sangha. The Sangha is the heart of Buddhism. And again, she's writing in the context of the Buddha's life. The Sangha is the heart of Buddhism, because its lifestyle embodies externally, the inner state of Nirvana, or enlightenment. The lights the lifestyle of the Sangha enables its members to meditate, and thus to dispel the fires of ignorance, greed and hatred that bind us to the wheel of suffering. The ideal of compassion and communal love, teaches them to lay aside their own egotism, and live for others. The Sangha is one of the oldest surviving voluntary institutions on Earth. And then she says, the message seems to be that it is not by protecting and defending yourself that you survive, but by giving yourself away. So that's the heart of Sangha, giving yourself away. And it's in that vein that we can understand and appreciate Sangha as one of an inseparable from the three treasures. You know, we recite, I take refuge in Sangha, and its wisdom example and never failing, help and resolve to live in harmony with all sentient beings. You know, I used to think that taking refuge meant simply, you know, relying on fellow Sangha members for support, relying on the community in a time of need, also seeing fellow Sangha members as role models. That was really a big deal for me when I was new at the center, being able to observe more experienced practitioners and see how they are integrating their practice, into their lives, you know, off off the mat, so to speak. But that's, that's not the extent of what that vow means taking refuge. And there is a Zambo article by Roshi about Sangha published several years back, and really helps clarify what taking refuge means. And this was what Roshi writes, it isn't enough to just have a Sangha to enter the way we have to take refuge in Sangha as one of the Three Jewels that are our inheritance, what we translate as refuge originally meant protection. So taking refuge in Sangha implies going to the Sangha, for protection from suffering. This can sound a little like running for cover from the right from the wider world. But instead it means placing our faith in the community of Dharma practitioners. It's not a running from, but a throwing oneself into refuge in Sangha then is ultimately rear realized in the pure practice of sitting and active Zen. So as we we practice wholeheartedly, working on ourselves, working on uprooting our attachments. That's, that's how we're giving ourselves over to Sangha. putting our trust in our community is also putting our trust in our true nature. And there are a lot of ways we can throw ourselves into Sangha. And sitting is one of them first and foremost, sitting together, right. Oh, they're here at Arnold Park Chapin Mill online, what better gift to one another, what mutual support lots of other ways contributing aid, whether material or monetary. That could be, you know, the annual donations that are given to help keep everything up and running, but also supplies, providing meals.
There have been some Sangha members that have given computer equipment and tree saplings, you name it. And then then there's volunteering. You can volunteer in person or even remotely, we've got remote volunteers. Now. Some people are helping out today with a family and youth program. Some people are able to volunteer on a regular basis, other people can only do it sporadically. Some people can't do it at all, they just don't have time or, or resources. But within our Sangha there, there are a lot of skills represented that can really be of support, you know, cleaning, cooking, sewing, gardening, woodworking. And in my own case, you know, before I joined staff a couple years ago, I have volunteered quite a bit at the center. And it made a big difference for me to get to know people to get to know staff. And it really uplifted me in times when I was feeling stuck in my practice. Yeah, it helped. It really helped me to persist. And then now, you know, with the Sangha Programs Office, there are some other ways to throw yourself into Sangha. attending events, if you're able to just showing up for one another, can be a real support, attending a Sangha, hike, let's say, or an online event. And then yeah, we need people to lead Sangha programs. So taking the initiative to lead an activity, we've got a few things in the pipeline. Right now. We're not ready to advertise it yet. But we're hoping to have a nonviolent communication workshop, a session on unlearning anti trans bias, just to name a couple, both led by Sangha members, with support provided from the Sangha Programs team. But, you know, in the end, you know, we have to figure out for ourselves based on, you know, our abilities or time and resources, how much we can give how to our Sangha, but there's always sitting and, you know, giving our attention cultivating our attention is, you know, arguably the best form of giving.
We also though, have to recognize that Sangha is not limited to the membership of our Zen Center, and nor is it limited to broadly us humans. So now I want I want to read read an excerpt or two from Robert akin Roshi, he's taking the path. In Aiken Roshi was a teacher in the heart a Yasutani Lynch lineage.
He writes, There are many sagas within the universal Sangha. The Buddha Sangha is one this is the kinship of all Buddhists, the Zen Buddhist Sangha is another, the immediate Sangha of the training center is still another, it is from the family that we move into the world. It is from the training center family, that we cultivate a larger garden. I like the garden metaphor, you know, as it points to how the vitality of our center is dependent on the vitality of the community that we live in Rochester Tavia, for Chapin Mill, but also beyond that globally. And that's why, you know, the work that the center's Uprooting Racism group is doing is so important in terms of like hosting speakers and activists from our community and developing connections with our people in our community, and providing support. koan Roshi goes on to say, the Sangha has always been more than clergy more than a group of believers, more than just Buddhists. The Sangha is in fact, the kinship of all things, every entity of this universe and all universes, past, present and future in endless dimensions. It is to the enlightenment of this total Sangha that we are dedicated in our vows once and akin that's his spouse once and Aiken and I were showing NACA Gala, Roshi and NACA gala Roshi is someone whom Roshi Kapleau had done some training with, along with Harada Roshi we were showing NACA gala Roshi around the Ojai Valley in California, viewing a grassy hillside that had many boulders jutting from it surface. NACA gallery Roshi cried out How many members are here, each Boulder is a member, each tree, each mouse, each intestinal worm. So we can see there are many meanings for Sangha from the the immediacy of the local monastic order to this vast ecosystem, and all the interdependent beings and things that give it form. I think of the quote from Walt Whitman, I am large, I contain multitudes. All right, and on this point, I want to read a little excerpt from another book. This is from Zen Jew Earth, Lin Manuel's the way of tenderness, awakening through race, sexuality and gender. And she's a Dharma Heir and priest in the Suzuki lineage and, and brings her experience as a lesbian black woman into her teachings.
She says, and she's writing about the the multiplicity of oneness. Being aware of the multiplicity in oneness requires that we recognize the collective nature of our lives. It's critical that we see the variety of lived experiences within oneness, in order to see who we really are, as living beings. We have mistaken our sameness for being human. Our sameness stems from the fact that we share the same life source as a flower or a bee. But we are nonetheless inherently different in form when we speak of race, sexuality and gender. When we speak of our embodiment, we speak of all of us, not just those people over there. Some misperceive difference to refer only to people of color, race to refer only to black men, sexuality to queer people, gender to white women class to those who have inherited wealth or those who live in poverty and so on. And notice black women are hardly considered on the continuum at all. Whether or not we see ourselves in terms of these groups, we all participate in these consciously and unconsciously created constructs, or delusions if you see them that way. Because there are multiple expressions of life. We all partake in race, sexuality and gender, we all partake in the nature of lameness, and the challenges that exist within it, we are all raced sexualize, class and so on. This can be difficult to see. So she's, she's calling our attention to this whole body, the aggregate that form Sangha in all its rich diversity, and that which is the very body of Buddha. And her book goes on to explore what it means to practice with mutual respect and trust. And she says, with that, we need to be aware of the habit forces and social conditioning, that tell us that we're not one that tells us we're separate and divided, and which lead to explicit and implicit bias, not to mention trauma. And this kind of awareness is cultivated and more than one way it can be cultivated, for one by educating ourselves, you know, taking the initiative to learn about what it means to be raised, and sexualized and classed and so forth. What it means to live in a society where equality and justice and democracy are still works in progress. And what we can do individually and collectively, as a Sangha, to unlearn and uproot internalized biases and oppression. And as a Sangha, we have the ability to approach community building with intentionality. Humans are social beings, and we naturally will form a community without even thinking about it, just like bees, and ants and chickens do. But unlike those other social animals, we have this capacity to be intentional, and to develop a community that that meets our shared needs and values, and sustain a Sangha that's mutually nourishing and inspiring to each of us. And the starting point for that kind of community is also awareness, awareness that's activated through the practice through Zen. Because ultimately, it's through practice that we can let go of our self imposed barriers, and open up, open our hearts, to the people and things as they are, in the moment, not with the filter of our past experiences, or our judgments or preferences. And when we can see our Dharma siblings as they truly are, each one of us is on the path, each one of us is working on ourselves. And that's when we can open up a space for harmonious relationships. And this kind of awareness is truly a matter of love.
Not not romantic or familial love in the conventional sense, but love in the sense of pure pure intimacy, with life as it is. And this this kind of awareness is a subject of a book. It turns out, titled the way of love and it's by Anthony de Mello. Have you ever heard of him? He's a Jesuit priest in India. And he's one of Johnson's these go to authors and for good reason. So let me just read a couple of things from from this book about love. He writes, What is love? Take a look at a rose. Is it possible for the rose to say I shall offer my fragrance to good people and withhold it from bad people. Or can you imagine a lamp that withholds its rays from a wicked person who seeks to walk in its light. It could only do that by ceasing to be a lamp and observe how helplessly and indiscriminately a tree gives its shade to everyone good and bad, young and old, high and low to animals and humans and every living creature, even to the one who seeks to cut it down. So Demello says, This is the first quality of love, it's indiscriminate. Okay, and then he goes on, how does one attain this quality of love, anything you do will only make it forced, cultivated, and therefore phony, for love cannot be forced, there is nothing you can do. But there is something you can drop. There is something you can drop. Observe the marvelous change that comes over you, the moment you stop seeing people as good and bad. That sounds pretty much aligned with our practice. He goes on to describe three other qualities of love, and they are gratuitousness that is the way he says a lamp gives and asks for nothing in return. On self consciousness, that is without thoughts. The way a rose gives out its fragrance simply because there's nothing else it can do, whether there's someone there to whether there's someone there to enjoy it or not. And then thirdly, or actually, fourthly, freedom, without coercion or control. The way a tree will make no effort to drag you into its shade. I remember when I was somewhat new at the epicenter, and very naive. I developed all these ideas and judgments about my teacher rotate about the monitors at the time. And really the entire staff. In truth, I idolized them all. I thought they must, they must all be enlightened. And I will never be because I'm not on staff. Yeah. And depending on the situation, my feelings ranged from, you know, this admiration to jealousy. I wanted what they had. Of course, you could also do the opposite and have all these negative ideas about the teacher about the staff about the monitors the timer and so forth. I've encountered that too, from time to time. But as my practice matured, and I got to know people
I was able to recognize that what was going on there, I was clinging to thoughts and judgments. And none of it was based in reality, it was all in my head. And having these kinds of discriminating thoughts is not unusual. Whether it's you know, making enlightenment into a thing, or forming judgments about others, especially those in positions of perceived authority. And also, distinctions within within a community. We can make distinctions about each other on staff versus off staff, locals versus out of towners out Arnold Park versus Chapin Mill, in person versus online. The possible dualities we can come up with are really endless. And we can find ourselves doing this kind of thing at work in school, among our circles of friends, you know, any community setting and the problem isn't that we have those kinds of thoughts popping up but, but that we cling to them, right and as a consequence, we're not seeing the person that's right in front of us. We're seeing seeing somebody else, an imaginary person
I want to bring this to a close with with two images that came up for me as a fitting way to envision Sangha. One is the figure of connote there's this wonderful book called Faces of compassion, classic bodhisattva archetypes and their modern expression, by Teigen. Dan Layton. And there's a chapter dedicated to kinome, also known as Guan Yin and cons eon. And there's a section in it where he describes the multiplicity of allo Koteswara. That's a Sanskrit the bodhisattva of compassion. The Sanskrit name is translated as gazing lord, lord of what is seen, also regarder of the cries of the world, and perceiver of sounds, and, and looking at the various figures and imagery. He says that connote assumes so many different forms that we might understand this bodhisattva as a whole assemblage, or we could say aggregate of spiritual life. condone may appear as female as male or androgynous. But no matter the form, responsiveness and compassion are what are conveyed. And in the chapter, it gets into great detail about the various iconographic features. Some can own figures are serene and calm, looking like the one we have here in our conundrum, at Oracle Park, also the one at Chapin Mill, while others are dynamic and ferocious. Some have 11 faces and 1000s of outstretched arms, and there's even one that's horse headed. And it's so wonderful to have an image of figure like that, who appears in so many different forms and percentages, including differing and ambiguous genders. And that's we can interpret that in really meaningful ways to recognize the diversity and inclusivity of the body of Sangha. The second image that came up for me in reflecting on Sangha is the universal Buddha in the back garden here at Arnold Park, which is currently surrounded by blooming cherry blossom trees. In the mid 1980s, Roshi Kapleau invited a Canadian sculptor, and practicing Buddhist named John Fillion to create a Buddha figure without a face. And it was based on Roshi Kapleau own drawings. It's a six foot tall, seated figure sitting in what appears to be a lotus position. And that's based on the rough, triangular shape. It's faceless. It has no race, no gender, no distinguishing qualities or features. It's not even necessarily human, could be a boulder could be a mountain. And this Buddha figure of ours is so unique that it was the subject of an academic article I discovered, published in 2005. And it's titled, aesthetics of American Zen tradition, adaptation and innovation in the Rochester Zen Center garden by Jeff Wilson. The article describes the architectural design of our back garden which itself is pretty amazing to learn about and then it zeroes in on the Buddha figure. And this is what the author writes. To all appearances, it is a rough jumble of individual stones artfully arranged to evoke the idea of a Buddha in seated meditation. But in fact, this universal Buddha is a single piece molded by the sculptor to look like discrete stones. And then then you get goes in is describing how the sculptor
decided to mold the Buddha out of a curiously named industrial construction material. Cement fondue. Cement fondue is actually a powder, which is mixed with water and massaged into whatever shape is necessary. The materials so pliable, in fact that it can be used to take casts of individual footprints. Therefore, the rough home look of the universal Buddha is a deception. Rather than a gathering of venerable weathered stones, it's actually a block of construction greed, cement fondue. Deliberately crafted to disguise its true nature
Yeah, what a beautiful representation of Sangha and Buddha and dharma and how fortunate we are to have it in our midst. Okay, I'll stop here. I don't know if we have time for questions. Really? Not really. Okay, sorry. Yeah, you know, this is just a smattering of the stuff I've been collecting. So, I have more, but we'll stop here. And we'll recite the four vows.