What is a Sangha?
Everyone who comes to practice is a member of the sangha (a community of practice). Being with the sangha can heal our feelings of isolation and separation. By practicing with others we can experience a tangible feeling of love, acceptance, and inter-connectedness.
The sangha is a garden, full of many varieties of trees and flowers. One flower may bloom early in the spring while another flower may bloom in late summer. One tree may bear many fruit while another tree may offer cool shade. No one plant is greater, lesser than, 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.
"The jewel of community, the Sangha, is to be held equal to the Buddha and the Dharma…
Indeed, the whole of the holy life is fulfilled through spiritual friendship."
"When we say, 'I take refuge in the sangha,' it means we put our trust
in a community of fellow practitioners who are solid.
A teacher can be important, and also the teachings,
but friends are the most essential element of the practice.
It is difficult or even impossible to practice without a sangha."
Thich Nhat Hanh
Sharing with the Sangha
Dharma sharing/discussion is an opportunity for us to learn from one another's experience of the practice - from the collective wisdom of the sangha. It is a chance for us to share concretely things that are truly in our heart. We also practice listening deeply to others, without judging or reacting, by maintaining awareness of our breathing and our feelings. Listening deeply and sharing mindfully enable us to touch the richness in ourselves and others, and to develop understanding.
Dharma sharing/discussion is a special time for us to share our experiences, our joys, our difficulties, and our questions related to the practice of mindfulness. Deep listening while others are speaking helps create a calm and receptive environment. By learning to speak about our happiness and our difficulties in the practice, we contribute to the collective insight and understanding of the sangha.
Please share based upon your personal experience of the practice rather than based upon abstract ideas and theoretical topics. We will realize that many of us share similar difficulties and aspirations. Sitting, listening, and sharing together, we recognize our connection to one another.
Guidelines for the Practice of Dharma Sharing/Dharma Discussion
1. We practice deep listening
Topics should emanate from our life and our practice. We avoid discussing issues that are theoretical, but, rather, share based upon our own experience.
Even though we have the intention to listen deeply to othes, our mind may wander. Perhaps we are agreeing, disagreeing, feeling agitated, or wanting to respond. If we are mindful of our thoughts and inner dialog, we can choose to come back to being present with the person speaking.
2. We practice mindful speech
Speaking from the heart about topics that emanate from our life and practice involves speaking with awareness in a way that could be of benefit to others as well as ourselves.
It is good for the atmosphere of the group when participants take three breaths before speaking to allow time for the previous person’s words to be received fully.
We neither interrupt, nor engage in dialogue with another person while someone is speaking.
3. We share with the whole group
Whatever we share is for the benefit of all those present. We do not engage in cross-talk with another participant. If we ask a question, we ask the whole group, and if we answer a question, we speak to the whole group and not just the person who asked.
If we ask a question, we should not expect an answer right away. Another topic may be addressed after the initial topic, and only when someone feels ready might the previous question be addressed. If towards the end of the sharing the question has not been addressed, the facilitator may choose to respond.
4. We refrain from speaking for a second time
We don’t speak again until it appears that everyone who wants to speak has spoken. This ensures that everyone can share and provides a space in which all can benefit from the Sangha’s wisdom.
We are encouraged to speak mindfully, not taking too long given the number of participants in the group. Near the end of the discussion the facilitator may offer an opportunity for those who have not spoken to do so if they wish, and may address any unanswered questions.
5. We avoid giving advice
It is helpful to use the word “I” instead of “you.” Speaking from our own experience eliminates the opportunity to give advice. If someone asks for advice it is fine to share our experience.
6. All that arises is confidential
Confidentiality secures the safety of the group. After the dharma discussion, if we want to talk to someone about what he or she said in the group, we must first ask if it is okay. Sometimes a person does not want to talk more about what he or she said, and this is a respectful way to honor that.
These guidelines are offered for the good of the entire Sangha. Thinking of these guidelines as trainings, and learning to apply them skillfully in all of our interactions, will help us to cultivate compassionate communication wherever we are.