The Refuge of Sangha

We can take refuge in any moment, amid the turmoil of any day, in the Buddha and the Dharma.  In its simplest form, the refuge of Buddha is taking a breath mindfully.  It doesn’t even have to be a deep one.  The bare-bones of the Dharma is recognizing your suffering (dukkha), and remembering that it’s optional. 

To take refuge in the Sangha may require a text, a phone call or a visit to a sangha meeting.  Without the support of other people, our journey on the Path can be misdirected.  When you have a sangha, or spiritual friends, the commitment to mindfulness practice that you share with them is wonderfully supportive.

Most experienced meditators feel an energy in a room where people are meditating.  Like running with other people, it makes it easier to keep going.  When I sit with a sangha, I often feel that everyone who is meditating with me is “holding me up,” supporting my endeavor to be mindful. 

Left alone with our introspective practice, it’s easy to get lost in the tangles of our thoughts.  Just talking things over with someone we trust can bring clarity to our doubts and renew our determination.  It doesn’t require a really close friendship.  The refuge of sangha just requires someone who also meditates and understands that sharing insights into the practice will benefit you both.

Many online meditation students, from all over the world, wonder how they can find this Third Refuge.  They tell me they live in areas where there are no sanghas.  Some are surprised to learn that a distant teacher can provide many of the benefits of Sangha.  Some are prepared, at the end of the course, to keep taking refuge in dharma talks available online and occasional contact with their teacher.

Real-time, in-the-flesh sanghas keep popping up all over the world, though.  A friend of mine has started two in as many years, half the globe apart.  Some students who lament a lack of sanghas in their town turn out to be a reasonable drive from at least one.  A quick online search can usually locate something, but if it confirms that there are no sanghas around, there’s still a solution.  Start your own.  Just ask someone to sit with you.

Having a teacher is important as your practice develops, to offer dharma talks, and individual interviews to explore areas where you may be stuck or uncertain.  Some of the richest moments in sanghas I lead are during group discussions after the dharma talk, when sangha members share their perspectives and experiences about how the dharma works.  It feels like this rounds out the view that the sangha gets of that area of the dharma.

If you can’t find a sangha, there are a lot of books and online resources, including connecting with a teacher, like this site offers.  Sangha takes many forms these days, offering the support to grow and keep moving forward on this path.

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