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Workshop diary: Building a sangha

Bro. Phap Kham with Raymond Lam.

This is a written adaptation of the workshop Bro. Phap Kham gave on 4 July 2013. Here, he describes the inner strengths one needs to build a sangha so that one may share personal practice with a community. It is published with his permission.

To see the sangha is to see the Buddha and Dharma. This is a very heavy claim and a heavier duty. So it is important to learn how to build and maintain a sangha, which is the most important locus of practice.

A sangha needs only to live in harmony and awareness as the main rule. It is not a social club for chatting or casual relations. But brotherhood and sisterhood can develop and be cultivated through practice. It is certainly not a Facebook club where we seek more friends and more Likes! But through the practice of living in harmony and awareness,  we naturally earn more friends. So there is no requirement to be popular to join a sangha. But when you are in a sangha, you will be with many others like you and be cherished by similar seekers.

How does one build a sangha? Firstly, go back to yourself, have his joy in yourself, get used to the practice of slowing down. Start cultivating mindfulness and a pleasant smile, and that is where the sangha begins. Our energy affects the quality of life in others.

The Plum Village tradition is different from other traditions. Our practice is relatively light and allows us to relax and loosen our muscles and bodies. We also sing and play, and we emphasise the present moment over attainment or results. Because we do not expect anything, any results are wonderful and to be encouraged. We teach everyone, including newcomers, to do things that look like child’s play. But it is adults who benefit the most, just recall Thay’s dharma talk about bells.

All you need to learn for a happy life has been taught for the last four days. So when you go home to start a sangha, just do the same. A sangha needs these components:

·      Relax,

·      Be in touch with the present moment,

·      Have a smile,

·      Expect nothing of people,

·      And be open-minded and open-hearted.

We have guidelines for sitting meditation, walking meditation, bell meditation, total relaxation, etc. They are needed, but they are simply instructions and not as important as the relational skills of brotherhood and sisterhood. An open mind and open heart are much more important in achieving things, and so that we may accept the shortcomings and weaknesses of others. We also need to freely praise the strengths of others. This will help us to live with ourselves and others in the aforementioned harmony and awareness.

We must also not worry about finances, to be preoccupied with seeking donations. We are here to share the Dharma, so even when we ran out of money to pay the rent for our tiny office in Tsim Sha Tsui, we stayed put. If our sincere objective is to spread the Dharma, then I did not feel I needed to worry about anything else. Eventually, thanks to others’ generosity, we moved to Lantau Island, to the newly established Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism. 

We brothers and sisters might not always see each other, but our trips or events together will help us hone our sangha building. We might not meet until after a few years, so it is important to make the present moment a source of happiness.

Flowing as a river, flying as a flock of birds. 

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