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Buddhism:   WHAT IS A BUDDHIST SANGHA?

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What is a Buddhist Sangha?
 

The first question really is: "WHO is asking?"

This is not to be confused by the paranoid people who refrain from acknowledging their presence until they are sure they are not in trouble.

Or, perhaps even worse than 'hiding' our identity, is the concept of 'not knowing' who we are.

Yes. Everyone has a name. But if we changed your name--you are still you. So, who are you?

                  

Open Frame = Look Inside

 This is what a Sangha is for. You discover who you are. You discover who other people are. You discover what life means to them. You discover what life means to you.

You discover.

   

"Star light, star bright, first star I..."

This is difficult for westerners to grasp. We expect to enter a large Gothic building with a doorway shaped like a vulva and be told what the meaning of life is.

So, do Buddhists go to Church?

Yes and no. Buddhist Temples are a wonderful place to gather with family and friends.

Buddha Zhen attended many Temples of various cultures: Thailand, China, Japan, and Korea. Here, in America, all cultures struggle to maintain some uniqueness as they also blend in to the lifestyle and schedules of 'modern' life. So, Sundays have become popular...

However, as every religion evolves to fit the more immediate needs and demands of its constituency, we all just keep 'accepting' whatever our religion offers as the 'right' way to worship. The religion you were raised with sets the standards for how you interpret all the other religions. Yet, even Buddhists tend to lose sight of the origins and original purposes of Buddhism--to improve the quality of life.

   

"Religion" means "to regulate"

During the latter part of the Original Buddha's life, he was dealing with the complexities of administrating and organizing his followers and Monks. Religion comes from a Latin word 'to regulate.' This unfortunately has become the focus of every religion in the world: regulating their public, regulating their churches, regulating their Priests, regulating their property, regulating their financial interests, regulating their publicity, regulating spiritual messages...hey!--regulating their websites!

Bleh. Is it any wonder that religions have as many problems as government bureaucracies?

Yes, we will return to "What is a Sangha?" but first we're looking at what a Sangha isn't. Unfortunately, most every American knows what a Sangha-is-not by looking at what they already know of religion.

   
 
People Need Religions
 

Most religions spend most of their time telling their members 'WHAT TO THINK' instead of teaching their memberships 'HOW TO THINK.' It is a lot easier to tell people, "This is wrong and this is right," instead of the more demanding job of teaching each person how to DETERMINE what is "wrong" and what is "right."

This is easy to criticize in our world of personal freedoms, yet, how many people do you know that can operate within society all day long on their common sense, good judgment, and logical thinking? Most people operate and make decisions based upon their "feelings." Since feelings are reactions to stimulus, environment, and internal needs: it is rare to find someone who is objective or understands the UNIVERSAL TRUTH as opposed to the Truth they "feel." Go back in time just one century and try to imagine educating illiterate farmers on the necessity of compassion as they battle Nature and wild beasts.

Ironically, the more dangerous life is, the more people desire spirituality. The solace of religion has been replaced by soap operas, violent movies, and video games. Although people have more time and freedom to worship than ever before in human history--they worship less, because they are comfortable and safe in their homes. Organized religion attained its foothold during the Middle Ages when lawlessness and random violence existed in everyday life in ways we could never comprehend in our modern world.

We've all seen the movies where the wounded soldier prays to God for salvation (for the first time in his life). And it is this Judeo-Christian ethic that has led us away from spirituality. "God is in Heaven, I'm down here, I'll worry about God when I need a way out of here."

However, Buddhism is not really about the afterlife. Buddhism is about THIS LIFE. Don't live your life based upon threats of burning in a hibachi for eternity. Live your life based upon the KNOWLEDGE that what you are doing is the best you can do.

Yeah, yeah. A thief doing his best... Words can be used to build something or tear it down. As you read this, are you searching for a way to tear apart these words or are you looking for a way to build upon them. This is the essence of Buddhism. To realize the frailty of any words. To realize there are no absolute rules that fit every person equally. Buddhism is a LIFELONG SEARCH that will provide as many questions as answers. Buddhism is about looking for as many answers and QUESTIONS as possible.

So, do you want to have someone TELL YOU how to think? Or would you prefer to have a group of spiritual friends help you figure out how to think, in a variety of ways?

Neither is wrong. A lot depends upon what you are ready for. A child needs rules, yet, a child needs freedom to be wrong.

   

Open Frame #2 = Look For Your Buddhahood

So, if a Sangha is the 'heart' of Buddhism, yet, Buddhists still build Temples, and in many cases just sit in pews like Christians--what is the difference?

The difference is that a Sangha is a small group of people who TALK TO EACH OTHER. A Sangha is a SPIRITUAL SUPPORT GROUP. As in any kind of group meeting, someone needs to lead the discussions or topics to keep things moving and diverse. Whether led by a Lay Priest (not officially ordained in a Temple) or led by a robed Monk, a Sangha bounces between three worlds:

    1. The world of Buddha as he talks to us from over 2,000 years ago.
    2. The world of each Sangha member as they struggle for spirituality in their material modern world.
    3. The world of the Afterlife, as it is interpreted by each person.

By the way, take a look at those three numbers as a triumvirate:

    1. The Father.
    2. The Son.
    3. The Holy Spirit.

Is a Sangha better than a Temple? All things must be judged individually. A disorganized Sangha could be less inspiring than a boring sermon in a beautiful Temple. Experiment. The roots of Buddhism stem from the spiritual quest of Siddhartha Gautama who didn't find inspiration in any one place or book.

   

   One Star        Two Star        Three Star

 

The most important factor is not the eloquence of your Spiritual Leader, or the artistic grandeur of your Temple. The most important factor of spiritual development is your DESIRE FOR SPIRITUALITY. This quest for spirituality should lead you to enlightenment in whatever religion you participate--unless enlightenment is prohibited. Beware the Church Of No Questions.

Create yourself.  Create a Sangha.

 

Shaolin Chi Mantis™ logo by Zhen Shen-Lang 1993
SHAOLIN CHI MANTIS Traditional Buddhist Gongfu

 

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Truth, wisdom, and courage.

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