Essays, Contemplations and Practical Exercises
to Support a Community of Friends in Dharma:
Tools for a Healthy and Happy Community
© Tarchin Hearn, published by Wangapeka Books; Karunakarma Series Volume III, 2006
Do you have a sense of community, a sense of sangha? If you don’t, how can you find it? Assuming you have a community, does it work, does it function well? What can be done to get it working? How can we recognize sangha, heal sangha, unfold and strengthen sangha? All of these explorations come under the term, sangha work.
All of life is relationship – relationship in action. Atoms are relationships of electrons, protons and neutrons. Molecules are relationships of atoms. Minerals are relationships of molecules. Cells are relationships of all the above, both within and outside the cell membrane. Groups of relatively stable relationships are communities. One person could be considered a community. Our body is a continent inhabited by countless micro beings, a living fabric of interacting relationships. This seemingly separate human body inhabits the relating bodies of others which we call the biosphere. The world is a sangha, a community of interbeing. It’s what we are. Relating is co-operating and in the co-operating, we form a larger whole. In spite of so much ambivalence and difficulties in the area of relationships, relating is not an option. It’s already happening. Rather than struggling over whether to relate or not, a much more meaningful question is how can we relate in ways that are healthy and support wellbeing in everyone?
Sangha is a Pali word meaning community. When I use the term ‘sangha work’ I am using the word ‘work’ in an intentionally ambiguous way. When we say a clock works, we mean it is able to keep the correct time – it’s functioning. Sangha work is the work of discovering real community and realising that it has been functioning well, since the beginning of life. The entire world is sangha in action. ‘Sangha work’ is work to bring forth a knowing of community – a sangha that is an interweaving of the talents and energies of many beings which all together make up a larger, functioning whole. Sangha work is relationship work. It involves doing what is necessary to cultivate a potential that is in everyone – the potential of being profoundly present for each other. Sangha work is work to awaken our valuing of community. It is work to enable us to interact skillfully together, even when difficulties arise. Sangha work involves actively nourishing whatever strengthens community. It means living in a continuum of bright, alert, responsive, well grounded, presence. Sangha work supports us in waking up to the vastness of what we are and, in so doing, developing the strength and confidence to be able to appreciate and interact with a diversity of talents and understandings in others – talents and understandings that are sometimes very different from those that are in us. Pragmatically, sangha work is about exploring how we can live together in ways that are mutually supportive. This is dharma in action.
What is community? Where does it begin and end off? Are there different types of community? What is special about a dharma community or sangha? How can we deepen our understanding of community? How can we deal with problems that arise between community members? How can we raise community to the highest level rather than sinking, through the tyranny of the group, to the lowest common denominator? How can we support community while simultaneously supporting the uniqueness of each individual?
This booklet is a compilation of essays and ideas that have been collecting on my hard drive and percolating in my mind for many years. Some of these writings are fairly complete while others are unfinished but I have decided to include them, polished and unpolished, in the hope that they will stimulate fresh thinking and perhaps some discussion and experimentation. Much of this writing has arisen in response to direct, real experiences of living at the beautiful Wangapeka Study and Retreat Centre in New Zealand as well as spending time at many other centres devoted to dharma. Please don’t try to read straight through this booklet as I have made little effort to link the various articles in a smooth and progressive way. Instead, I invite you to read a section and then to contemplate it. How do these themes arise in your own experience? Can you allow these ideas and explorations to intermingle with the vastness of your life experience and in doing so, bring into being something that is fresh and new? If you can, then perhaps you will take it one step further and share your fresh understandings with your own immediate community.
May we have the courage to see and be seen, to hear and be heard,
to meet all beings with kindness and interest and,
to touch each and every difficulty with patience, love and deepening understanding.
May our efforts nourish the seeds of sangha work everywhere.
Contents of Sangha Work
What is Sangha?
Some Thoughts on Sangha
An Open Letter
Levels of Sangha and Various Bits and Pieces
Four levels of Sangha
Two Levels of Engagement in Sangha
Two Ways of Structuring a Dharma Sangha
A Traditional Meditation On Sangha
Contemplations to Support a Well Functioning Dharma Community
Five Themes to Contemplate
The Five Training Precepts
Precepts in Positive Expression
Strengthening and Healing Sangha
Touching Base in Community
How to Do Touching Base in Community
Touching the Earth (adapted for sitting)
Mini Touching Base
How to do Sangha Sharing
A Few Thoughts Towards Resolving Conflict in The Sangha
Sila (ethics and wholesome relationship)
Some Practical Suggestions
A Formal Sangha Meeting for Resolving Conflict
How to Run A Formal Sangha Meeting
A Few Random Thoughts Concerning Difficult Situations
Sangha Resources for Wangapeka
Sharing the Merit