Finding a verbal community: Sangha

January 11, 2010

Main Entry:   sangha
Part of Speech:   n
Definition:   in Buddhism, a community of monks and/or nuns, one of the “Three Jewels”; also, generally, all followers of the Buddha; also written samgha
Etymology:   Hindu ‘community together’’s 21st Century Lexicon
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One of my behavior analysis instructors, Dr. Sigrid Glenn, told me that it is best to seek a like-minded verbal community when selecting jobs and making decisions about whom to hang out with.  Why “verbal”?  Because behavior requires reinforcement, and reinforcement comes from those who adhere to the same practices you do.  If you don’t hang out with people who walk the walk and talk the talk, it is easy to lose your footing and change your ways.  This is why so many religions recommend that you not marry outside your faith.  A spouse who believes in a different god or none at all is likely to extinguish your faith through non-reinforcement. 

In Buddhism, a verbal community is recommended, although it does not require that you eliminate all “different thinkers” from your life.  A Buddhist verbal community is called a sangha.  In sangha you practice meditation and being on the Buddhist path together, supporting one another. 

Last Tuesday I finally had the opportunity to attend the Shambhala Meditation Center that meets at one of the local Unitarian Universalist churches.  The meeting is called an open house and anyone is invited to meditate with them. 


Gomden on a zabuton


The evening began with setting things up.  There was an altar bearing a row of five bowls of rice with things stuck in them.  I’m not sure what the meanings of those things are just yet.  A bell was placed on a different table to be rung as services began.  Nine blue gomden (square meditation pillows) were placed in 3 rows of 3, each on top of a blue zabuton, or large, stuffed mat to protect knees from the hard floor, and staggered so that no one was looking directly at the back of anyone’s head.  I meditate with a zafu at home, and wonder if I should bring mine each week.  The only person who did was another guy who was there for the first time.  There were more than 9 people, so apparently not everyone meditates on a gomden.  The center area of gomden was surrounded by an open-ended square of chairs.

Round Cotton Zafu Meditation Cushion

A bunch of zafus

The other new guy and I were asked if we would like to receive meditation instruction, and we both did.  We went into a different room with one of the instructors who talked to us about how to meditate.  The gist of it is something I knew, and the main reason I am attracted to Buddhist practice.  The goal of meditation is not to clear the mind, but to learn to be present. The central focus of Shambhala meditation as taught by this instructor, is to be present with your breathing.   Not to count breaths, not to think about what happens when you breathe, but to just be there breathing.  Each time the mind wanders, as it will, acknowledge it, and return to being present with your breathing.  There is no place for self-criticism in meditating.  The more times your mind wanders the more opportunities you have to return to the present.  It’s like training a dog.  No need to punish him for making mistakes.  Simply provide another opportunity to learn. We were taught how to do walking meditation which is also part of each week’s meeting. I can’t remember which hand is held with which hand, but I remember that one hand wraps around it’s thumb and rests in the other hand.  He started the session by saying that we are all already perfect.  Meditation is about learning that. 

Then we re-joined the larger group for tea.  I was exhausted and really too tired to mingle.  It was fine, really.  I just sat there and took things in.  Unusual for me, n’est-ce pas?  The session ended with a short meditation and some announcements about upcoming events, including a weekend retreat with some advanced instructors in 2 weeks.  I signed up for that, and for a private interview with an instructor. 

I’ll keep you posted.

Meditator Tot,


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