When I first me my teacher, Bhante Sujatha, he told me the thing I was missing in my practice was the sangha. Which at that time I really knew nothing about. I suppose I thought of the sangha as a monastic thing, and did not really apply to lay people. But Bhante proceeded to explain that we all need the support and encouragement of like-minded people to help keep us on our path. And while this was a good explanation, and one that really stimulated my practice, it was much later that I began to fully understand the great importance of sangha.
The other day, my dear friend Tyler explained how I was a model to him when the time came for him to accept the death of a loved one. As we talked more about this, we agreed that as sangha members and Noble friends, that we are consistently models to one another in so many ways. And certainly my friend Tyler has been a model to me over and over again. But it’s not just him who has shown me what a Noble friend is, or what sangha means to me in my practice and my life. There are countless individuals, both monastic and lay, who have had a profound impact on my life and likely do not even know it.
The Blue Lotus Temple sangha is composed of so many people from different walks of life and backgrounds. And their personal experiences and circumstances are as varied as they are similar. Individuals and families have shared their stories about losing a child to suicide, to sudden infant death, to job and home loss, alcoholism and drug addictions. So many have lost a parent, a Brother or Sister, treasured pets, and dear friends who have died prematurely and unexpectedly and others having lost a long battle with cancer. And the most amazing thread that runs through them all is the strength and courage with which they have all faced these realities in their life. While seemingly alone in their suffering, the sangha was with them every moment of the experience. Not for the purpose of suffering with them, but to have a deep compassion and connectedness to one another. With most finding those who are suffering to be the model for their own lives, both now and in the future as circumstances arise. And this has most certainly been my experience so many times over the years. Noble friends are constantly showing us a way of acceptance, goodwill, peace, and immeasurable loving kindness. Not by sitting us down for a heart-to-heart talk, but by living their lives as beautiful examples of the dhamma.
None of this is to say that we only support each other through the difficult times. It is equally important that we share in each others joys and successes as well. In fact, it is often the model of how my Noble friends deal with these circumstances that inspire me in so many ways. With wisdom and virtue, these beautiful human beings show me that they are not attached to success or failure, but simply remain present and mindful. They are fully aware that impermanence applies to both happy and sad moments, and are able to just observe as each comes and goes in it owns time.
We are all human beings, with physical bodies that get old and decay. This is simply a reality for all of us, and the foundation of our existence. And sangha members are typically very aware of the Three Marks of Existence; Anicca (impermanence), Dukkha (suffering/dissatisfaction), Anatta (no self). These are inescapable and more importantly a foundation for our practice in daily life.
The sangha exists far beyond the walls of the Temple. The sangha is not merely the lay community at the Blue Lotus Temple or your local temple, but one that spreads across the World to every temple and country. Monastic and laypeople alike are Noble friends who are encouraging one another by loving themselves and loving all living beings. There is an immeasurable force that connects all of us to one another, and opens the door to being Noble friends and models for each other.
The Buddha taught monastics to ask for nothing, and only take what is offered and be grateful.
I hope that each of you can see what is being offered to you today by so many sangha members and Noble friends around the Globe. With blessings of peace and love, that you may be free of suffering and the causes of suffering, know that you are loved and that you are connected. Know that we are connected deeply in mindfulness and compassion with unconditional love and acceptance.
Excerpt from the Upaddha Sutta:
As he was sitting there, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, “This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”
“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.”