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Thread: Sangha question...

  1. #1

    Sangha question...

    Hello everyone,

    I'm back again with another question. I've read many zen books and have heard some talks on youtube and other sources about finding a teacher. I really enjoy Treeleaf and believe that I've learned more since I've been here than the entire time I've been interested in Buddhism, and furthermore, zen. I can't help but wonder why so much stress it put on finding a teacher in person. I feel that Jundo & Taigu are my teachers, and that Treeleaf is my sangha, so why do I need to find somewhere to go in person? I've done some research, to try and find Soto Zen monasteries in my area, but the closest one is about 60 miles away. With a family and other responsibilities in my life, that's just not possible for me. There are zen meeting groups in my city, but they are more of a pure land tradition; not soto. Am I being thickheaded on this subject, or is this a valid concern. Some have said that it will be impossible to form a useful practice without meeting face-to-face with a teacher. I believe that if I am happy, that's all that matters. I sit each day with all of you and I feel that that is as good as sitting 60 miles away.

    Gassho,

    Adam

  2. #2
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Sangha question...

    There are unique virtues to practicing in the same physical space with others, and engaging in traditional practice forms. The energy of the group carries over more (at least for me) in terms of helping one maintain a regular practice. Subtle daily interactions of the sort that do not occur in a virtual space provide learning opportunities. And yes, face-to-face interactions with a teacher in person have a unique impact.

    In my opinion (based on my experience), all of this is nice, but not necessary. Why are you practicing? Why are you on this path? If it's to gain status, then practicing in an online sangha isn't going to gratify because it has less status. Largely due to traditionalism--the attitude of, 'oh gosh, this is a new way of doing things, I'm not sure I like it.' If it's to live out some personal ideal--again, tougher to do it here, as there's no romanticism of putting on a robe and bowing. Not much romanticism sitting in boxers in front of your computer.

    But if your driving motivation in practice is a 'will to the truth,' a desire to awaken, then all of the arguments people could make about one way versus another don't apply. Because upholding tradition and getting rubber-stamped for what you're doing by the larger public have nothing to do with waking up. All the tools for waking up, for seeing delusion as delusion, are available here.

  3. #3

    Re: Sangha question...

    Stephanie,

    Thank you so much for the reply. I'm on this path
    Quote Originally Posted by Adam
    There are unique virtues to practicing in the same physical space with others, and engaging in traditional practice forms. The energy of the group carries over more (at least for me) in terms of helping one maintain a regular practice. Subtle daily interactions of the sort that do not occur in a virtual space provide learning opportunities. And yes, face-to-face interactions with a teacher in person have a unique impact.

    In my opinion (based on my experience), all of this is nice, but not necessary. Why are you practicing? Why are you on this path? If it's to gain status, then practicing in an online sangha isn't going to gratify because it has less status. Largely due to traditionalism--the attitude of, 'oh gosh, this is a new way of doing things, I'm not sure I like it.' If it's to live out some personal ideal--again, tougher to do it here, as there's no romanticism of putting on a robe and bowing. Not much romanticism sitting in boxers in front of your computer.

    But if your driving motivation in practice is a 'will to the truth,' a desire to awaken, then all of the arguments people could make about one way versus another don't apply. Because upholding tradition and getting rubber-stamped for what you're doing by the larger public have nothing to do with waking up. All the tools for waking up, for seeing delusion as delusion, are available here.

    Stephanie,


    Thank you for the reply. I still believe that a face-to-face interaction is just as good as talking here on Treeleaf, but I appreciate your words. I find truth every day on this path, but some things do leave me with questions. I have heard many explanations of why face-to-face meetings are important, but I still don't know how it would be "better" than what we have here at Treeleaf. I can do the same thing in this sangha that I can if I drive 60 miles to sit with others in person. I believe that I can still practice and find the truth without sitting in a zen hall. I have found my teacher and I have found my sangha. Who's to say that it isn't "good enough" to this practice? That's where my confusion lies. Thank you for reading.

    Gassho,

    Adam

  4. #4
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Sangha question...

    Don't worry, you're preaching to the choir.

    Just because I think there are "unique virtues" to working with a teacher and sangha in person doesn't mean I think it's necessary or essential.

    And in some cases, it can even be a problem, because a lot of people get caught up in personality cults around charismatic teachers, and sangha politics, etc.

    Keep in mind this is a radical idea for most Zen practitioners. As long as Treeleaf is your primary sangha, there will be people out there who think your practice isn't "authentic." But my point is, that in itself is good practice. Deep down, we all like approval from others. But that's ego, and has nothing to do with truth.

    I too have found my teachers and sangha here. It surprised me on many levels, but it's just what happened. "Life as it is, the only teacher."

    Wrestling with your reactions with what other people think about you and what you do is a huge part of this practice, at least in my experience. Falling back on public opinion is how we reassure ourselves. When public opinion is contrary to our position, that's one ego-prop that's wrested away from us. Far from the only one that has to go, but when it goes, it tumbles a lot of the dominoes of delusion that uphold our grandiose bullshit visions of ourselves.

  5. #5
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Sangha question...

    You have more access to the teacher here than you would in a live Sangha. I feel that to the extent we get to know each other here, it happens faster.

    Live sanghas always disappointed me. Either my night shift schedule made it difficult to attend or cliquish politics got in the way. People are often standoffish and aloof in live centers. There just isn't much effort to welcome you or make you feel at home. If you put in your dues and honor whatever group delusion is perpetuated at the sangha, you'll fit in.

    By all means, try them out though if you feel the urge.

    Chet

  6. #6
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Sangha question...

    :lol:

    Chet nailed it.

    There's a lot of 'theatre' that goes on in a traditional sangha that's dispensed with here. People act how they think they're supposed to act in a sangha, take on roles, compete for attention and status. I'm as guilty of it as anyone. And there can be good practice in seeing that as it happens. But it can also be a huge distraction/diversion. Based on my experience, it happens less here.

    Teacher access is another HUGE issue. If you go to high-profile sanghas, you have to jump through many hoops to get any time with the head teacher at all. If you go to lower-profile sanghas, your interactions with the teacher are still limited to how many times there is formal practice opportunity for laypeople and how often you can get over there. And then, of course there's the matter of your local sangha not always having a teacher you trust or click with. On a personal level, in terms of enjoying one another's company, I really liked the last teacher and sangha I was working with, but on a spiritual level, I had some major reservations.

    Everything is much more transparent here IMO.

  7. #7

    Re: Sangha question...

    Hi Adam,

    Stephanie and Chet take my words away. They express how this place here, where we are, is to be seen. Gassho.

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam
    I can't help but wonder why so much stress it put on finding a teacher in person.
    I would say, though, that we are meeting "in person" and "face-to-face" ... though naturally limited to some senses more than others.

    On the other hand, it is certainly not an "either/or" proposition ... not better or worse. Just different, complementary. There is a time for each and all. We have the advantage of being able to support each other and sit together here each day, from wherever, making "contact" in certain ways that are often neglected (when one is denied certain senses, one comes to rely and appreciate more the others, and what was theretofore hidden in those). The other Sangha has certain good points we lack. There was a comment on Maezen's Shambhala Sunspace post which is truly true ...

    the palpable energy experienced when walking into a room during retreat and feeling the samadhi enveloping the space in deep calm, the teaching that happens in the doksan room which has nothing to do with any spoken words... It seems to me that practice is about dropping the story and cultivating emptiness. It is so much easier for me not to deceive myself when I am sitting with my sangha in the zendo.

    Sitting in a room with folks, where you can see them in 3-D and smell the sweat, offer a hug (though all still 'virtual' within the mind, mind you!!) ... all that is vital too. It is like saying, "which is better ... swimming in the ocean or swimming in a pool"?? Both are good, both necessary to be a good life swimmer. Dive in!

    Something like that.

    This is not a 'virtual' Sangha, any more or less than any other. This is just a Sangha.

    Gassho, J

  8. #8

    Re: Sangha question...

    Stephanie, Chet, Jundo -

    Thank you SO much for your replies. I only posted this thread because it seems that some how if you're not practicing in person with a sangha, then you are not a "real Buddhist." I don't know why it is this way, and I'm most likely looking too deep into it, but it seems to be somewhat of a contest. I don't know...just what I've observed for some time. Thank you all very much for reading this! I appreciate everyone in this "virtual" zendo!

    Gassho,

    Adam

  9. #9

    Re: Sangha question...

    Found this today, a text written by Fa Zhang Shakya over at hsuyun.org. It kind of gives one answer to the question:

    "[W]e'll begin by discussing the perceived need for practicing with a group: is it needed? Yes and no, some people may benefit more from group practice than others. Group practice can be many things: it can be just a loosely structured sitting group for socializing and discussions or, at the other end of the spectrum, a formal, very structured group that meets in a temple and adheres to a strict set of the Vinaya rules. A group may be beneficial when it allows students to identify and avoid difficulties in their practice since the simple act of sharing may speed one's understanding of the Dharma, but group practice is impossible for a great many practitioners because of the structure of their lives, or a lack of groups in their area. Much like in Asia, some students benefit from monastic practice, some from a lay life and others from asceticism. Chan does not have a requirement regarding the correct setting for practice. Even Hui Neng made it clear in the Platform Sutra that a lay practitioner is just as likely to realize his true nature as the most dedicated monk. What is most important is that one practice constantly and correctly, not whether practice is performed in a group or alone.
    (My bold).

    It should be noted that a layperson is never actually part of the sa?gha, even though he or she takes refuge in it. A sa?gha is for ordained monks and nuns, not for the laity. Strictly speaking. A layperson however is part of the wider Buddhist community known as a paris?. So, practising alone and calling yourself a Buddhist is possible; taking refuge in the sa?gha doesn't mean that you have to sit with a sa?gha. So, practising with an online sa?gha, yes, quite possible! Practising with an AFK-sa?gha, that's possible too.

    One could always remember that Buddha wasn't part of a sa?gha. He did it all by himself. A sa?gha could be of tremendous help, but I personally do not see it as mandatory (for a layperson at least). If, on the other hand, we believe that real Buddhism is spread only via dharma transmission from teacher to student, then I guess it's hard to do it on your own. I don't believe that, though.

    And I personally see it as kind of arrogant that some people deny others the right to call themselves "Buddhist". On what authority are they speaking, one wonders ...

  10. #10

    Re: Sangha question...

    Hi Adam

    I guess I would take Jundo’s comment as the best answer “This is not a 'virtual' Sangha, any more or less than any other. This is just a Sangha.”

    If I was you I would not worry if some folks feel that Treeleaf is not a true sangha, or if one who practices with Treeleaf is not a “real” Buddhist. Labels just screw up reality.

    Through out my life, I have had folks try to put labels on me or on what I was doing. After 70 some years I could not care less. I have been informed that I am not a Buddhist. Who cares? I do know that my practice has pulled me through a battle with cancer, and has given me the compassion and understanding to be there for my daughter in law whose mental illness impacts all of our family. I know I enjoy and live each moment. I also know I have learned from my Teachers Jundo and Taigu and from the rest of the folks at Treeleaf. The collective knowledge and life experience of those that regularly post on the forum I believe is the best you can find.

    So, don’t worry…. Stay awhile with Treeleaf. If it works great, if not… you are in charge of your life…go where you need to go…

    Smile

  11. #11

    Re: Sangha question...

    Thank you everyone that has replied to this thread. I really believe that it doesn't matter if the Sangha that you attend is online or in person. The message is the same. I know that I wouldn't find the same support system at an in person Sangha that I have here at Treeleaf. I really apprecaite you all for always being there to give advice! I look forward to talking to everyone more in the future.

    Gassho,

    Adam

  12. #12

    Re: Sangha question...

    I think the face to face thing was meant really to discourage people from just reading books and suttras and thinking that they had a mastery of the Way. Face to face, or perhaps more accurately, a situation where you can speak to the teacher, tell them what you feel and think, and get their response back to assist you on the Path, is indespensable. I read many books, and practiced for 5 years before I ever even joined this sangha, and I thought I had it. Thought I got the whole thing. But after coming here, and talking and learning and experiencing the wisdom of others, I know now that I don't know. I'm just learning, and practicing, and walking on that Path where, as Dogen Zenji says, "every step I take is my home".

  13. #13

    Re: Sangha question...

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM
    I think the face to face thing was meant really to discourage people from just reading books and suttras and thinking that they had a mastery of the Way. Face to face, or perhaps more accurately, a situation where you can speak to the teacher, tell them what you feel and think, and get their response back to assist you on the Path, is indespensable. I read many books, and practiced for 5 years before I ever even joined this sangha, and I thought I had it. Thought I got the whole thing. But after coming here, and talking and learning and experiencing the wisdom of others, I know now that I don't know. I'm just learning, and practicing, and walking on that Path where, as Dogen Zenji says, "every step I take is my home".


    Thank you for this!


    Gassho,

    Adam

  14. #14

    Re: Sangha question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam
    I read many books, and practiced for 5 years before I ever even joined this sangha, and I thought I had it. Thought I got the whole thing. But after coming here, and talking and learning and experiencing the wisdom of others, I know now that I don't know. .
    Yes, the job of this place is to confuse you every time you think you know something! Otherwise, you might actually learn something ... and wouldn't come back. 8)

    So, it looks like we are doing a good job!

    (reminds me a little of when I used to work as a lawyer, and would write a contract. I used to joke that, if anyone really understood the tangled legalese I had written ... I wasn't earning my money!)

    But, hopefully, it is to dissuade you from those things you think you "know" which are counter-productive ... so you actually do get something in your bones. Better said ... that which is your bones all along, but you might not realize so.

    People sometimes think that Zen, Koans, etc. are just meant to confuse or throw the mind into chaos. Nothing could be further from the Truth! They are all about knocking down some very "common sense" assumptions and beliefs that, in Buddhism, are illusions and delusions ... like that there is a "you", that there is "life and death" ... that flowing life can be, or need be, easily defined ...

    stuff like that ...

    Gassho, Jundo, Attorney at the Buddha's Law

  15. #15

    Re: Sangha question...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    But, hopefully, it is to dissuade you from those things you think you "know" which are counter-productive ... so you actually do get something in your bones. Better said ... that which is your bones all along, but you might not realize so.
    Thanks for this. Beautiful.

    Gassho,
    Jikyo

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