“Through the eyes of a real friendship an individual is larger than their everyday actions, and through the eyes of another we receive a greater sense of a self we can aspire to, the one in whom they have most faith. Friendship is a moving frontier of understanding, not only of self and other, but of a possible future.
– David Whyte: Excerpt from Readers’ Circle Essay, “Friendship”
I’m always conscious of the need to keep my practice alive and connected to the endeavor to wake up, and it is the Sangha jewel that remains always the most relevant and potent in this journey. That’s because the practice of Sangha, rather than the theory of Sangha, requires reaching beyond myself in so many ways.
Within the confines of my meditation practice and study, it can all become a bit self-centred, or to use a phrase of Bhante’s, it can become superficial. I can study in order to be more knowledgeable; I can meditate to have strong experiences; I can even practice ethics to be looked upon as a good person. But what this path is truly about is becoming more aware and more compassionate – and ultimately trying to undermine selfishness and harshness and gain more wisdom and equanimity.
When I’m engaged regularly in working on teams and supporting classes, I’m rubbing up against my limitations endlessly. I love that. It keeps it real and keeps my feet on the ground. So whilst sometimes it seems that the biggest trials I meet on the spiritual path are the people around me; they are in fact my greatest teachers. And if I’m honest I can feel sometimes I’d be better off without all the emotional messiness of my interaction with others.
Yet without communication with my friends in the Sangha, even ones that have been painful and challenging, there would be no path and no progress. The path is not distinct from the people in it, and it is the communication between us that keeps the teachings of Buddhism alive and fully embodied, both as the way of compassion and the way of Wisdom.
It is in the practice of creating and maintaining spiritual community that ego transcendence is most potently and directly approached. And of course we are going to be hindered and sometimes disappointed by the expectations we hold of ourselves and others. Yet for Sangha to function and remain potent, it requires enough of us to take that leap into the unknown and risk what friendship can reveal.
To take that leap, we need to hold in our minds and hearts the twin realities of a spiritual community that is imperfect, inadequate, stumbling and struggling, alongside a spiritual community that is the embodiment of the Bodhisattva Ideal – a manifestation of the compassion of Avalokitesvara. These two realities are the same reality – one is trapped in time and the literal mindedness of self-centredness, and the other is free of the limitations of time and always creating itself anew in the free space of imagination.
As we move into a new year, let’s celebrate this precious jewel of Sangha. Let us celebrate this, “moving frontier of understanding… of a possible future.” To acknowledge the love that can be expressed through the generosity of giving and sharing with others; to work together to bring into existence the possibility of growth and of awakening. Make a New Year’s resolution to, “love where there is no reason to love.”