Community is not something you join or something that you find. It’s something you create. Community is a practice of basically of forging and developing connections and friendships and relationships, and actually working at that.
There’s a sense that you join a Buddhist sangha and then you’ll somehow experience community. Not necessarily.
I find it helpful, following an idea I read in Martin Buber, to make a distinction between a collective and a community. A collective is a group of people who are bound together by a common ideology, and to be a part of that collective requires that you toe the party line. If you depart from the party line you’re ejected from the group.
A community is a network or a set of friendships and relationships that serve the individuation of each member of the community. I don’t see a conflict in realising one’s potential as an individual and belonging to and being an active participant within a community.
Community lives through the nurturing and development of relationships that helps each person in a way realise their own potential and values and goals, so I’m supported by the others in that community and hopefully what I do can help support them. That would be my ideal.
In practice, you have to make use of what’s available. It’s like the raft analogy – if you live in Idaho, in the middle of nowhere, and you’re looking for a community, you take what’s available. It might be that you join a Quaker group, it might be that you join some Buddhist group that you don’t totally necessarily agree with in every respect. I don’t think that matters.
We need to be creative here, so if you can’t find a community that suits you, create your own. In other words, put a notice in your local health food store saying ‘meditation at 6 o’clock every Thursday at my place,’ and see what happens.
It’s a work in progress. Each of us has to find our own way and be willing to take risks, to recognise and respect that many communities are imperfect in some way, and just work on that.
– from a talk at the Buddhist Geeks Conference, August 2012