I have just met with a group of people to meditate and talk about the dharma, as I’ve been doing weekly for the past two years. I didn’t know any of them before. So where does all this come from? One way of defining Buddhism is as a tradition of practicing the dharma. In this sense, Buddhism began with the Buddha preaching his first sermon to the five ascetics, not with any private realisation under a fig tree. The tree is where his awakening bloomed, where the ideas that would become his dharma coagulated into something solid enough to be articulated and communicated to others. But it’s not until it inhabits a shared space that something becomes a tradition. I like to imagine that scene: a man going to meeting with his friends, peaceful and enthusiastic, ‘Buddies, I got it. I got it!’
I’ll be honest: I’m writing this quickly, with absolutely no planning because I have a Pali exam tomorrow at noon, and before that I have to call someone to help me organise a public talk for a dharma teacher we are inviting, and I couldn’t study very much because, among other reasons, I had to send the weekly email to the sitting group and plan the next meeting. If this sounds a bit frenetic, imagine me saying it with a big smile on my face. This is where my dharma path has taken me; something inside us makes us want to share that which we find valuable. When I discovered the secular approach to Buddhism, and I gained renewed energy to investigate, study and practice more fully, I simply couldn’t keep it to myself: the thought ‘I have to help make this available for others’ wasn’t an option.
Secular Buddhism is little known to a Spanish-speaking audience. Theravada (and its offspring, the insight meditation tradition) is by far not the most popular form of Buddhism. And the mindfulness craze is only beginning to take off here in Spain. There is so, so much to be done; humbly promoting contemporary approaches to Buddhist practice and creating community has become a huge part of my dharma practice. But the lessons have been everywhere: in translating articles, essays and book chapters, I have learnt some translation skills, improved my English, deepened my understanding. Week by week, and by no means at a great speed, I learn how to facilitate group meetings and discussions, how to inspire others, how to be honest and drop prefabricated notions of leadership. I have also met wonderful people in situations similar to mine, as well as teachers and writers.
If the raft can be kept from drifting towards the black sea of abstract theorising, discussion with fellow practitioners highlights just how comprehensive and difficult this path can be. By comprehensive I refer to the application of the main principles of values of the dharma to cooking for one’s family, walking down the street, opening one’s mouth to speak… the list is endless. And by difficult I don’t want to suggest hardship or straining, but a lot of the times this practice comes down to facing one’s darker side, examining habits and prejudices, which can be uncomfortable. Organising events, I deal with my impatience, my greed for results, my annoyance with people; slowly, I’m learning to be as organised as possible while at the same time patient with others, letting go of the pretension that if I plan well enough, write the clearest information and anticipate everything that can be anticipated, nothing will go otherwise, no-one will make mistakes on the application form or send emails asking for information that’s already on the flyer. In brief: the wish for things to go my way.
Perhaps it is good that I didn’t have time to craft a well-reasoned mini-essay on the true nature and importance of the sangha. Perhaps my message, as a young facilitator of a young and small community of practitioners, is that sangha is the practice, that sangha is the dharma. My message is that, if – as I was two years ago – you are considering starting a sitting group, or an online forum, or whether to get involved in the local sangha, stop questioning – do it. Chances are this is going to be one of the best practices. After all, a path is well-maintained if walked by groups of friends, peaceful and enthusiastic, gradually singing, ‘I got it…!’