Celebrating the Sangha in the new era of the Wooden Dragon

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

Vietnam. Photo from the Transly translation agency. Image courtesy of the author

For many years, I attended the Losar retreat at my temple, Pema Osel Ling, in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Our sangha is a secular sangha and not a monastery, although we often host traveling monks from various locations, welcoming them into our sangha of practice and honoring them as the monastic community should be honored for their renunciation, dedication and commitment. For me, as a Buddhist, it has always seemed normal to be integrated into family and monastic sanghas, whether I am at my home temple or visiting other temples or retreat centers in California, USA. Portugal and Brazil, whether in my lineage or in my lineage. other lineages. However, this is not true for all practitioners: some household heads have never met a monastic sangha or traveled to countries where these practitioners are more visible in culture and society. As our world shifts, in many ways for the better, toward inclusion and acceptance, lay and monastic Buddhists can feel the benefits. For those who cannot yet experience it, may their situation change soon.

Photo by Shivam Dewan. Image courtesy of the author

The importance of the revival of secular meditation in the 20th century has its counterpart in the revival of bhikkhunī ordination which is becoming an important feature of the early 21st century. Both result in the enhancement of the full participation of the four assemblies in modern Theravada Buddhism.

(Barre Center for Buddhist Studies)

In the West, it is more difficult to maintain monastic vows and lifestyles in our capitalist society, but in Asian cultures, historically it has been nuns and monks who have upheld Buddhadharma practices and laypeople who have honored them. through financial and social means. support. Unfortunately, this is more common among monks than nuns, as patriarchy exercises its biases in most parts of the world. Hopefully this trend changes. I have recently read many inspiring stories of positive developments for ordained Buddhist women and heads of households.

As our world becomes smaller and closer, one of the benefits is that we continue to learn from each other and share our traditions, experience and knowledge to create more tolerance, connection and mutual respect.

Photo by Norbu Gyachung. Image courtesy of the author

I hope to see more mutual understanding and respect, born from a genuine willingness to listen, learn and include “the other”. As Ayya Yeshe says:

. . . Part of it is simply the capitalist impatience of our times: in a society that measures success materially, monasticism simply doesn't make sense. . . . Any system created by unenlightened beings is imperfect, but true Dharma practice is about facing the difficult things and eliminating what is false – even our fantasies about what Buddhist institutions should be. We must renew the fourfold sangha. We don’t need to internalize or perpetuate the dysfunction.

(The lion's roar)

When I was in long retirement, each of us was supported by patrons to whom we initially wrote to request funding, and throughout the duration we checked in periodically and sent our thanks. It is said in traditional scriptures that the city-dwelling boss and the mountainside meditating yogin achieve enlightenment together because of their interdependence and merits. The sangha supports each other at best.

Likewise, monks, nuns, and monks are supported in part by donations from lay people and wealthy patrons who themselves do not have the time to devote lengthy practice retreats, but nevertheless value them as an essential means to maintain Buddhist meditation lineages and practices. Furthermore, many Westerners do not understand that long retreats, of 1, 3, 6 or 12 years, also involve monastic vows for the duration. Or that it is possible and acceptable in Buddhism to be a monastic for a while, not always for life, and that there is no shame or stigma in that. Even temporary monastic vows are extremely beneficial to a practitioner.

Photo by Bruce Nicols. Provided by the author

The most joyous is when lay people and monastic practitioners gather in the temple and practice together, especially at such auspicious and beloved times as Losar, or Lunar New Year. I imagine settings in the historical experience of the original Buddhas in which all four aspects of the sangha were present, and the fifth, the animals, listening attentively outside to the Buddha's discourse. Who knows if it happened or not, I believe my wish for it to happen is what matters most. Researcher Wendy Garling has much to offer on the subject through her excellent research, Stars at dawn:

The Buddha had just attained the supreme state of enlightenment and had much work to do in the world. Not only did he reject Mara's cruel advice, but in that moment he made a vow and established a plan for his ministry: that all believers in his faith – women and men, lay and ordained – would become wise and accomplished through his teachings. Within these four groups, some would also attain enough knowledge and insight to teach the sacred Dharma to others, and thus the Dharma would flourish in future generations. Only after that would he leave this world. With this declaration, the Buddha declared the four assemblies – lay women, laymen, nuns and monks – that he would establish over the next 45 years. Taken together, they constituted the focal point of his life's work, his goal of becoming an enlightened Buddha.

(Garling 2016, 1)

Photo by Nathan Cima. Image courtesy of the author

And, according to Thich Nhat Hanh:

Because our destiny is to apply Buddhism to every situation, we really need Dharma teachers. The Order of Inter-Being is therefore an arm that extends very far into the world. The number of monks and nuns of the Order of Interbeing is not sufficient. We also need lay people of the Order of Interbeing. The lay members of the Order are the long hand of the fourfold Sangha that extends throughout society. We need thousands of lay members of the Order to bring the teachings to the world.

(The mindfulness bell)

May this New Year of the Wood Dragon bring fearlessness to the changes we still need, may the fourfold sangha be welcomed, cared for and able to support each other in the evolution of social welfare for all sentient beings on this path towards awakening.

Photo by Mathew Schwartz. Image courtesy of the author

The references

Garling, Wendy. 2016. Stars at dawn. Boulder, Colorado. Shambhala Publications

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

Leave comments