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Dharma Talk

Creating Sangha
by Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao

I am deeply grateful to all the practitioners who gather here at ZCLA Buddha Essence Temple for the purpose of practicing the Buddha Way. The Center exists for this specific purpose.

Just inside the Zendo entrance hangs a block of redwood carved by the Center’s founder Maezumi Roshi, in which he etched the precautions for entering the Zendo. It begins: “Those who wish to realize and actualize the Buddha’s Way are welcome. Otherwise, you’d better keep out.”

This precaution sets forth the basic building block of this sangha. In our sangha, the core practice is zazen. We ask everyone who comes here to sit. It is very direct and simple: either you are sitting or you are not sitting. There is nothing to negotiate.

Recently, Zen Practice-5 was introduced. The practice is to do zazen one hour a day for one-hundred consecutive days. To date, there are 65 people who are doing this practice. Each person is paired with a buddy, so that we can encourage each other. So the practice is twofold: to do zazen and to support and be supported by others.

Zazen itself is very straightforward: we arrange our body, breath, and mind. Then we let go. We let go with each breath and recognize when we are setting up artificial limitations. At the same time, we come to know our capacity. Whatever capacity we have, it is enough. Each of us has everything that is needed to accomplish the Way. Our nature is intrinsic enlightenment itself. We are whole — our practice is to realize our wholeness by dropping away the division of subject and object.

Zazen is our true teacher. Zazen will teach you everything. Can you trust it? This doesn’t mean that someone will not adjust your posture, offer some instruction, or provide guidance. But it does mean that you yourself are the wisdom and compassion of Buddha.

We come together to engage in the practice of dropping off this sense of separation and, in our coming together, a sangha forms. To form a sangha is to create together a place and conditions that support this practice.

Sangha is one of the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), or fundamental aspects of the enlightened life. It is defined as the gathering of three or more people to practice Buddhism. It is also defined as the harmonious interrelationship of the Buddha and Dharma, or of oneness and diversity, sameness and differences. In other words, Sangha is our daily activity of how we actually live together.

What are some of the essential components in creating sangha? The very practice of dropping off the separation of subject and object, of me and other, points to the fact that each of us must do this practice ourself. No one can do it for us. Implicit in this is the fact that when we step on the path, we agree to meet ourself face-to-face. We agree to meet the Buddha face-to-face. This means dropping off our notions of what life should be and be face-to-face with what is.

While we do this dropping off practice alone, we also do it together. We are alone together. In this sense, the sangha is defined by what we bring to it. When we are generous, the sangha is generous. When we are stingy, the sangha is stingy. When we function from a “me-and-them” or “you guys” mentality, the sangha is divided. When we go to hell, the sangha goes with us. When we are joyous, the sangha is joyous. We are as we are, and what we are defines the sangha.

Harmony is the virtue or condition of sangha. This does not mean that we all get along and nothing happens to upset us. Rather, it means that the sangha is a place where disagreements arise and are settled. It is a place where we each make the effort to set things right, not by proving that we are right, but by our willingness to step into the common ground of our oneness and differences.

In reforming her religious order, Roshi Pia Gyger* used questions that may also help to guide us in our exploration of Sangha as the relationship of oneness and differences. To paraphrase a few queries, is it true that through engaging deeply with differences, reserves in the forms of talent and resources, unknown to us in ourself, will be awakened? Is it true that a deeper intimacy with parts identified as being outside of us will actually bring us to wholeness and, at the same time, bring a clearer identity of who we really are? What practices promote wholeness? The sangha is a container to test and explore wholeness and how we may live in the world to benefit others.

If the Sangha is our laboratory, then zazen is our so-called method. We are engaged in a noble experiment to become that which we are: whole. This means we must become transparent. Our views, values, and beliefs must be seen through. We must be willing to restructure ourselves—psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, in order to experience wholeness. And we must support each other with deep caring, so that the loss of balance and pain accompanying our transformation is sheltered. This is the refuge of sangha.

I thank you all for your noble companionship on this journey.


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