Taking Refuge in the Sangha: Growing into Peace


The prevalence of technology in modern society presents us with a dilemma: the more dependent we become, the greater the chances that we begin to see technology as a sort of savior, as something that will become our ultimate friend, our source of joy and comfort. Our love affair with technology increases day by day, and we rely on it far beyond its original, practical application; it’s place in our lives is at this point beyond our control. At this moment, human society is at risk of losing its moral and ethical basis as we work less and less with one another as fellow human beings.

Unless something changes dramatically in this co-dependence between people and technology, the isolation between fellow human beings will only increase further and further; there is no way around it. Only in small pockets of communities built around alternative lifestyles, which offer an opportunity to relate to one another in a different way, would this occur less. 

There are the Amish, for example, who follow an 18th or 17th century lifestyle, which I am sure protects their minds. But for how long will they be able to remain like that? They are on the verge of losing their lifestyle and I am sure they feel incredibly threatened.

In alternative communities in general, however much they do offer a different way of life, there will always be the initial foundation of egotism as well and the never-ending problems that arise from that.

Only in the case of the Sangha, which we define as a noble community of people who base their mind on the way of life on the Dharma, could this isolation not occur. But even in a Sangha, we have actually to fulfill the potential of living life according to the Dharma if we are to avoid the pitfalls of technological culture and egotism; it does not happen on its own. To achieve this takes a process.

The process begins when students first enter into the Sangha. They may at this juncture encounter in themselves tremendous aversion towards the sangha, which if it arises should be understood as natural and not be judged harshly. Slowly, everyone will find some appreciation and joy, and finally, peace and harmony both individually and in one to one relationships, not just simply in the community as a whole. So it’s process; it takes a path to get there. It takes time.

When you do get there and find peace and harmony, you will look back and think, “Where did I get this peace and harmony? I didn’t get this by being a fellow American, or fellow 60’s or 70’s mainstream American. I got this by the blessings of the Dharma and by the blessing of being part of the noble community, the Noble Sangha.”

In that sense, you feel very humbled, incredibly humbled in fact, because you understand it is not like you came to be where you are by your own goodness alone. Instead you went through a process that was comprised of many different circumstances and experiences, the good and the bad, individual and group experiences, and it included the teachings and the practice, which present the view and opportunity of all of these experiences as a means to grow and mature. In this process, you’ve found peace and harmony. The sum total of all these factors has brought you to where you are. And if you had missed even one experience, you wouldn’t have come to where you are today. Even the worst experiences that you hated or disliked the most, have brought you to this point of being who you are, in peace and harmony with yourself.

We can see in the Sangha those who are in peace with themselves and those who are not. This is not to blame anyone. It’s a process, it’s a path; everyone goes through this process, and the state of disharmony is part of it.

But it is important to have this overall view of what Sangha is and what harmony is, which together contribute to what the Sangha can be as a community based on ethical and moral relationships, one that lays an entirely different foundation with different relationships that counter-balance the pull of technology and technological society as a whole.

So ask yourself, what is your relation with the Sangha? What is your benefit? What is your struggle, what is your challenge? What is your motivation to be part of this? What end results can there be?

Without this honest questioning, we may end up stuck and lost. All of these questions and up and down experiences are important to include in our process of the path, otherwise we might be living life despite ourselves. Living life despite yourself means conceptually living a life, but having no real connection with your life. For example you may be happy to drive just any kind of car, but because conceptually you think it’s good to drive a white BMW, you may go through all the trouble of getting a white BMW and then just driving a white BMW the rest of your life. Your whole life could be that way: living based on unexamined concepts and ideas. This can apply in your relationship to yourself and your involvement in a sangha as well. In the end, on your deathbed, you would realize you have lived your life despite yourself. But for whom are you living if not for yourself? Living life based on an image of who you should be, what you should be, and how you should be, is a very sad story.

Contemplate all of this: how could we truly cultivate harmony and peace in the Sangha in a very simple way. Come into peace, come into harmony with yourself first, and then you would be very much coming to be at peace and harmony with the world and the Sangha. This why we are all here as part of a Sangha.

In Tibetan, the word for sangha is gendun, which means, those who motivate themselves to turn towards virtuous acts. What are virtuous acts? There can be hundreds of thousands, indeed countless, virtuous acts. But all of them originate in our mind. If we have no connection with our own mind and no sense of harmony or peace within our mind there is going to very little chance to produce any virtuous acts from an un-peaceful or un-harmonious mind, either for others or for oneself.

We begin to develop harmony through virtuous thoughts, of which there can be many: love, compassion, kindness, etc. They are essential to our harmony and peace, but they are all relative at the same time, fleeting thoughts and emotions that you need to generate constantly, you need to put effort into these continually. As long as those virtuous thoughts are there, there is peace and harmony; but as long as they are not there, then your mindstream is probably occupied with something different, such as negative thoughts and emotions, and there will be no peace.

So as a Sangha, while we have to thrive in cultivating the relative virtuous mind and emotions and actions, we we also have to go beyond them, beyond cultivating thoughts, to a state of no thoughts, no emotions, no actions, where you can just be with your Buddhanature and not be so caught in the hang-ups of your concepts, your views, your emotions. No matter how much you may claim them to be the greatest views of all, the greatest emotions of all, the greatest actions of all, we have to go beyond all of these concepts.

This is how this lineage could be superior to relative lineages, meaning, lineages that cherish good thoughts, good emotions, and that cultivate good actions without an absolute view.

In the meditation practice that everyone has been introduced to in our Sangha, you have to be able to put your mind at ease, not through thought versus thought, emotion versus emotion, processing thoughts through thoughts, processing emotions through emotions. There is time for that in post meditation. But in meditation practice if you do that, you won’t have any absolute meditation. It will just be relative mind and relative emotions. Even in the case of such important concepts as bodhicitta.

This is why we say, cultivate bodhicitta in the beginning of the practice, not while you are meditating. During the meditation practice we remain non-conceptual. What does that mean? It means try to wake up, wake up from all concepts, all emotions, all thoughts and every sense of being closed in by your thoughts and emotions, and ignorance. It doesn’t mean suppress your thoughts and emotions. Wake up from them. Pop yourself out of them with the techniques and means given to you by the lineage.

If you do, you will find peace within the disturbing emotions. Within the disturbing emotions and thoughts you will find yourself liberated, and that is how you can find liberation in samsara. Otherwise you have to “shove” samsara far out into one corner of your mind and in another corner of your mind you have to “hope” to attain enlightenment. And in that dualistic mindset there is so much pain and suffering. Trying to shove samsara in one corner of your mind and in another corner trying to attain nirvana is very painful.

This way of working with your mind is the Vajrayana path, and we are very fortunate to be on that path. This is not a theory or intellectual practice. You have done it before, when you have applied yourself, when the blessings and your effort of devotion have met. The magic has been experienced, so do not get confused or lost in spite of your own up and down experiences. If you do, then you are really insisting on being stuck, and what outcome will result? You will lose a lot of opportunity right there with that small resistance of just staying the same, staying what you are, and how you are, by making your mind and emotions, which are always fleeting, to be a solid ground of your existence.

Get to know the other aspect of your mind, though it is non-conceptual and you cannot pinpoint it with your relative thoughts and ideas, you do already know it in the same way that a mute experiences sugar. Having the ability to meditate with that non-conceptual mind for a split second—the whole of your being transforms right then and the benefit of your mind being transformed is experienced in every aspect of your being.

If someone is a very aggressive person, for that split second of experience, she doesn’t feel the need to be aggressive, because she doesn’t feel any threat. If someone is a very attached person, in that split second he doesn’t feel attached because there is no need to feel attached. Similarly, in that split of a second all the five negative emotions and countless negative emotions that spring from them are all changed.

To conclude, when you have the most disturbed emotions or challenges in your life, it is important to fall back on your meditation at those times rather than to look for solutions outside. Do not always focus on fixing situations externally and thereby distract yourself from what is happening internally, because there won’t be any great service in that. If you go inward, no matter how challenging it may seem, you are going to become victorious. Searching outside, you are sure to find failure in some sense. So make the right choice in that way.

This is how we can all come through both as individuals and as a Sangha.

Talk Reference: Personal Link 41. 05/09/1999