by Michael Moran
As many of you know I recently returned from a 3 month practice period at the Tassajara Mountain Zen Center . It was an extraordinary experience on many levels and a rare opportunity to enter into a deeply established Buddhist practice.
One of the main things that I took away with me was a profound sense of the essence of sangha. There were forty of us in the very isolated canyon. We all saw and interacted with each other every day and had no contact with anyone else for almost the entire period. This kind of intimacy produces the possibility of raising interpersonal awareness in many subtle and varied ways. The many ways that we are all interconnected and interdependent become very apparent several times each day.
Moods often permeated the compound. Some days the various ceremonies proceeded smoothly and sharply. On other days everything seemed to take extra effort and was always a little off. Some days the chanting was robust and harmonious. Other days it was cacophonous and timid. Most people I spoke to recognized that those moods were rarely just "over there" with other people, but were experienced by each of us before we came together each day. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the food, maybe it was that there were a number of people out sick that day. On some days there was a lot of work to do, on other days there was a lot of meditation. It got so that you could tell without looking whose footsteps were behind you in the zendo or who was at the baths by the shoes placed on the rack outside. There were times when some of the senior staff had to leave the compound in order to attend some special event. Everyone could sense the change in the energy of the community while they were absent and everyone could sense the feeling of wholeness when they returned. No matter what was happening or why, there was always a palpable result in the rest of the community.
In a group of forty it is easy to notice how we are interconnected. Out in the larger world there is a higher risk for us to think that there really is an "us" and a "them"; that there are some people who are distinctly different than us and who, therefore, can be objectified and reduced to some conceptual category. It is harder to recognize the subtle effects of each and every one of our actions in body, speech and mind; that everything we do has a part in producing this world moment by moment.
The interconnectedness and interdependence of all things is widely recognized in Buddhist circles. Our sangha offers an opportunity to examine this on a regular basis. The next time you attend a sangha function take time to note your experience. Do you feel connected? What aspects of the community experience do you resonate with? What do you feel disconnected from? What would make a difference in your sense of engagement in the sangha? This could be a personal inquiry or you may want to share your discoveries with the board so that we might make some changes that would make us a more effective and relevant community for everyone. We are always open to feedback.
This quarter we're pleased to sponsor a weekend non-residential retreat in Morro Bay in August with Spirit Rock teacher Anna Douglas. The topic of this meditation retreat will be the Experience of Aging as a Spiritual Practice. Please see the listing for this retreat on our website under Events. There will be more information about the retreat in the coming weeks.