The Importance of Sangha

To practice dharma, whether meditation or sadhana practice, first you have to have an altruistic motivation. First think that you have the precious human life, that is difficult to obtain and rejoice in that. All beings desire happiness and to avoid suffering from insects up to human beings. When we have money we can use it to fulfill our material desires. But that is only relative happiness. We need ultimate happiness, which is unsurpassable. This isn't obtained like a business deal. It is obtained through meditation and other practices.

If you are an advanced practitioner, you will not long for material happiness, you will look for it inside yourself. Your mind is tamed, so what happens externally does not affect you. For example, Milarepa's sister visited him. She felt sad to see his poor condition. She said, no two people are more miserable then we. Our father passed away and our aunt and uncle took our possessions. I have seen other lamas and they have disciples and live well. But you have nothing. His sister said I will ask a lama to accept you as his attendant and you will receive food, clothing, and teaching from him. Milarepa answered, Sister when you see my form it invites tears even from my enemies. But the Buddhas recognize my mind is without suffering and rejoice Milarepa was without suffering because he had seen the ultimate truth.

Happiness that does not change with circumstances only comes from meditation. We need to first study the teachings and then put them into practice. From practice we will receive the siddhi of realization. Meditation should not be done for a temporary, relative goal. It should be so we attain ultimate happiness. We need to have a long term view. Milarepa said I escaped to isolated retreats because of my fear of death. I meditated repeatedly and as a result I saw the deathless. As I result I no longer fear death. Death is like going from one guest house to another.

When we are born in this world, we need to meet our material needs. We get educated and take a job. We get older and then retire. Then one day we die. If we waste our precious lives like that, it is a mistake. So we need to use our efforts on a spiritual path and not just look after our material needs. During the week we work around the clock. On the weekends we relax and entertain ourselves. But that is not relaxation. For genuine relaxation, we should meditate. In ordinary relaxation, our bodies relax but our minds do not. In meditation both our minds and bodies relax. If you relax the mind, the body will automatically relax.

Tonight our topic is sangha and its importance. The sangha was established in the Buddha's time. Through study and mediation Buddha's students became arhats. From the Buddha's time until today the lineage of the sangha has been unbroken. Although Buddha passed away 2500 years ago, the sangha still exists. When we practice together, that practice is more powerful than when we practice individually. It's difficult to practice individually because we will be distracted by circumstances and forget to practice. When we unite as a sangha and practice in one place, we will be inspired by those who are more enthusiastic for practice. We will be able to ask others for help and advice. Likewise we will be able to help others.

Q: How do you find a sangha if you live far away from any?

A: When you get a chance visit other sanghas. You can ask people to meet at your house.

Q: Many great Kagyu masters practice solitary retreat. Why didn't they practice as part of a sangha?

A: It's not that they abandoned the sangha. They did retreat so they could gain accomplishment and then come back to benefit other sangha members.

Q: Shouldn't the sangha support the retreatants to gain merit?

A: Yes, this is sharing merit between them.

Q: Can we receive blessings from the sangha by reciting prayers to the three jewels?

A: Yes, the sangha since the Buddha's time has passed down an unbroken lineage of blessings.

Q: It's amazing to see how Buddhism has spread in America over the past thirty years.

A: Eighteen mahasiddhas from India decided to be reborn in Tibet. Maybe the same thing will happen in America. Maybe some of today's practitioners are really mahasiddhas.

Q: How will the sangha change here in America?

A: Whether you practice strictly in the Tibetan tradition or not doesn't matter. The main point is to see ultimate truth and eliminate the obscurations that cloud this truth. Practice whatever way makes most sense to you. The main point is to eliminate afflictive emotions. It doesn't matter if you eliminate them in a Tibetan or American way.

Q: How do you feel about the separation caused by sectarianism? How to you prevent dogma from separating us?

A: If you become a genuine Buddhist, it won't be an "ism." You will be completely unbiased and get along with anyone.

Q: But how are you instructing your students to avoid sectarianism?

A: My lineage teaches how to get rid of afflictive emotions and benefit all beings equally without discrimination, and that's all. It teaches to stop thoughts and clear your mind to experience emptiness and bliss. But if you grasp after this experience and think that you're so great, you will lose your experience. If you think, oh we're so good, that's the opposite to Buddhism.

Q: Is there just one sangha that includes all faiths, or is it strictly a Buddhist thing?

A: Any individual who wishes to eliminate afflictive emotions is part of the sangha. If they watch their mind instead of external phenomena, they are part of the sangha.

Drupon Thinley Ningpo
Susquehanna Yoga Center
December 2, 2006