The Most Precious Jewel of Sangha
by Sergio Carlos Moreno-Denton
The Upaddha Sutta tells of a time when Ananda says to the Buddha, “This is half of the holy life: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.” Upon hearing this, the Buddha replies, “Don’t say that, Ananda. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life…with admirable people as friends, companions, and comrades, one can be expected to develop and pursue the noble eightfold path.”
We know that in this context, the Buddha is referring to the companionship of monks. But in other teachings he gives advice for lay people and explains that we are to seek the company of those advanced in virtue, to engage in discussion with them, and to emulate their conviction and generosity. He calls this “admirable friendship.”
Every week, as I think of all of our volunteers —those who serve in the homeless outreach, and those who visit the inmates— I see admirable friends. When I see those who greet us at the door, our preceptors, and our shrine keepers, I see admirable friends. As I think about the people who devote their time and talent to teaching and caring for our children, and as I think of the teachers and meditation instructors who are here throughout the week, I see admirable friends. When I think of our spiritual director, Lama Matt, our executive director, Gabi, and all those who work so arduously for the benefit of this community, I see admirable friends. And, as I think of those who bless us with their presence for the first or second time, I see soon-to-be admirable friends!
And when I think of admirable friends, the word that comes to mind is, “Sangha.”
This is our Sangha, our community of spiritual, admirable friends. We get to welcome teachers from all traditions and we get to practice in a beautiful space. We get to be involved in outreach and participate in classes. In short, we get to be together, with admirable friends. And because of this, we have a better chance of pursuing the noble eightfold path.
Thich Nhat Hanh, beloved Zen master, says that of the three precious jewels in Buddhism, the most important is Sangha, “The Sangha contains the Buddha and the Dharma. A good teacher is important, but sisters and brothers in the practice are the main ingredient for success. You cannot achieve enlightenment by locking yourself in your room. Transformation is possible only when you are in touch.”
Could that mean that what we do, what we say, and what we are when we are together is of utmost importance? I think so, because it is in community that we are presented with the best opportunities to cultivate lovingkindness, empathetic joy, compassion, and equanimity—the four boundless attitudes. It is together that we cultivate bodhicitta. It is in community that we re-awaken our Buddha-nature.
Taken from The Most Precious Jewel of Sangha, a talk given at the Rime Center on October 4th, 2015