By: Rev. Shi Shen-Jin
Years ago the US Army ran an ad campaign to recruit new comers with the slogan ”Be an Army of One” This always struck me as a little odd, because what if all those armies of one just decide to do their own thing? Sounds a lot like a bit of chaos. What they were trying to say was join the Army, keep your individuality. But can that really work? What about in our own Sangha’s? Can we be a Buddhist of One or do we need something more?
In historical times and even today in the East the Sangha is mostly monastics. They wear the same clothes, live together, work together and pretty much live in uniformity. But here in the West we don’t really have much of that. First off most practitioners are not monks or clerics at all, but simply lay persons. Secondly many Buddhist teachers are not living behind the walls of temple or monastery. It brings a unique set of circumstances and challenges as we seek to practice here in the West.
The “modern day” Sangha is less a group of monastics than a group or community of practitioners. So as clerical leaders how can we be successful in spreading the Dharma just as Siddhartha did in his day? Most of us in OEB all lead a local Sangha of our own. So the first thing is we must start with the general public. We must constantly remind ourselves that we are of service to them, caring for them and enabling them to realize human flourishing from the Buddha’s teaching according to their own needs and places in life. Since the days when Siddhartha left his palace Buddhism has relied on the public. He might have come from privilege and royalty and wealth. But the people he encountered were ordinary people, just as we will encounter in our own Sangha’s.
As we seek to be “Agents for Change” in our communities and beyond it has to start with the individuals in our Sangha’s. While we are not resident monastics, and the majority of the make-up of students is lay followers, we can all interact closely and move in the same practiced direction. Buddhism practiced in a unified manner is the essence of Buddhist values. As we move forward in this New Year let me challenge you to embrace individuals in a way that acts to enable them toward human flourishing in new and constructive ways beyond their ordinary experiences. There is an old saying attributed to the Buddha “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” May we all stand at the ready with open hearts and open doors for all who need to enter.