One of the greatest joys of sitting once a week for the past 5 years here in Carlisle has been the slow, organic creation of a Sangha.
It has only been in the last several months that I have allowed myself to call our motley crew a Sangha, and perhaps that has just been a way to protect myself from the insecurity that one day, no one would join me in meditation.
But as the years have gone by, there has always been someone.
Some One, sometimes, along with me.
My teacher has always said, As long as there is one other person with you, you are in Sangha.
I didn't understand that concept for a long time, and I judged the sit by how many bodies turned up.
Sometimes, in the beginning, I secretly hoped no one would show up, and then I could just go home and enjoy the evening....again, a mis-understanding of what I was doing.
But then, I was also insecure of what I could possibly offer anyone.
I still question what I do here sometimes, but it's not a pit in the bottom of my stomach and a quivering anxiety. It's more like a grass fire that spreads so effortlessly from one blade of grass to the next, because time is fragile and goes by in a heartbeat, and so, is limited. I don't want to waste it.
As the academic year at Dickinson College comes to a close, I will be saying good bye to students who will be graduating or colleagues who will be moving on to other positions. Community members will be putting homes up for sale and moving to other towns and states. People come and go, and Sangha is in constant flux; stretching out, closing in, dividing in some places, but it all seems as fluid as water over rocks.
Other students will be returning from a year studying elsewhere, and I look forward to their smiling faces in the Fall.
This past Thursday, it was a small group, all towns folk, since the students are now very busy with final work and activities.
One of us will be receiving the Precepts soon, for which I am just so excited. He is my first student to commit to leading the life of a Buddha within the Three Treasures, and I can see the steadily burning flame; he is serious and sincere.
Another sitter will be moving on to California, where her husband has accepted a position at a university in Oakland. Oakland is not a terribly safe place, and I say a silent Nembutsu for them occasionally.
She was raised in the Catholic tradition, and unlike most Catholics I know, she has not run screaming from her roots. Instead, she has immersed herself in the mystic tradition of her faith, and I know it informs her core beliefs. She is also a Buddhist, and has sat many long hours in traditional meditation in Japan. I will miss her.
And finally, rounding out our evening participants, a couple who have been sitting with me for 2 years.
When I first met them, they were dating. Now they are married. It is a 2nd marriage for both of them, and I can tell they feel they "got it right" the second time around.
He has routinely fallen asleep for many sits, or simply spent 20 minutes loudly yawning and stretching, but he is steadfast in supporting his wife's meditation.
He has told me many times, way from her, that she gets so much out of our Thursday nights together. And away from her husband, she expresses the same sentiments about him.
I haven't seen either of them in a while, because they have been battling difficult illnesses. Finally, he was healthy enough to join us this week, but it was clear he had been through the wringer. Pale, thin, moving with some difficulty, putting extra pillows on his chair, closing his eyes and leaning his head into his hands, talking slowly.
I gave him a half-hug on the side he offered, and our ears came together.
His ear was so cold, I pulled away and cupped my hand over it protectively, then laughed with him, because we were both surprised by the action.
After our sit, we just gabbed.
There was no dramatic dharma talk, but the dharma talk of the everyday.
We literally went from Buddha to bedbugs!
As we were leaving for the evening, my recovering friend said, "You know, it feels good to sit in silence again." He sort of mumbled, but I heard him loud and clear.
His silence is shared with Sangha, and though he may fall asleep sometimes, and other times yawn like a lion, our silence supports his efforts, in what ever form they may take!
We open to one another in a non judgmental way and simply be, and it's not something to write home about, yet it is magnificent and forever durable.
Sangha does this in so many ways, without fanfare, without applause.
Namu Amida Butsu!