When we enter the sangha, we tend to bring with us the patterns which we have established in our life.  A group of us were recently exploring how our experience in our own family of origin affects our attitude to our life in the sangha.

What do we bring, what do we offer to this community? What are we looking for?

Perhaps one is looking for the perfect family - perhaps the perfect family that one did not have. Perhaps one is looking for safety and relief from the anxieties of life. Perhaps one is seeking the possibility of a complete commitment - something that goes beyond and the holding back and hesitation that has haunted  one through life. Perhaps one is the kind who hovers on the edge because, well, this is the position you are used to. So, joining the sangha does not in itself automatically cause one to change. One brings one’s character along. Perhaps you are the kind who dives in, but then quickly becomes disillusioned, because this has been the pattern of one’s life. One has done it over and over many times. All of these are quite common patterns. Whatever it is, this is one’s koan. This is something that we should try to recognise.

Now, through involvement in the sangha one might transcend and go beyond one’s old engrained pattern or one might simply re-enact the old script and just do it all over again. Both possibilities are there. But we should not see the sangha principally as a training ground.

We don’t come into the sangha in order to perfect anything – to perfect ourselves, to perfect our family, to undo the past or any of these things. Any of them might be good psychological work, but this is not the primary function of the sangha. The primary function of the sangha is that it is a place where one can find and express one’s faith, and in a Pureland sangha especially, that is a faith that one is accepted just as one is. One has a trust in the Tathagata, the Tathagata who smiles upon us just as we are, as vulnerable, weak, deluded beings.

The Buddha knows that we each have an engrained pattern of this kind. The Buddha can see straight through it and no amount of tidying up on our part is going to prevent the Buddha from seeing clearly into one’s heart;  but, nonetheless, one can try to become more aware: “Ah, this is how I am! This is my pattern. This is, what I am doing.” It’s not then a matter of leaping to one’s defence nor, on the other hand, of trying to tidy up, trying to fix the situation, but one offers what one is, one offers what one has got. Today, perhaps – what? Today, I offer to the Buddha “I have anger in my heart” or “I have jealousy” or “I have depression” or “I have joy” or “I have a yearning” or “I have … “ whatever it is. It doesn’t matter what it is. One offers that to the Buddha in confidence that the Buddha receives just as it is. Because this is the faith and this is what the sangha is for. It is the place where one can have that faith.

Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much


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