It seems appropriate to round out these reflections with a discussion of the place of the individual practitioner. How does our individual practice relate to the building and maintenance of a healthy, conscious sangha?
In my first pose I wrote that "[E]ach member of the sangha has a responsibility to be aware of the inside and the outside of the container, of the culture and the structures, to continuously monitor their relationship to it as individuals, and to note when and where dissonance arises. That place can be a rich edge for our practice.” It is also the place from which we can and should act as practitioners of the Buddha dharma.
Our primary practice is meditation in large part because our world is so oriented toward exteriors, yet much of my suffering is has its source in my interior. My meditation is a practice of looking deeply into the interiority of the world of my experience and seeking to understand how my moment to moment response to that world causes me suffering, how much I act in response to a world that I wish for, rather than the one that I live within and that I am not separate from. My practice shows me that I co-create much of the world I inhabit through the perspectives I take, and that I can change that world by taking a different perspective.
But my meditation cannot be responsibly limited to this. The Mahayana Bodhisattva ideal is to save not just myself from suffering, but all suffering beings, and the suffering of each of us is not caused solely by our interiors. The world within which I live may be largely co-constructed by me, but it also consists of concrete realities that I do not co-construct, including the very real interiors and exteriors of the communities of which I am a member.
I extend my meditative awareness to include the ways in which my encounter with the culture and structure of my community, my sangha, may cause me and others pain because of dissonance between the declared values and structures for the distribution of power which I endorse with my continued membership in the community and the way people actually treat each other and power is actually exercised. My practice, my Bodhisattva activity, includes thoughtfully and compassionately manifesting my insights into the causes of this dissonance. A conscious sangha values such expression and provides structures within which they can occur. In this way, each individual practitioner’s meditation is a support for the continuous co-creation of a healthy container within which all of us can practice with mutual awareness, mutual respect, and mutual compassion.
With palms together.