Karmapa's teaching about Sangha and togetherness - 20.09.2020

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The meaning of ‘Sangha’, or ‘Gedun’ (a combination of ‘Gewa’ and ‘Dunpa’) in Tibetan, is something like ‘motivated in merit’.

‘Dunpa’ is often translated in English as ‘aspiration’ or ‘motivation’. ‘Merit’, ‘virtue’, ‘goodness’ or ‘kindness’ are common English terms we have for the Tibetan term ‘Gewa’. This Tibetan term may have some association with another Tibetan term – ‘Dewa’ – a translation of the Sanskrit term ‘Sukha’, which in English would translate as something like ‘sweetness’ or ‘pleasantness’. We don’t quite know what ‘Sukha’ really is, though, because this ‘sweetness’ is not defined by physical sensations alone.

But if we use these terms in the context of a contrast between ‘happenings’ and ‘doings’ then it might begin to make some sense.

When we talk about ‘happenings’ – as opposed to ‘doings’ – it is a way to describe something that is happening by itself – for example, the sun seems to rise and shine by itself, the heart seems to beat by itself, our breathing seems to happen by itself, and so on.

Whereas ‘doing’ is the opposite. ‘Doing’ suggests something that happens when it is done by ‘another’. Whoever that ‘another’ may be – when we talk about ‘doings’ it’s a way to say that it’s not happening by itself, that someone or something else is doing it. For example, something or someone is forcing oneself to breathe faster or slower.

So, from this perspective of contrast we can somehow relate to motivation – ‘Gedun’, which means ‘motivation in merit’.

‘Motivation’ is a term that belongs to the ‘doer’ (to the category of ‘doings’), in a way. The merit or the ‘Gewa’ leads to the state called ‘Dewa’ or ‘Sukha’.

So let’s say that the ones who are motivated, the ones who think that they are doing things, are us – although if we zoom out and look at ourselves from that perspective, we are ‘happenings’ too. It’s just that the human state is such that we have the opportunity to view the happenings as doings.

But when we don’t recognise that condition or opportunity inherent in the human state, we tend to view the happenings as chaotic and illiterate and degrade them to something to be looked down upon – as if the happenings were something that we need to subjugate.

And the doer – us – as superior and organised. That kind of limited recognition, then not only leads to the subjugation of nature, but of ourselves – humankind – as well.

Then, slowly and eventually, when that limited recognition settles into a habit, the understanding of ‘Sangha’ becomes strange too. ‘Sangha’ then becomes a kind of groupism, where we can feel a sense of belonging.

This need to belong arises on the basis of our strange and limited view of not seeing both ‘doings’ and ‘happenings’ as nothing more but concepts; and then moreover seeing one of these opposites as better than or superior to the other.

As a result, we as the ‘doers’ seem small against the might of the ‘happenings’, and so we feel the need to stand together against these chaotic happenings, shoulder to shoulder, in a group called ‘Sangha’. Of course, that kind of perspective gives us a romantic feeling that we are up against an overwhelming force.

But that is just a very emotional way of thinking.

How we would like that, wouldn’t we, staying shoulder to shoulder a little longer? Even if it were just for a few moments.

But the truth is that we can’t.

Not because we are not supposed to, but because it just can’t be done.

Those who understand what Sangha really means (the realised Sangha) make no effort to stay that way.

Since they realise that whatever comes together must inevitably part ways, they consciously let the appearance of a cluster or a group be.

Because they see that there is no essence; there is no ‘real group’ beyond the appearance.

As a Vajrayana Sangha, consciously letting that be seems to be the goal.

We don’t really know if we are part of any Yana, but if we like to think that we are, then all the more reason to at least strive to live according to the realised Sangha’s way.

Why? Why is it that we can’t stay shoulder to shoulder even for a little while?

Well, the benevolent thing in following the footsteps of the realised Sangha is that if we practice their way we stand a better chance to stay ‘shoulder to shoulder’.

If it were the nature of reality to be able to stay shoulder to shoulder then it would work that way, but because reality is not that way, or confined in any way, it’s in fact loving towards one another to let things be according to the reality – the reality of not being able to stay, even for a moment.

We try so hard to stay together, don’t we?

We grew up with our biological or non-biological groups or families, so of course there is a semblance, an appearance of being able to stay together, and so both we and our families and ourselves got carried away into thinking that that just seems to be the way, and we got stuck from nowhere until now.

That’s why when we hear or see someone who seems to be quite alright to let go, it confuses us.

As if that is not possible.

As if we are praying, “Please tell me that that isn’t so, please tell me that we don’t need to part.”

But if we allow ourselves to break out of that boundary of needing to stay together then in fact we are together.

So the real or the closest meaning of ‘Sangha’ is not based on groupism at all.

Instead, ‘Sangha’ is a way to let go consciously.

It’s almost like surrendering – but rather than submitting without choice, we let go consciously.

That’s a virtue, I think.

That’s merit.

So if we motivate ourselves towards that virtue then maybe, just maybe, we can take comfort in being in a Sangha.

There isn’t a club or a group called ‘Sangha’ where all the enlightened ones are crammed together for eternity.

That would be unbearable, I feel.

Take the ‘happenings’ aspect of our solar system, for example: it orbits in the spiral arms of the Milky Way but it doesn’t try to attach itself to it, nor does it try to deviate from it.

But it’s there, in appearance at least, and that appearance is doing its thing. It looks like a group, but only in appearance.

In reality it’s neither a group nor the opposite.

But it has no hang-ups about appearing as a group.

When I say “Let it be” I don’t mean it in a way as if not to care.

But “let it be” in a conscious way, out of care.

If we feel like staying together, then let’s stay together consciously, with the awareness that the appearance of staying together is another way to go apart.

Let’s develop the awareness that being in a ‘Sangha’ is just a useful momentary comfort,  just like having a breather, before accepting that there was really never any ‘Sangha’.

In that way, there is no real basis for anxiety.

Source: www.karmapa.org/meditations-for-our-times

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