Sangha As a Family
There has to be residential Sangha that practices all year round, twenty-four hours a day. Building a permanent Sangha is the basis of all our teaching of the Dharma. That Sangha has to live together as a family. They have to be committed to staying together their whole lives. They don’t just stay together a few years. Although there are people who leave from time to time, the number of people who leave Plum Village is small, less than 10 percent. Over the past twenty years, many have committed to join the Sangha for their whole life.
If we talk about the success of Plum Village, we have to talk about the commitment to stay even though you have difficulties. That kind of commitment helps us to go through transformation. If we leave the community because of our suffering, we cannot transform. An authentic Sangha can only be created when people live together twenty-four hours a day and share the same roof and the same economic resources. They practice Days of Mindfulness together and make decision by consensus. Building Sangha is not something we do by organizing meetings, or by transmitting the Mindfulness Training. If people do not live together and decide together, they are still operating as individuals. They have a retreat for seven days, but then everyone goes home. That is a floating Sangha. The essence of Sangha is to live together and decide together.
If laypeople want to benefit from the practice, they need to build residential Sanghas, like Intersein in Germany and Clear View in Santa Barbara, California. We have create many Sanghas where we live according to the six harmonies, recite the Mindfulness Trainings together, eat together in mindfulness, walk together, and work together.
The difficulties in the monastic world are the difficulties of any community. From time to time, there is someone who is angry with her brothers or sisters and leaves. That happened in the Buddha’s Sangha, and it has happened at Plum Village. In the Sangha of the Buddha, there were monks who were angry with the Buddha and they left. They came back after a while, because they saw they had been happiest when living with the Sangha. Here also, there have been monks and nuns who have gotten angry with the Sangha and left for one or two years, then they remembered how happy they had been and came back again. Everybody values the Sangha when they come back. But they may get caught in the outside world and not come back. There are people who have a wandering soul and do not feel at ease staying in one place. They may have that seed from their ancestor; we all have that in us. If the seed is watered, we may get up and go. If our practice is not successful, we leave for awhile and soon see how much we suffer outside of the monastery as well. We miss Plum Village, and we want to come back. Some people see that to stay in Plum Village is the most solid, stable thing they can do.
There are a few people who we decide cannot stay in the Sangha, and we have send home. It is not that we are angry with them or want to punish them; but they have too much sexual energy, and it is very difficult for them to be monks and nuns. We look with the eyes of compassion at these people. We see that we have done everything we can to plant wholesome seeds in them. Although they are not practicing as a monk or nun anymore, they have good seeds in them, and when they encounter suffering they will know how to withstand difficulties. All the people who have left are still in our hearts. We are not angry with them, we do not blame them. They went with us a short distance as a monk or nun, and they will go the rest of their path as a layperson. When we look at things this way, we feel peaceful, pure, and happy. There is nothing that has been lost. There is nothing we need to regain.
There are a few people who have a lot of difficulties in their practice, in their relationships with brothers and sisters in the Sangha. But when we have difficulties, we get to hear very helpful Dharma talks about our situation. It is because there are people with difficulties that the Sangha has a chance to practice. If everyone is very good and kind, why would we need the practice? We wouldn’t have to practice to love him or her. These presences of people who have difficulties are very beneficial to the Sangha. People who come to Plum Village transform. Some people transform quickly, and some people less quickly; but everyone transform, even if it is slow as a tortoise.