The Sangha, the third refuge, is where we come together to support each other on our path to freedom. Though our journey to enlightenment can only be accomplished through our own efforts, the Dharma and the Sangha are our map and guides. Finding or creating a sangha can be difficult, however, especially in rural areas or other places with limited options for practicing specific Dharma traditions with others. In other cases, practitioners seek “alternative” sanghas based on social preferences such as gender, sexual orientation, special interests or activism.
One of the small discussion groups at the 2007 Northwest Dharma Association annual meeting last February addressed this particular issue. Many supportive suggestions came from the discussion and one in particular developed into an NWDA project under the leadership of Mike McNatt of Sangha-by-the Sea, a rural, multi-tradition sangha serving members in coastal SW Washington and NW Oregon.
Mike felt it would be helpful to pass on what he and his practice mates have learned in developing their successful sangha so he proposed creating a handbook for others in similar situations. His proposal was welcomed by the executive director and board of NWDA, who designated Richard Miles, a participant in the original discussion group, as the board-member liaison with Mike and his sangha. One component of the project, a suggestion for enlisting NW teachers in a traveling “speakers bureau” to visit teacher-less sanghas, met with enthusiasm at the recent northwest teachers meeting.
The Alternative and Rural Sangha Handbook will be ready in early 2008. A fully developed draft will be presented at the 2008 NWDA annual meeting.
Contributor: R. L. Miles
Photo: George Draffan