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June 24, 2015


Sangha Is Crucial to Our Way

A monthly update on the Sangha Project, from Robert Thomas

“Even though you say, ‘I have Buddha nature,’ that alone is not enough to make it work. If you do not have a friend or sangha, it won’t work.” In this quote, Suzuki Roshi emphasizes that sangha is crucial to our way. Do you agree?

june feature 2What is your experience of practicing with and without the support of sangha? One person recently described to me the difference she noted between sitting solo and practicing with the support of a sangha. As a solo sitter, she found it difficult to maintain zazen practice for more than nine months. After that, her practice fell away. Ten years later, she moved to a town with a small Zen temple. There, she discovered that she could maintain a home sitting practice by visiting the temple once or twice a week for classes or public programs. With the support of sangha, her practice deepened. She sat more sesshins, supported the sangha with work practice, and began to sew a rakusu. How has the presence or absence of sangha shaped your practice?

If, like Suzuki Roshi, we believe that practicing with dharma friends is essential, then what is the best way to cultivate and connect with sangha online or offline? This is a question we’ve been considering. As we move forward with the Sangha Project, we may want to focus our efforts on designing a single feature in the beginning. With that in mind, we began asking people what they thought the first feature should be.

The choice was limited to the top three categories that emerged from last fall’s Community Design Workshop and email survey—Online Zendo (virtual zendo, scheduled zazen via videoconferencing), Groups (Dharma Buddies, online or in-person meet-ups, study groups), and Face to Face (24-hour Zen Panic Button, asynchronous video messages with teacher, practice discussion via videoconferencing). Three groups—the Sangha Project Task Force, the monthly Sangha Project Happy Hour attendees, and the members of the Sangha Project pop-up community—all selected Groups as their first choice. Online Zendo and Face to Face features alternated between second and third place depending on the group.

It is great to get this feedback from the community. Also interesting are the reasons people gave for their choices. Quite a few people selected a feature on the basis of its perceived appeal to users, but others thought about how easy it would be to develop a feature. For example, a Groups feature might offer intimacy without any particular obligation, but an Online Zendo feature would be easier to scale up. Others picked a feature for its ability to support the growth of a sangha that could exist both online and in person. Among that group, some pointed to Zen tradition when they selected an Online Zendo. Another group said that a Groups feature would provide a better foundation. A Face-to-Face feature was preferred by people who were deciding on the basis of innovativeness.

Contact us at if you would like to tell us which feature you would select as the first one to be developed.


1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Elisabeth Studd Deline
    Jun 24 2015

    “Even though you say, ‘I have Buddha nature,’ that alone is not enough to make it work. If you do not have a friend or sangha, it won’t work.” !!!
    This is the first thing to do: giving a Sangha to those who do not have a Zen Center or a temple near their home ! thank you, Suzuki Roshi to remind us of that!

    I might sound selfish in my arguments for choosing the Zendo and the Sangha, but I have in mind all practioners who have no sangha, who are isolated, and live outside US time zones! For myself, I like the intimacy and obligation given by Zazen, it gives me an anchorage within the day. Since March I have been sitting every week for 5 days with “my” Sangha, and this has no prize! I found my “friend cercle”, and I would be terribly sad and lost once more to see it disappearing.
    Thank you. Deep bows. Elisabeth


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