The Beauty of Sangha

NY Sangha, photo courtesy of       In Sanskrit, there is a lovely word:  sangha.  This word is used in Buddhism to refer to a spiritual community, a community that encourages, uplifts, and is kind to one another, recognizing a common journey toward what is called Enlightenment in Buddhism. A sangha can be a face-to-face meeting with others, or it can be online, where members post their concerns, questions, and encouragement for others.

In Christian circles, we might call our spiritual community a congregation, but our goal of comforting and encouraging one another as we more fully understand the Father, Son, and Spirit is the same. However, in Christian circles today, we find that the congregation is often more concerned with policing its members than it is with being kind to them. In fact, in the media or online, Christians are sometimes seen verbally attacking other Christians who disagree with their views. Other than extremist groups, one rarely sees criticism of Christianity from outside religions, but there is plenty of in-fighting. Where have we gone wrong?

First, we have the mistaken notion that perfection is possible.  We want God to tell us what is expected of us so we can do it.  The problem with that is that God doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all list for us to follow, much to the chagrin of those who very much like picking and choosing certain Old Testament laws to keep.  Instead, God wants us to grow in our relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit and listen for our individualized “list,” the one that comes to us as we live our very ordinary lives.  The prompting we receive shows us how to better love and be kind to those around us each day, and what it lacks in concreteness, it makes up for in the satisfaction of knowing that we have worked with the Divine in making someone feel loved.

Another reason our Christian congregations can lack community is the overwhelming desire to be right rather than loving.  As we all grow at a different pace and in differing areas, we at times feel friction with those who want to hold on to the familiar, comfortable, often legalistic Christianity that is the foundation of many longstanding churches and denominations.  I, too, have felt the impatience with those who long for the solid ground of legalism to stand on, and many times I just wanted to shout, “Let go! It’s OK to let go!” My impatience, as I later realized, was strongly tied to my need to be right, and not my calling to be loving.  As with a typical human family, each member is at a different life stage (i.e., baby, child, teen, young adult, middle-aged adult, senior citizen), and each has a contribution to make.  By realizing that God isn’t looking for perfection, just participation, we can better lovingly support and encourage each other, no matter where we are on the journey, by realizing that God isn’t concerned with rightness but our ability to love despite differences.

We Christians can learn a lot from the Buddhist word sangha, along with other principles we share in common, such as kindness, compassion, and contemplation. We must begin by first seeing our calling as a community of loving encouragement instead of moral perfection, especially as God is more concerned with relationship than moralistic works.

~by Nan Kuhlman

1 comment so far

  1. iamjean9 on

    Wonderfully said, Nan – thank you!!


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