Interactions in Sangha: Inner Circles

General forum on the teachings of all schools of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Topics specific to one school are best posted in the appropriate sub-forum.
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Interactions in Sangha: Inner Circles

Postby SamBodhi » Mon Jul 30, 2012 7:47 am

Hello all, I have a question about an issue concerning the acceptable social interactions. Most of this question stems from my consideration of a part of the following quote by Lama Surya Das:

"When you are considering joining a sangha or being part of a
spiritual group, be alert to prejudice or bigotry, self-righteousness,
“group think,” double standards, and an atmosphere that encourages
inner circles, secrets, and white lies.
-- Lama Surya Das

I think that the text is found as it appears above in his book Awakening the Buddha Within towards the back, but it can also be found at this link:
about 2/3 of the way down the page under the heading "Choosing a Spiritual Group or Teacher."

I started to pick through this closer. I really wanted to write to Lama Surya Das's website and see if I could get a more in depth teaching on that particular topic. However, I think that I will be asking my own teacher about certain issues concerning gossip and social anxiety. Still I wanted to get some more perspective on the idea presented in the quote. It seems to me that Lama Surya Das is specifically trying to warn us about a place or group of people who encourage inner circles, or secrets, etc. However, I am also wondering what everybody else thinks about what seems to me a normal human behaviour- that of forming groups based on prior friendship or another form of similar set of combined interaction.

So, I am thinking that one should be wary of when one or more people "band together" against the interests of learning, etc.
But also Lama Surya Das is telling us to be extremely weary of a place that encourages that sort of behaviour to keep others in line or something.

Does anybody have a view on this?
Does anybody know of some teachings on the topic, even if it is only slightly related?

with Metta,
pung S
no tea is too good for me

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Re: Interactions in Sangha: Inner Circles

Postby odysseus » Mon Jul 30, 2012 8:07 am

pung S wrote:Does anybody have a view on this?

What he says does´nt seem like a good motivation to join a sangha. I´m not a member with the local sangha but I went to a lecture there and did´nt get a close impression but some of the people there were a bit rejecting, I got irritated. Another time I went to the sangha´s meditation centre and they were really comfortable. I asked the lama if I should go to a retreat but he said it would be better for me to meditate at home. So I´m not a member, but have an association. The lama there is surely a kind and friendly man. Oh, well there could be any kind of people but I´ve heard many comments about Surya Das´ weird views but most know about that issue.

My view is that a sangha should be tolerant, supportive, not preaching, no superiority to other members, chill attitude. You don´t need to make close friendships if you don´t want but maybe some make groups based on that but that should be a personal thing and not a reason to create inner circles. It boils down to common sense. In Buddhism, there is no special divisions between trainees and causing schisms is just annoying.

Maybe he wants to warn about controversial groups like (hmm, let´s not say who they are?).

It's not so difficult to be a good person, but to be genuinely kind takes courage because it can be downright dangerous.

-- Me

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Re: Interactions in Sangha: Inner Circles

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Jul 30, 2012 1:16 pm

I think one thing to consider is how we ourselves can participate in a Sangha in a healthy way.

If we try and start with keeping our mind happy and healthy, and making our participation about the dharma first and foremost,
then it is a little bit easier.

If we are looking for aknowledgement, social acceptance, new friend etc. then our chances of having a bad experience increase.
We should remember that many people first come to Buddhism after some kind of trauma so they are not always is a position to
offer support to others.

The teacher often has huge demands made on them and not enough time to interact with all of the students as much as he or she would

So we should start by keeping our own mind happy, and determining that our participation is aimed primarily at learning and practicing the dharma,
and integrating the teachings into our lives.

Then, if as a side effect we happen to make some friends too, great. But if we don't, it won't be a big trauma.

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Re: Interactions in Sangha: Inner Circles

Postby gc367581 » Thu Aug 02, 2012 8:00 am

Well put :smile:

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Re: Interactions in Sangha: Inner Circles

Postby Simon » Thu Aug 02, 2012 2:03 pm

Dear OP,

You have just articulated - far more eloquently than me - the precise problems I have had.

Knotty Veneer
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Re: Interactions in Sangha: Inner Circles

Postby Knotty Veneer » Thu Aug 02, 2012 6:52 pm

I think the question of Sanghas is a very important one - and one that generally is not asked so often. Usually, the emphasis is on the teacher but I think one of the ways that you can generally tell if a teacher is up to snuff is by looking at how his/her students, particularly long term or "senior" students, behave.

But in most cases you can't really get a good impression on one visit - unless there is something so alarmingly obvious that you want to run out the door. It's also worthwhile remembering that Sangha at different Dharma centers change over time and have bad patches or difficult people sometimes. Remember too that the Dharma often attracts troubled people who are looking for peace of mind but who can cause a certain amount of havoc in a Sangha.
“Trump’s grand and vulgar self-absorption is inviting all of us to examine our own selfishness. His ignorance calls us to attend to our own blind spots. The fears that he stokes and the isolation he promotes goad us to be braver, more generous.” - James S. Gordon.

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Re: Interactions in Sangha: Inner Circles

Postby SamBodhi » Thu Aug 02, 2012 11:49 pm

Thanks, everyone for your views so far. Personally I am only trying to calm my reaction a little bit to embrace normal social anxiety.

JKhedrup wrote:I think one thing to consider is how we ourselves can participate in a Sangha in a healthy way.

If we try and start with keeping our mind happy and healthy, and making our participation about the dharma first and foremost,
then it is a little bit easier.

Great posting!

I think that I will try to remember when these things come up to think of my own motivation. Examining what I really want to accomplish according to the Dharma is probably going to allow me to dispel any attachment to any image I have of a Utopian experience at Sangha. Even if a Sangha will be perfect, that will include my own actions and I should therefore examine my own motivation before attempting to diagnose a problem as "inner circles" or something. And that will carry on to my life outside of a Dharma center (i.e. work, family).
Also, I understand the huge demands often put on a teacher. And I would not hold them entirely responsible for the actions of others while simultaneously holding them responsible for my own emotional state of mind concerning those others. I attend a very small Temple and I would only ask individual (one to one) questions about myself.

I was not speaking about any specific situation I have found myself in. It is just that the Sangha is more than likely going to be experienced by us as a group of people in one place for a designated amount of time. It goes beyond that sure, but there will almost have to be a time when that is the only way to really define the interaction. I have read some of Lama Surya Das's writing on the web recently about "cults" and I think that the overall message about inner circles is the poisonous/toxic use of something normal (group dynamic theory) for the purposes of something evil- keeping others "in line" as in what has been termed a cult for the purposes of the this topic.

I am glad that I could be eloquent. I put a lot of thought into my posts. It is a good practice for examining the effects of speech. Let's face it, we could all write a dissertation for every post and still be misunderstood/misspeak occasionally.

It is a good point to make that sometimes things are just different and one shouldn't assume that nothing will change from one meeting to the next. I think that what I am trying to find is that space between a sort of automatic reaction to something based on fear- "Oh no! Inner circle!" to something a lot more positive- "I am here to practice the Dharma with a group. Smile, be at peace, and know that everything arises and everything falls away."
Like I said above, it is not something that is really specific to a Sangha for me. It does seem like this kind of behaviour permeates most of society. In the past, I noticed it in Churches/Schools a lot. I think that the best example is reality TV shows like Survivor where the purpose is forming alliances and what not.

One last point:
On my book shelf, I have three old books- The Proper study of Mankind, Attitudes, Conflict, and Social Change, and Explanation and Human Action. As a society, we have known about/created these ideas for a long time. When one studies it long enough, it can become a tool. The conclusion I have come to so far concerning Lama Surya Das's quote above is that he is saying we should be wary of anybody who would attempt to use that tool to do evil.

thanks again,
pung S
no tea is too good for me

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