Working Groups Report
by Sonia Van Nispen
Report from the Working Groups of the 2019 Sangha Gathering
In two working group sessions, we were invited to seek answers to two questions:
- How can Ahymsin best support its centres and members around the world to promote and inspire individual spiritual growth? It was emphasized that it’s not about the success of organisations, centres, or programmes, but about the spiritual growth of individuals.
- What draws you to your centre, teachings or silent sadhana?
The points raised in both sessions were very similar, so they are combined here. In fact, the second question did not get much response, though it can be deducted from the answers that both are needed. In most cases you draw people in with teachings before moving on to silence.
Regarding flow of information and digital matters:
- There was appreciation for the monthly newsletter and the Facebook group, that were found very helpful.
- Many people expressed a need for expanding our communication using technology, yet we also emphasized the importance of meeting physically regularly. Particularly for the younger sadhakas, we need to be digitally up to date. Perhaps livestreaming can be considered somewhat of an intermediate form between online and physical. An event such as the current one could have been livestreamed (quality of internet allowing), but also satsangs with SRB and senior teachers. Hungary did a livestream with Stoma last week which was watched by thousands.
- Special attention was asked for those who are not able to come to the ashram, or who may live in places where they cannot express freely. In both these cases, how can we help people to come, and / or inspire them otherwise? How to be a family that practices what it preaches?
- Some of the communication suggestions are very easy to implement, others need more thinking and work. It was suggested that our ‘tech’ people sit together and explore the possibilities. Some of the options suggested do not need such ‘tech-support’.
- Creating WhatsApp groups in the cities where there are centres
- Make instruction videos available online, e.g. through a streaming service such as Gaia. Hatha instruction by Ashutosh, but also specifically on some practices that can really deepen your meditation such as diaphragmatic breathing, mulabandha, agnisara.
- Make an app for iPhone and Android with reminders for two minute meditations, full moon meditations, dates of retreats and sangha opportunities all over the world. This could also stimulate what Stoma termed ‘meditation tourism’: e.g. people from all over coming to the retreat in Lithuania. A number of examples were given of wonderful retreats that few people were aware of, such as when SVB came to Greece, Swami Nitya’s ongoing retreats in Italy three times a year, the annual retreats in Sabah.
- Mokshadeva [Randall Krause] has been doing monthly online sessions on the Yoga Sutras for Australia and the US that are very much appreciated. He is willing to expand to Europe if he gets some help. He suggests using Zoom for anyone intending something similar, because it is easier to manage than Skype (the manager can mute people so you do not get echoes); he works with sound only, no video.
- Many people expressed the desire to be able to locate fellow seekers. “There must be hundreds of initiates in London, but how do I find them?” someone said. For reasons of privacy, it may not be possible for Ahymsin to just share contact information. A tick box could be added on the initiation form that people allow for their contact information to be shared for this purpose. Another suggestion was to use the newsletter to invite people to register in an online databank that would be open only to initiates of the Tradition.
- In that same databank people could also indicate whether they would be happy to receive sangha members in their homes – Ahymsin Airbnb or Ahymsin couch serving. There have been very happy experiences with this (and also a warning you may get people who are not real seekers who abuse your hospitality). Taking meditation tourism to a next level…
- It would in fact be brilliant if that database could be accessible from the app, so that when you are in another country or place, you can easily find practitioners there. This is a “Man on the Moon” kind of vision…
- There was a discussion on whether to use Facebook (which many people are turning away from) or create something ourselves. We were urged to not do the latter, for people are tired of the growing number of forums. It would be best to use an existing mainstream service. Quite a few of us use Facebook only for connecting with the sangha.
Regarding get-togethers on the physical level:
- There was a desire for teachers to get together and share and elaborate.
- Same for centres in other parts of the world where people can go and stay for a while. Swami Ritavan was reported to like for there to be centres in different parts of the world where he could spend time and people could come to him, rather than he going to each and every place. Swami Veda has stressed the need for community living possibilities outside SRSG.
- Intention to organize evenings or afternoons back home to present the new mantra and practice chanting it together, and show the video of SVB and the overview of the sangha gathering. In general, people who have been to any retreat can share with their communities back home.
- Organize communities and get-togethers in our own languages.
- There was a suggestion to do programs together, organize European retreats, possibly in Hungary, with our own (European) teachers, also to relieve the senior travelling teachers and build community. Sofia from Greece and Maria and Alan from Switzerland are thinking about organizing an international family retreat. (After the Sangha, I heard of plans for teacher retreats in Florence, Italy, and in France.)
Hungary has achieved a lot in terms of drawing people into the sangha and very successfully organizing physical get-togethers and online sangha’s. They can serve as an example and are willing to support others, yet we must also realise that it is the result of many years of hard work by a team of people. There is now a sangha gathering every week in Budapest that is streamed. They often use SVB lectures. In the beginning, seeing how many teachers and initiates there are in Hungary, few people would come. So they started translating the lectures and putting them in the newsletter, on the website, on Facebook. People touched by the teachings would start coming to the live sessions. Hungary is also skilful in drawing people in through 12 week hatha courses that are presented as ‘emotional purification’ or ‘stress release’ or some other topic. Apart from the hatha session, at each session people get a little information on the topic and some homework. Experience is that once people come for a 12 week course, they keep coming forever.
The lesson is to not offer just occasional evenings but create a flow that makes people gradually want to go deeper. There is now in Hungary a second silence retreat (apart from the one with Stoma and Ashutosh), and a long weekend retreat every season. Still, it is often difficult to even get people to read newsletters. Other countries are doing similar efforts but not yet seeing the same results as Hungary…
Adhikari had the final great question: how do we keep this communication alive? Monthly Skype sessions per region / continent could be an option. Dea from Hungary is taking an initiative to work on ongoing communication. She will reach out to the participants of the Sangha Gathering as a starting point. From there this can grow to involve others. There is a real possibility that the “regional Ahymsins” that were part of Swami Veda’s vision may now take life from the felt need of the sadhakas in those places where up to now this has not been the case. In the session on the work by Veda Youth, it became clear that there is a great work going on to restructure the Ahymsin website to make communication more clear and accessible. When these two flows, “bottom up” and “top down”, or “push” and “pull” work, together and integrate, we may expect to see some powerful developments of the Sangha taking shape in the coming years.
Major outcome of the Sangha Gathering for me
This Sangha gathering could be the catalyst for a “regional Ahymsin” taking shape in Europe, as a bottom-up process based on the felt need of the sadhakas there. This would add to realising Swami Veda’s vision of Ahymsin being woven from strong communities at different levels, creating one global fabric of individual, local, regional and global threads in which all sadhakas are lovingly held.
[Photo taken by Jay Prakash Bahuguna.]