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What Is a Sangha?

by Spiritual Committee Members

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[This is a transcription of a session with some of the members of the Adhyatma Samiti, or Spiritual Committee on 27th February 2019 at the 2019 Sangha Gathering at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama.]

Recording started with a guided meditation by Yoong.


Your mind is now united in this attention on the spiritual forces with the collection of minds now gathered in one place making up a sangha. Now you may gently open your eyes and look around, look around you at all the bodies around you. Do they look any different? Are we merely physical bodies gathered here? Are we merely minds that have a habit of chattering? Would chattering minds make up a sangha? Or is it possible that when our minds are gathered together at one place, and what might that place be? The place where Guru is. If our minds are gathered together in that place that we call the Guru, or the Guru lineage, is that a sangha? You might say that all three are a sangha, but we do have a purpose here in the sangha.

Beyond the gathering of bodies, beyond the very cheerful ‘Oh glad to see you; I am so happy to see you, haven’t seen you for so many years’ that is wonderful, that is lovely. And I remember Sona telling me she is here, and she sees so many old friends and all of them look so happy. And that is wonderful. But would that not be another level that we can all be at in the meditative mind? That mind that you can feel the presence of that highest state of mind of what we have here in my opinion goes beyond that but if our minds reach up, ever higher, as we aspire to a state of mind that mind that you might say is a very noble endeavour so we have the term that Swami Veda has used very frequently, a term that he loved ‘Kalyana Mitra’ friends on the noble path. It is a noble aspiration; we may or may not be there yet. I am still aspiring to that state, but we can be together in that space, in that mental space, in that spiritual space. And as you know that every month we have the Full Moon Meditation in which we sit together and now our minds join in, our minds go to the universal mind. Now would that not be a more beautiful sangha?

I quote something which my friend Shi Hong has said to me; one day he posted in the conversation between Buddha and Ananda, and Ananda said to the Buddha, would the sangha be a part of our practice, an important part of our practice and Buddha’s reply was, do not say that, Ananda. Do not say that. The sangha is the whole practice. The sangha is the whole practice. Look at the word whole and wholeness. It suggests to me a oneness. A collection of bodies cannot be in your individual bodies; our minds as they are in this moment are individuated minds with our own world issues. Lots of things within the mind. The mind that until we perhaps came into this environment was outwardly oriented. It is now being turned inwards and then there is that place, that universal mind shield, now. He says yes, that would be the ultimate sangha. So we have that where this place and we have something very important that is going on out there if and when we leave our outward turning mind behind, when we leave our chattering mind behind. The word Swami Rama used, it is a quotation up in the Mandala Office. He said ‘that jabbering mind’, the mind that is constantly jabbering, jabbering, jabbering. We go beyond that we will discover something else, something more beautiful, something that would elevate us, something which would tun our life around, give a different meaning to our lives. And once a month, it is Swami Ritavan leading the Full Moon Meditation just as Swami Veda had done, keeping all of us in that universal mind field joined together, the joining of minds in that space, is a physical. We have a physical ashram, and we have physical bodies, and AHYMSIN can be considered a physical body, which as being said AHYMSIN can also be a subtle body. The part of the mental body. Shall we make AHYMSIN that universal mind field? So we begin this program, this sangha, the mission, and guidance of the Guru from beyond the body. So we have a panel here, all of us, all included in this conversation, this sharing, and what we will do at some point is take a break, and we will break up into small groups, and seven of us will break up into seven groups, and then we, each of us, will be with you in one of the small groups and we can continue the discussion. That would be the second half of the program so for now we move on to the next topic, the mission. And for this perhaps I would like to invite Ma Radha to just give some comments on this.

Swami Ma Radha Bharati:

Namaste. Thank you for that really beautiful bringing out of what is a sangha. It is very beautiful. I am afraid I just have a few rather plain practical words to say about the mission. When Yoong asked me if I would say something about the mission last night, I said all I can think of is a few words about that; of course, each of us, [the] individual mission is to attain enlightenment and to bring as many people to the path into enlightenment; to finding the light within, within each, is possible. By sharing the teachings and in doing so to keep the teachings as pure as possible. These teachings have been handed down for thousands of years, keeping very pure from Guru to disciple, and our mission is to keep the purity of the mission while reaching out to all kinds of people. So not changing teachings has been a discussion at times. How do we reach out to such variety of people and keep the teachings pure? And for that I think working on one’s own enlightenment and sincerely following the path, looking within is the best guide for keeping the teachings pure. But the teachings aren’t just the techniques and methods, philosophy, what we have learned. The essence of the tradition is the love, the compassion, that we all have felt through Swami Rama, Swami Veda, and all the teachers and each other who have been working to develop that inner essence. Yoong alluded to that we are a body, we have physical places, physical centres, but the essence is within. And the essence is the shakti, the feminine force, the love, the compassion, the caring, the nurturing, and that is the real teaching, that inspires us and brings every one along. The techniques are just dry without the love and the shakti that goes with it. The shakti is primary. The bodies come because of the shakti, because of the inner essence. The bodies and the organisation are the outer part that can get into the politics and the economics and all of the business and the power struggles and so on. But the inner essence, if we carry that through and continue that, I think that is really the most important part of our mission. I brought my computer and quickly looked up Swami Veda’s words, but maybe we can come back to that. But now just move on, and then we can look at something more systematic in a moment. So, Stoma will talk about the Guru’s guidance from beyond.

Stephen Parker (Stoma ):

One of Swami Veda’s favourite sayings was that meditation is the mind’s smile. When Swami Veda left the body, in 2015, one of the interesting thing that so many of us noticed is that when we came back to Sadhaka Grama after that is how we really felt very little sense of loss. I think those people who cared for him every day felt a certain loss of his physical presence in the short term, but everybody feels that presence in the long term. And that is a very important part of the functioning of the sangha. In the process of training Swami Veda, Swami Rama used to say to him all the time, ‘I’ve been calling you all morning how come you are not returning my calls?’ And Swami ji would look very confused because the phone did not ring. What was happening? So he would go to Mrs Arya and he would say, ‘Did Baba call today?’ and she would say no, there are no phone calls. So he would go back and say, ‘I don’t understand what you are saying? We have not had any phone calls today.’ He said, ‘I’m calling you from within, and you are not listening to me’. And that was his constant refrain with Swami Veda, learning to listen in that really deep way. And eventually at some point to actually begin to hear the Guru guiding from inside. There are lots of ways that this happens with people. Yoong Ji mentioned the Full Moon Meditation, and I think anybody who has sat in one of the Full Moon Meditations will tell you that you have a deeper meditation whenever you do that. It takes you to a little deeper level because of that presence inside, because of the energy of the chit shakti of the Guru drawing you to the deeper ability to listen and be mindful. And that is really what we often talk about being mindful as almost a visual thing, but it is also listening, learning to listen deep in your heart for that guidance. And sometimes it comes in very recognisable physical forms. One disciple of Swami Rama tells a story about doing a retreat at Sadhana Mandir one time, and she was in the bathroom in the morning and all of a sudden there was a spider there. She hates spiders. Absolutely hates them. So there is this big struggle in her mind about, ‘Shall I kill this spider? Swami Ji said not to kill the spider but I want to kill the spider.’ Back and forth and back and forth. Finally, she gave in to her fear and killed the spider. Immediately, slap on her face, left a hand mark on her face. So sometimes, it can be very physical. Doesn’t happen very often but... And, of course, lots of people have stories about seeing our beloved teacher Swami Veda and Swami Rama around here and in their dreams. One of the challenges in my ability to listen more acutely is that I never see Swami Veda in my dreams. If he has something to tell me in a dream, he goes to Ashutosh’s dream and he says to Ashutosh, ‘You go tell Stoma this, this, this.’ So I have some blocks to get out of my own ability to listen. The important thing is: the guidance is there. It is there and almost everybody has some experience of feeling that depth, taking you deeper in your meditation, allowing the lights to come on in your mind as you recognise something that you hadn’t recognise before, and all of a sudden your mind says, ‘Oh! That is what that was.’ And suddenly you understand. So the Guru is continually inviting us to deepen our listening. Listening to the Guru, the discipline of listening to the Guru also means that we will listen better to each other and that is such an important skill. The older I get, the more I appreciate how much more important it is to listen to people than to talk to people. And, for as much talking as I do, and how rarely it is important to be right. It is almost never important to be right in a relationship. Never. What is really important is are you present? Are you there? And if you are there, then the Guru is there with you. Because that is really the essence of the Guru as Ma Radha said, it’s the love, it’s the sense of feeling a loving presence, listening to what you have to say. There is nothing more healing than that. So there are all kinds of ways that the Guru guides from beyond the body. They are subtle and we all have a different experience of them, but it is such an important thing to let your listening go deeper and deeper and deeper and so deep that eventually it stops all the talking and just goes into silence. And then you can really listen, and I also think it is important for us, even though there is a rule in spiritual practice that you don’t brag about spiritual experiences, I think it helps people to hear about each other’s moments of hearing something from the Guru. It helps us along, and I think you can do it in a way that you are not bragging. So, I think it would be very helpful for people to be able to talk about those things with each other. Helps you to keep going in this task of learning to listen into silence.


Would other members in this panel have anything to say, anything to add before we go into the next segment?

Michael Kissener:

Last night, somehow, the question ‘What is a sangha?’ was haunting me. And I was starting thinking about that. Robbing a bit of my sleep. I was really wondering because I personally consider myself to be a hermit, quite established hermit. And I was thinking so this is sangha for me. And especially because during the last three years I was very challenged in several things and the tendency to just go off into solitude and you have seen me and you will not see me again. It was very strong, but what kept me from doing that was just this, the voice, that presence from within, that clearly indicated no. That is not in for you. So thinking more about that, I remembered last year how I enjoyed the being together with likeminded people; Switzerland, it was just a couple of days of really joyful being together sharing this and that, sharing food, sharing all kinds of things, experiences, and so for me sangha means to be with likeminded people where we share some kind of intention, orientation, vision, so to say. So in this way, that’s my understanding, my very personal understanding of sangha, sharing a vision, sharing maybe also tasks that we feel inspired to go for. So, sangha is a family. It is not the coming together of several individuals whom may know each other or not. Sangha is a family where we all are linked together aiming for deeper purification, aiming for growing our capacity to be available for others, to be more helpful for others on their paths. Purifying ourselves to grow in that capacity. And that is a challenge, and we all may have maybe images for the sangha [that] could be or should be and those some kind of harmonious group of people. I don’t think that is a sangha. A sangha is a playground, for opportunities to purify ourselves. And that is not always comfortable. It is not. It can be very hard, it can be a very challenging thing. So the image of a sangha where everything is going smoothly without conflicts, well, it is a nice idea. I don’t think it is working out, and I think we all know that we have our personal issues with this and that, our limitations here and there, and the sangha is the field where we can find support in getting things cleared out, becoming less loaded with unresolved issues, becoming more and more free inside. And by this growing that capacity, to be available for others, thank you.

Rajah Indran:

Namaste. Very briefly to say. The moment I landed in Delhi, like what Stoma was saying that you get a whacking, my bag didn’t arrive. It only arrived just now, that is why I was late. So now looking back at it, it was an opportunity for me to learn what it is to live with minimum things. What I was wearing was what I had to manage for the last three days, in this cold weather and so on. So my lesson started the moment I landed in India. So there must be some divine force which says, ‘Rajah you don’t need all this things. Learn to experience what it is with little or nothing.’ OK. Now what brings us together is our intention. Intention to be spiritual enlightened. And for this purpose, we are very blessed, very honoured indeed to have the teachings of our Guru have captured, the whole aspect, they tell us what is the truth, what is love. So in that one way, what is the truth and that is beautifully captured by our lineage. Our lineage, our Guru, you see, they don’t differentiate, they don’t tell you that and this, they tell you the oneness. That is what brings me. I was born at the time during the Japanese occupation, and I recall as a little boy, ‘Don’t go there, the Japanese will cut off you head. Yes, they cut off the head and they put it at the road junction. When they want a coconut, they chop down the whole coconut tree. They will get somebody to chop down the tree to get the coconuts. I recall this in Kuala Lumper when I was a little boy because I was born during that time. And you had to observe silence because you go into the place where they will drop bombs and the silence starts at that point of time. Everyone had to keep quiet. Because if the Japanese are walking around, and if they decide to chop your head or do whatever, you become victims. So when you talk about silence, it starts there. And having been fortunate to be a school teacher and a lecture in the teacher training college and so on, looking back at it, when we are sharing our information and knowledge, now what Swami Rama says, ‘Teach only what you yourself understand and practice.’ If you understand that and you practice that, then only you teach that. Don’t teach something that you yourself don’t practice. So these guidelines strengthen us. So the beautiful teaching of our tradition captures and puts the whole thing into a very nice summarised acceptable form in a pleasant way as Swami Rama says, ‘Live joyfully and die gracefully.’ So we are here as one family, living joyfully, the little joy that we see when we respect each other, the pleasantness, we come from different parts of this globe. Swami Rama doesn’t like to call any place by name of a country. He says, ‘This is a globe, I am a global citizen.’ I was really blessed to have spent a little time with him in Sabah and he taught me a few things; how to walk, how to breathe and before he left, took out his handkerchief and gave it to me, ‘Son, this is what I am giving to you. Start a centre here.’ So from that time in 1991, we started and we have maintained, so we read these books and we share his teachings and so on. But what comes to my mind based on our brothers’ and sisters’ presentation just now is that oneness and that understanding, what is the truth and how do we follow that path. We have so many choices. Today we are talking about technology, drones, and all sorts of things, but how do we come back to ourselves and look inwards? And our teachings says, ‘Build a bridge from within you to the external world.’ Internal and external. Because we are in a society, we need to mix. When we go some way, immigration, police, army, whatever, but is internal. But like the saying that goes; ‘It takes one matchstick to burn the whole forest but from one tree you can have millions of matchsticks.’ So if each of us individually is strong enough in our teachings, we as a family of AHYMSIN can be that little one matchstick that can contribute to the world peace. And let us be that. Let us today contribute to the universal peace, respecting ecology, the plants, animals, life. So we need to strengthen ourselves with this knowledge. I help the University Malaysia Sabah as an Advisor to the Institute for Tropical and Biology Conservation. We talk about sustainable development. Students come there, they want a lot of knowledge, they just want to get their PhD and be called a Doctor. But after getting their degree, they don’t practice it. But when you go to the villages, they have not been to school, they practice all those things; how to respect animals, how to plant, which season to do the planting, which season to do the harvesting, they know it, and they practice. So education today is more to give you that little degree or whatever, but the real practice comes through our tradition which we in one word we say meditation. And Swami Veda had so nicely put it the two-minute meditation. So if we can practice that, then we are all one.


Now we all have our eyes open. We are all in our forms again. That form at the end of this row is Shi Hong; he is from Hong Kong. There is Helen [Choe] from Korea, Rajah Indran from Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Swami Tattvananda, no introduction needed, India. Ma Radha from Minneapolis/India. Michael [Kissener] from Austria. Stoma [Stephen Parker] from everywhere, global citizen, I am Yoong from Singapore.

[Picture by Jay Prakash Bahuguna.]



The Himalayan Tradition of Yoga Meditation

Purification of Thoughts     Dhyana    Mindfulness
Japa     Dharana     Shavasana
Breath Awareness     Qualified Preceptor
Guru Disciple Relationship     Unbroken Lineage
Yoga Nidra     Silence Retreats     Full Moon Meditation

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