Develop your local group
Building a Sangha is like planting a sunflower. We need to be aware of which conditions will support the flower’s growth and which conditions will obstruct its growth. We need healthy seeds, skilled gardeners, and plenty of sunshine and room to grow. When we engage in Sangha building, the most important thing to remember is that we are doing it together. The more we embrace the Sangha, the more we can let go of the feeling of a separate self. We can relax into the collective wisdom and insights of the Sangha. We can see clearly that the Sangha eyes and hands and heart are greater than that of any individual member of the Sangha.Thich Nhat Hanh
There is no right time or right way to develop your sangha. It will evolve according to the needs of its members. But if opportunities for the sangha to discuss its development don’t arise naturally, you might like to schedule one in to a meeting every now and then. Members may have wonderful ideas that they’ve been keeping to themselves!
Here are some simple suggestions you might like to consider — this list is by no means exhaustive…
Deepening your practice
Days of Mindfulness and Retreats
Local sanghas might organise Days of Mindfulness as one-off or regular events. These will provide additional time for members to integrate mindfulness practice into their lives. It may also be possible to arrange for a Dharma Teacher or experienced Order Member to facilitate the day. Special days can be run for people with a special interest. For example, for beginners to the practice or for people wishing to study a particular teaching.
You may also wish to run a short local retreat. The idea can be daunting, but it’s not as difficult as you think. Several sangha members can share in the organisation, and this itself can be an interesting practice. Make sure that the cook is well-supported and the food simple and good, and you’re at least half way there! Local retreats are becoming more important as national venues raise their prices beyond some practitioners’ means, so this is a very worthwhile venture.
Visit our page on organising events for more detailed guidance…
Working together with solidity and compassion is a wonderful practice. And there will be many charities in your area in need of ‘bodies’. One or more of your sangha members may already have links to a refugee support group or a food bank, for example. The sangha can discuss who it wants to support and how.
A study group can meet as an extension of the regular sangha meeting or at a separate date. There are many excellent books by Thay which are suitable for reading and discussion. A perennial favourite is his classic guide to Buddhist ideas and practice, ‘The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching’.
Other texts to consider might include Thay’s ‘Understanding the Mind’, or ‘Awakening the Heart’, both further along the scale towards a challenging read. Many other authors could also be studied – try Jon Kabat-Zinn or Charlotte Joko Beck, for example. At least one local sangha has enjoyed Rick Hanson’s ‘Buddha’s Brain’. The choice is almost endless.
A regular ‘bring and share’ meal or even snack (or picnic) can be eaten in silence before or after a meeting. Mindful eating together is another wonderful practice, as is the mindful clearing up afterwards.
As your Sangha becomes larger
If you have several regular facilitators, they might like to get together sometimes to discuss themes for meetings, challenges and opportunities etc. A bring and share meal usually ensures a constructive meeting.
It is also helpful for Sanghas to identify and share out the administrative tasks in the Sangha for agreed periods of time. Roles might include:
- A contact person (to deal with telephone and email enquiries)
- membership secretary
- treasurer (to deal with the financial aspects of the Sangha (and you may need a Sangha bank account)
- someone to organise events
- newsletter editor
- someone to look after the website, if the Sangha has one
- someone to look after the library, if the Sangha has one
In some sanghas, these people meet periodically as a group to assist in co-ordinating the running of the Sangha. This group is often termed a Caretaking Council.
Sites can be set up and maintained very cheaply, and your own can be as simple or complex as you wish. It is important, though, to make sure that the information on it is kept up-to-date. Nothing discourages more than broken links and two-year old events listings.
Be Calm, Be Happy Courses
Your sangha may feel inspired to share Thay’s beautiful teachings with more people. The Community of Interbeing has developed an introductory course called Be Calm, Be Happy. Any sangha can host this course. Training is provided for the course leaders, and all the teaching materials are provided. Support and advice is available at every step. Contact the BCBH manager, Lauri Bower firstname.lastname@example.org