Sangha-building

Start and build a local group

Building a sangha is like planting a sunflower.

Perhaps you do not live close enough to an existing Sangha to attend regularly or the Sangha meets on a day that is not possible for you.  All is not lost – you can build your own Sangha. This section of our website gives you some information about Sangha building.

People often ask, “How can I build a Sangha?”  Most of us don’t feel qualified to start a Sangha.  We are not Monks or Nuns.  But if our aspiration in starting a Sangha is to make the Dharma and Dharma practice available to ourselves and others in a mindful caring way – in a spirit of sharing and mutual learning and growth – it is possible for us to succeed.

Before you start

Where

First you will need somewhere for the Sangha to meet.

Sanghas may start by inviting two or three interested friends to come to your home to share the basic practices.  If the collective mindfulness practice in your small Sangha gives birth to a calm, joyful atmosphere, before long each friend will invite another friend and soon you will have a growing happy sangha.  As the number of friends increases it may mean a move to hiring a local room or hall. Indeed, some people believe it is better to start by hiring a local room or hall. In this way you provide the Sangha  with a neutral space from the very beginning.

Some practical considerations…  Ideally you need somewhere central to those attending, which has a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere with a minimum of disturbance.  Having said that, some Sanghas meet happily in places where children and pets provide “bells of mindfulness” through their presence!  Some Sanghas operate on the basis of meeting in various members’ homes in formal or informal rotation.

When and how often to meet

Weekday evenings after work or weekends during the daytime, weekly or fortnightly, work best for most sanghas.  If numbers permit you could consider having two meetings a week at different times catering for different groups of people.

Sangha size

You need at least one other person to meet with but there is no there is no optimum size of Sangha.   Some Sanghas have functioned very successfully for years with only two or three members.  Some people feel comfortable in large Sanghas and others prefer small Sanghas. A larger group has the advantage of generating more energy. It can also provide a range of practice experience that the Sangha can draw on.  A larger Sangha also has the advantage that there is less pressure on members to attend every single meeting. The best way, generally, is to start small but be prepared to grow.

Resources for Sangha meetings

You may find it helpful to have a mindfulness bell, a Plum Village chanting book and a copy of The Blooming of a Lotus (for guided meditations), but these are not essential.   See the Resources section of this website for details of some of the materials you may find useful.

Some friends may wish to take part in the Sangha who have no knowledge of mindfulness or  meditation.   Hopefully there will be at least one member of the Sangha who can offer their experience.  Attending Days of Mindfulness and residential retreats where teaching is given may be very useful to beginners.

Insurance

If you notify us that you wish your Sangha to be associated with us, you are covered by our public liability insurance policy which provides cover for:

Meetings and retreats in private homes, community and retreat centres, village halls and similar premise. Residential retreats. Public meditation events in open spaces.  Some meetings and/or retreats may include a country walk.

NB: If your Sangha decides to go “mindful skydiving”or engage in other active pursuits you may need to organise your own insurance cover!

The meetings

Facilitation

Whatever the size of Sangha, someone has to facilitate each meeting of the Sangha.  The role of facilitator is not to lead or to teach. He or she enables and tries to create a safe and stable space for people to practise in.  The only way to learn how to facilitate is to do it.   Sangha facilitation like the rest of our lives will not always present us with what we want. However, over time we can gain serenity about the inevitable ups and downs.   It is very helpful for a Sangha facilitator to get support and feedback especially at the beginning.  But we must be willing to take the first step and be prepared to learn by trial and error.  Many Sanghas have co-facilitators at some or all meetings.  This provides Sangha members with the opportunity to learn how to facilitate.

Sangha Practice

Sanghas include people from all walks of life, from various ethnic and religious backgrounds.   What everyone has in common is an interest in cultivating mindfulness through the practices outlined below.

An evening meeting is usually about 1 ½  to 2 hours.  The shape of the programme of course needs to fit around the needs and interest of the Sangha members.

Conscious Breathing

The practice of following our breath, sitting at ease, inviting ourselves to smile is a wonderful way to bring us into the present moment and connect with each other.

Sitting Meditation

Many people find it difficult to sit regularly at home alone.  Yet when we sit together as Sangha, the same practice is easy!  This ease arises because we are supported by the presence of others.

Walking Meditation – Khin Hanh

In walking meditation we practice stopping – we walk in peace, supported by our breathing and the earth beneath our feet.  In doing so, we are able to transform any nervousness, stress, and anger into calm peace and insight.

Reading or recitation

This can take the form of Recitation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, a short discourse or a passage from one of Thay’s books.  You could also listen to a talk by Thay on CD, DVD or via the internet.

Group Sharing

After enjoying meditation together we can share our insights about mindfulness practice and what it offers our daily lives. This is an opportunity to practise mindful speech and deep listening.  We speak from direct experience offering practical insights that may be helpful to others. Dharma sharing is a way of sharing the Sangha wisdom.

Other Sangha practices

  • Tea drinking – we enjoy drinking tea and eating a sweet biscuit together in mindful silence
  • Songs and Mindful Movements – singing, chanting and enjoying mindlful movements together are another way to connect with each other.

Dana offerings

If your group has running costs (eg room hire, website, buying books etc) you might want to consider having a Dana bowl to encourage donations to cover these.   Letting the Sangha know what the running costs are is generally helpful. Then you can cover not only the current costs but establish a reserve if attendance dips for a while.

Other practices as a Sangha

Many Sanghas organise other activities as a way of building friendships and nurturing the energy of the Sangha.  These don’t need to be formal and can involve meals together, walks, meetings to view Thay’s talks etc.

Communications

Publicity

Prospective members need to know about your Sangha so you may wish to consider:

  • Listing  your Sangha on our website (contact Steph) and in our newsletter.
  • Producing posters, flyers or leaflets and distributing them to local centres. Try community centres, doctors’ surgeries, complementary health clinics, Yoga classes, health-food shops, newsagents, libraries etc.  Here are three simple poster templates – Template 1, Template 2, Template 3 (thanks to Huntingdon and Seven Sisters Sanghas) which you can adapt if you prefer not to design your own. Southport Sangha has kindly offered this leaflet for adaptation by any other sangha who would like to use it.
  • Encourage Sangha members and their friends and colleagues to spread the word.
  • Advertise in a local newspaper or What’s On listing.
  • Set up (and promote) a Sangha website – or Facebook page. Many Sanghas have done this and it’s much easier than you think.

Keeping the Sangha informed

Once you have more than a few members, keeping people informed by way of mouth becomes less easy.  You might then consider producing a regular or occasional newsletter sent out either by email or in hard copy.

 

Sangha principles

Sanghas may find it helpful to establish some guiding principles for the purpose of the Sangha and how it is to be run.  For example:

  • What the Sangha is set up to do (for example The Sangha is set up to practise mindfulness in accordance with the teachings of Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh)
  • The purpose of a Sangha is to have friends along the path.  Sangha members should be supportive and courteous to one another respectful of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
  • Sangha decisions should be taken at a meeting of Sangha members and should generally be by consensus. Some Sanghas have special meetings for the purpose of taking decisions while others meet informally over a meal.
  • Sanghas should be independent of the livelihood of Sangha members.
  • If there is ever conflict in the Sangha, we will actively take steps to resolve it drawing on outside experience in the UK Sangha where necessary.

 

More help and advice

See the Sangha-building: develop your local group page for more ideas for sangha development.

Please contact us if you have questions or need more information about starting or developing your Sangha.