Nowadays, due to Covid and the changes at retreat centers, e.g.; costs, travel, health concerns, changes in teachers/teachings, many lay practitioners are choosing to do online home retreats rather than going to residential retreats.
- What does this new style of teaching/practice offer?
- Does it support the continuity of mindfulness?
- Does it reinforce our weaknesses or build new strengths or both?
- Does it offer less understanding or greater understanding of the Buddha’s core teachings?
Sangha friends, welcome to The Voice of Home Practice, householdersvinaya.com's forum. Here we will engage in community building discussions about home practice, home retreat, and residential retreat for the tools they are. We will discuss how these tools apply to our everyday lives and the development of wisdom and compassion. It is understood that the continuity of intention towards wholesome mental states is where the practice begins and never stops and is therefore important that we learn how to use the Buddha's teaching in all areas and arenas of our lives. Please offer your questions, your wisdom, or general comments that you feel will be useful to yourself and others. I will, Allan will, monitor all threads and offer direction, attempt answers to questions, and create new discussion topics. Thank you for joining and sharing your practice experience.
I really appreciate the question you posit, George. In fact, I believe the question is at the center of this Forum, how to make Home Practice a large part of the tool kit that expands a householder's ability to support, deepen, and realize incremental momentum towards full freedom, full happiness.
You ask the obvious question about similarities/differences between an in person community and one that is cyber and if either does or doesn’t support wholesome spiritual development. In other words, can a cyber community support Home Practice and deepen our wisdom? In my opinion you also ask, "What is saṅgha?"
My answer to the first part of the question is yes, of course...and...care is needed to not confuse 'easy' or 'pleasant' for kalyāṇamitta (wise friends).
Too often the human mind has the tendency to see things quickly and make judgements based on the notion of if 'it is this, it can't be that'. If we are not together we can't be a community. The Buddha teaches the importance of the Noble Eightfold Path and he recognized that the Path is a gradual one, one of nuance that demands continuous attention using all aspects of our lives to realize its potential. He realized, as an example, that full Enlightenment comes in stages, that the first path to full Enlightenment comes in gradual steps, that Enlightenment itself comes in stages of deepening wisdom. Couldn't this be likened to various intensities we experience with various people at various times under multiple contexts? Might it not be skillful to embrace all our activities and all our relationships within the context of the Noble Eightfold Path and not compare one relationship as being better, more skillful, or lesser than another? Aren't all relationships just more 'grist for the mill'?
It takes a continuous inclining of the mind/heart towards the cultivation of attention through the repeated application of mindfulness for Insight to arise. A very determined yet very gentle inclining the mind over and over again. Like this gentle determination of inclining the mind it is our responsibility to use any wholesome tool available to us to deepen our wisdom, support our saṇgha and to help sustain the gift of the Buddha's sāsana. Today we must use the internet and, yes, with the internet there will be tools that will turn out to be very important in both the development of saṇgha and the cultivation of wisdom and compassion at this time in history. That said, it is equally important to acknowledge that there are risks inherent in learning the Buddhadhamma in an environment that by its nature offers us fewer implicit restraints and has less frequent direct teaching from a teacher or direct engagement with people who are wise and deserve our respect.
The second part of the question about what is saṇgha blends itself into the first. The Saṇgha, at its beginning, actually meant those women and men who had attained full Enlightenment. Over time it came to mean the community of monks and nuns both Enlightened and not, and in these days it means anyone on the spiritual path...more or less...similar to my own. In any period of history or place each way of defining saṇgha pointed towards a similar thing, a community of people seeking answers to the riddle of suffering. In current times, especially due to the internet we have to be vigilant and kind to self and others when assessing if this person or this group is part of 'my' saṇgha. Unfortunately, most of the time 'my' saṇgha usually means those that make me feel good rather than those who support an unflinching and unwavering commitment towards the promise of the Buddha. So, yes, internet can offer us a very real saṇgha in each of the three definitions, and we need to offer practical due diligence in self assessment to find the one that will serve us on the difficult path to freedom. We need to be bluntly bold with ourselves and ask, "Is this about pleasant or is it about freedom?"
We all share in the potential benefits and the risks of the times we live. I hope those who join us on The Voice of Home Practice will engage with as much sincerity as you have offered us today.
What do you, what do others readers say or think?