Sangha at Prairie Farm

Just as the dawn is the forerunner of the arising of the sun, so true friendship is the forerunner of the arising of the noble eightfold path.
-Kalynamitta Sutta

The past few weeks have reminded me of the power of sangha, often translated as community. It’s within this community of spiritual friends that I see where my mind is hooked, where impatience, anger, judgement, etc… arises. Sure, most of these thoughts, feelings, and emotions will come up without the presence of others, but in the supportive retreat setting at Prairie Farm, when the mind is a bit more collected, I’m able to see things with more clarity, less judgement, and more interest. So for example, when impatience arises, I have a bit more awareness to see that I’m thinking this moment isn’t worthy of my attention and that some future moment will be the happiness I’m sacrificing now. As we brush up against each other at Prairie Farm, I’m learning to really pay attention to what this heart-mind is feeling without judgement and I’m finding my responses to be more skillful. It’s so interesting to see when these states of greed, anger, and delusion arise in the mind and I can just notice them without latching on, acting out, or building a story around what a bad person I am for having them. Instead, I see the arising of joy and faith as I recognize how the conditioned mind is relating to this moment. I’m constantly reminded that in order to be peaceful with conditions as they are, I must practice being peaceful with conditions as they are.

The benefits of sangha is not just about seeing the arising of unwholesome states of mind in relation to others in community, but also about seeing and opening the heart to all the wholesome qualities. Last week a number of us came together for the fall work week to clean and organize the barn. As I paid attention to the mind, I saw joy come up again and again. I saw how generosity, not just from myself, but witnessing it in others, gave rise to joy, energy, and faith within my own mind. Whether it was seeing someone organize a common area in the center, helping another community member move large items in the barn, or being taken care of by the kitchen manager, there was an ample amount of joy to be tapped into. Seeing these wholesome states of mind in both myself and others I’m reminded of the Buddha’s instructions in the Satipatthana Sutta – “one abides contemplating….internally, or one abides contemplating externally, or one abides contemplating both internally and externally.” Being in community with others at Prairie Farm, I’m able to see the wholesome, the unwholesome, I’m able to see it both internally and externally, and I’m able to see it with a bit of clarity and non-judgement. Is there a better training ground? As the Buddha often said, and one of my favorite Pali words, ehipassiko – come and see for yourself.

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