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02 Re-defining Sangha
#1
I'll let you be in my dream, if I can be in yours. - Bob Dylan


The first basic assumption, as stated in Jikoji’s bylaws, is that membership is universal.  Perhaps this is too broad a definition for sangha, as the word becomes superfluous, meaning nothing more than human, or even sentient, being.  Or does it prod us toward a more open and inclusive understanding of the dimensions of our practice?

    During a December 1, 2019 dharma talk, Michael Newhall re-evaluated his former conception of membership in Jikoji from the universal membership just stated to a less inclusive one: 

...before I had a sense of sangha in a very idealistic sense, as all beings, every being in the ten directions.  We say, as being everyone whose practiced, whose in on this particular path, in the past, in the future, in this present moment, which is a wonderful view, and I don't discount it at all but lately I've been very aware and thinking of sangha as being a local affair.  It's basically who shows up.  Its who I am sitting with.


  This talk came soon after a number of residents were forced to leave due to the passage of a new policy at Jikoji, unequally enforced, that displaced them while installing others in more permanent positions and leaving others in place.  Two board members who opposed the policy were removed from the board. Others, before and after this policy was passed, stopped coming to Jikoji because of unfair treatment and the inability to address grievances.  Whether the questioning of the very first basic assumption in the bylaws was an attempt to resolve a cognitive dissonance brought about by the loss of so many members, or if there were other reasons - it has an unfortunate consequence.  Membership is so narrowly defined by this standard that three quarters of the board and two thirds of the board officers would not meet the definition. 

  On January 19, 2020, Michael reiterates this idea, the importance of this thinking perhaps emphasized by the highly unusual, if not unique step at the time, of a transcript of the talk being linked on the face page of Jikoji.org:

From this place, from this zen center where I practice, some people come and go, just tasting the practice, but some stay for a while, and others settle in for a longer haul. Regardless, I always have carried a broad view of sangha with expanded idealism: that sangha, the community, must include all beings, be totally inclusive. Though I still carry that view, in recent times the focus rests much closer to home, to a daily practice of a specific place, to the local neighborhood, basically to who is here.


  This sounds even more restrictive if, "a daily practice of a specific place", is intended to mean that only those people that can come to the daily practice at Jikoji are members of the sangha.Given its location, pragmatically that limits membership to the four to seven residents currently there. While hard to believe that that is what is intended, and grateful for the acknowledgement that the expanded view of sangha is still being carried, it is also hard to understand what important point is being made and why it is being so prominently stressed and reiterated, especially at this fragile time in Jikoji’s history.

  Do we want to redefine sangha as a small, local affair?  Who decides this? How many weeks, months or years of not "being in place" disqualifies one from the sangha and who and how is this decided?  Will older members of the sangha, who donated much time, effort and money to build Jikoji no longer part of the sangha, if they move far away, or are simply not well enough to make the trip to the Santa Cruz mountains no longer be considered sangha members? Is this a retreat to a more insular practice? Is it compatible with the Bodhisattva vows, is it merely another form of tribalism, creating unneeded separation, or does it have a more positive function?  

  Those critical of the mindfulness movement have stressed how a restricted definition of the Pali term sati , to the awareness of the present moment only, easily leads to a self-absorbed practice, unconcerned about and disconnected from others. It is also a simplistic understanding of this mysterious aspect of existence we call "time."  Michael wisely rejects this, but to substitute a particular point in space for a particular point in time is to trade in one narrow view for another.  The realization of suchness, is not limited to any particular place or time.  Our astonishment at existence, and of our own consciousness, is boundless.  It is inclusive of all space and time, all sentient beings, all earth, grass, trees, walls, tiles and pebbles.  Is the widest possible inclusion of sangha too idealistic and ill defined, or is it the essence of the Mahayana Way? Is there some middle way between an over-idealistic, loosely-defined view of sangha and a narrow view that excludes too many and sequesters others in a private, removed, self-centered practice, with the danger of slipping into an Us/Other mentality?  
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#2
I am not sure what the middle way would be here, but perhaps the Jikoji sangha could be those who are on the mailing list? They would have then made the choice to join. I don’t know what Mike’s motivation for narrowing the definition, other than he felt, as he said, that the one in the bylaws was too idealistic. I agree with you that his definition is too restrictive. I was not aware that most board members did not practice at Jikoji. That is strange. I would not believe that was very usual. You mention in the governance thread that many Zen groups define their membership through dues and that that has certain advantages, such as clearly defining who can vote. That would be a reason. I’m fine leaving it as is for now, but could see reasons to make membership based on paying dues, if they are not too big.
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#3
(06-28-2020, 11:08 PM)Metta Wrote: I am not sure what the middle way would be here, but perhaps the Jikoji sangha could be those who are on the mailing list?  They would have then made the choice to join.  I don’t know what Mike’s motivation for narrowing the definition, other than he felt, as he said, that the one in the bylaws was too idealistic.  I agree with you that his definition is too restrictive. I was not aware that most board members did not practice at Jikoji.  That is strange.  I would not believe that was very usual.  You mention in the governance thread that many Zen groups define their membership through dues and that that has certain advantages, such as clearly defining who can vote.  That would be a reason. I’m fine leaving it as is for now, but could see reasons to make membership based on paying dues, if they are not too big.

  Yes, the dues should not limit participation from the less well off.  Many groups, if not all, give discounts on sesshin and other fees charged to use the center, so that it often amounts to a wash for those who are involved at a medium level of participation, and saves money for those with high attendance.

  I believe it is very unusual for board members to not be practitioners at the temple. No other Zen group I ever belonged to had such a situation.  I believe part of that can be explained by the travel time needed to reach Jikoji, thus limiting the number of members that can participate in the daily practice.  One of the board members lives a more than a hundred miles away, making even Sunday attendance challenging.  Not sure why two of the members within the Bay Area rarely attend.  I do agree with Mike's general sentiment that if you do not practice at Jikoji, you should not be considered a sangha member, but there are extenuating circumstances.  For example, many people have been made to feel unwelcome there with angry words, shouting, glares and slanderous accusations directed their way. That should cease.  I believe a temple should be a place where members make a concerted effort to welcome everyone, no matter differences of opinion.  Naturally, there are exceptions when someone is highly disruptive, but that should be handled by an independent group of people trained to resolve conflicts, not by one faction of individuals ganging up on targeted individuals.

  I posted another thread about the Buddy system at Jikoji, that, I believe, explains much of why so few board members practice at Jikoji. That system hand selects individuals based on how well acquainted they are to a few individuals who already hold power there, thus radically limiting the selection pool., especially considering that one of the selectors lives hundreds of miles from Jikoji and has little chance to become acquainted with most of the sangha.
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