What The Hell Is Sangha?: A Sticky Post

 

Sangha means “community.”

My career as a movie critic had me allied with sites that bore… odder names. CHUD, Badass Digest, BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH. were all places I called home. As I began putting together a personal site for my continued writing, much of which involves my ongoing experiences as a spiritual person in recovery, I decided to keep that tradition alive and give this blog a unique name that wouldn’t sound all that familiar to most.

“Sangha” is a word in Pali and Sanskrit, one language that is dead and one language that is kept alive in mostly ceremonial and religious formats. Sangha is one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism, alongside the Buddha and the Dharma (a Sanskrit word (it’s dhamma in Pali) that doesn’t have a single word English translation, but that basically means the path in general and the teachings of the Buddha in particular), and when you embrace Buddhism you say that you take refuge in those Three Jewels.

Community is, I believe, central to all things. Buddhism can be a very insular spiritual tradition, so it’s interesting that the community is one of its the three pillars. Likewise, being a cinemaniac is incredibly insular – as a Buddhist may meditate in silence for hours at a time, a cinemaniac will sit alone in silence in a dark theater. But just as it’s better to watch a movie with a crowd, it’s better to meditate in a group.

To me the key is this: being alone with other people. And that’s also very much the same experience you have on the internet.

So this blog will be a place where my two main current interests collide – pop culture (especially movies) and Buddhism/spirituality. I think they’re quite compatible, and I think that many of the lessons of the Dharma and recovery can be found in our pop culture, and our pop culture can help illuminate the teachings of the Buddha. The header image here is from Groundhog Day, which is very much a movie about the cycle of samsara and rebirth, and is probably one of the most Buddhist movies ever made. But there are many films, comics, books and TV shows that share similar messages with Buddhism without being quite so glaringly obvious.

It’s important to note that while I may have some small expertise in cinema and pop culture I am very much a student of Buddhism. What I will be sharing with you here is my own journey on the Eightfold Path and what I learn along the way. I make no claims that anything I share here is capital T Truth, or that I am ever correct. I can only tell you what I think at the time of publication, and what I think may be wrong, or subject to change. This is a core concept of Buddhism – to never be too attached to any one opinion.

It’s also important to note that I identify as an atheist Buddhist, so while this blog will contain spiritual material – ie, talking about things and values beyond the materialistic – it will likely not venture into much that is supernatural or metaphysical, except when it’s cool. I reserve the right to write about ghosts and ESP and stuff, but I probably won’t be writing a whole lot about God. As a Western Buddhist I struggle with the very Indian concept of reincarnation, and do not make it central to my practice (currently).

I’m also a person in recovery, and the spiritual principles of my programs will inform the kind of writing I do here, but I don’t believe you need to be a 12 stepper to benefit from the wisdom in those 12 steps. I don’t think you will need to be an addict or in recovery to understand and – hopefully – identify with the way I am looking at movies and pop culture these days.

The final important thing to note: you should take from this blog what is useful and leave behind what is not. If there is something I write that strikes you as true, apply it to your own life. If there’s something I write that reads like it’s full of shit, feel free to simply ignore it. There is no one singular truth that I as an unenlightened human being can grasp and pass on; I am lighting a match and describing to you how I see the layout of the dark cave of confusion in which we all live. What I see as ancient symbols you may see as random scratches left by a rockslide, and that’s okay. Hopefully some of what I write will be useful to some people.

I didn’t choose the word “sangha” lightly. This is a community and that means interaction and discussion is important to me. But I also understand that my past will draw trolls and angry people to leave hurtful and nasty comments here. With that in mind, I am instituting a comment policy that I think is clear and useful, and comes from the Buddha himself. It’s based on the concept of Wise Speech as found in the Eightfold Path. Here’s what he had to say about it:

“Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

“It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”

When commenting ask yourself:

– Is this comment true?
– Is this comment helpful, or is it causing disruption?
– Is this comment abusive?
– Is this comment being presented with kindness?
– Is this comment necessary at this time?

This doesn’t mean we can’t disagree in the comments – we should! – but it does mean we must disagree in a way that has respect, that fosters communication and that increases goodwill. I know that in the past I have created communities where the default communication mode was sniping and snark, and I regret that. My goal here is to build a community where people of goodwill can discuss and argue and disagree while maintaining compassion and love for one another. We disagree with the idea, not the person. We argue the statement, not the human making the statement. We try to accept all disagreement in the friendliest way possible. We choose our words to allow us to communicate instead of belittle. We choose to hear words in ways that offer maximum compassion for the person saying them.

I welcome you to this cinematic sangha, and I look forward to seeing how this grows with you.