Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Buddha Next Door

Having spent some time on Buddhist forums and websites, I have found that a common lament among Buddhists is that they are solitary, practicing without a 'physical' Sangha (Buddhist community), or a teacher with whom they practice face-to-face.

Although I could easily make this post a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the virtual Sangha, that's not what I want to do.  

Instead, I think it is important for people who are practicing Buddhism in a solitary way to think about their solitude differently. As we've discussed before here at BCB, labels are strange little animals. They can be accurate or inaccurate, true or misleading. Labels can help us make sense of our world, or confuse us completely. That is why it is important to be mindful of them. Because of their propensity to help, we should not disregard them. Yet, because of their potential to mislead, we should not push aside the possibility of being completely surprised. 

And to be completely honest, we are often surprised when we venture (or are permitted) to look beyond the label that someone has described themselves with. My point is, although we might be practicing 'alone', as a 'solitary' Buddhist, 'without a Sangha', we are not. As Buddhists, we must remember that core Buddhist principles can be practiced by anyone, whether or not they consider themselves Buddhists- or even know anything about Buddhism!

When we take notice, we see many people around us who are just trying to lead a good and moral life, through a number of different paths. In fact, it is likely that they emphasize some of the same things that we as Buddhists do!

So although we would not want to arbitrarily label others as Buddhists just because of this fact, we can see others who do not call themselves Buddhists as part of our community. Indeed, that is the case for the whole world, whether we like it or not.

In short, while I agree that seeking and belonging to a like-minded community is just as important to Buddhists as it is for others, if we can't find one we should not be discouraged. There is always an opportunity to learn from people, whether or not they are Buddhist. In fact, anyone around us who is full of compassion, generosity, wisdom, and happiness, can truly be our inspiration; our Buddha-next-door.

The Five Moral Precepts:
1. Refrain from killing
2. Refrain from stealing
3. Refrain from sexual misconduct
4. Refrain from lying
5. Refrain from the taking of intoxicants

. . . Concepts which I believe inspire community and agreement between people of all faiths.

"Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are" - His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama   

May all beings be happy!   


  1. You are right about no matter whether we are physically with the sangha or not, we can still practice dhamma or teaching of the Buddha. As far as I can tell, even Buddhism is a label becos Buddha himself did not give his own teaching a name. :)

    However, it is good that one is able to take refuge in the sangha physically as well for one can practice the dhamma much more deeply and without distraction. I am not saying we that we can't practice is a daily life but those who is not in the sangha will always be expose to dukkha or suffering and distraction.

    Sangha is created by Buddha in order to protect his disciple from dukkha, evethough not entirely but at least at a far milder rate.

    For one to practice the dhamma successfully in the sangha is around maybe 60% chance while those who is continually exposed to dukkha will be at a much lower rate which might around 10%? Maybe I put it too low but even in my own Buddhist society, I find more lay people practice what they want to practice instead of practicing what Buddha recommended.

    Peace be with you.

    1. Hi Xenusfreeman,

      Yes, I agree- the guidance from the Sangha is very important, and we as laypeople are indeed very fortunate when we have this kind of support. My main reason for writing this post is to address a pervasive problem that many European and American Buddhists such as myself experience. Unless we live in certain parts of our country, the opportunity of interacting with ordained Sangha is generally unlikely - or at least very infrequent.

      Although this is not an ideal situation for successfully cultivating practice, my main point is that it is not, nor does it have to be, a desperate situation.

      Thank you for your insightful comment!

      With Metta,


    2. Do not look at yourself as European or American Buddhists. With the Sangha nearby, even we as Asian Buddhist still manage to go 'offroad'.

      Indeed interacting with the Sangha will be beneficial to one's practice but remember, to rely too much on the Sangha is not a good thing as well, just as many Asian Lay Buddhist rely too much on monks. They become too dependent and cannot function well once the monk they depended on pass away.

      This is a new era where information about Buddhism is open to everyone. Great Teachers now do not hide the truth from their students but instead share out by writing in books to help their students to practice Buddhism successfully. In this era, we are far more luckier than during the time Buddha is alive. During his time, there are no books and so in order for one to practice Dhamma successfully, one must attend one of many Buddha's teaching session in India. Its far more difficult to practice from a far at that time then in the present.

      Remember, Buddhism is not only about practicing nor only about reading. It is about both, practicing and reading or listening.

      Peace be with you.

    3. Thanks, Xenusfreeman, for your comment. I am not necessarily trying to distinguish European/American and Asian Buddhists, but just describing the reality of the situation many of us in the 'West' find ourselves in. That is why I wrote this post, so that people may ALSO regard their solitary practice with cheerfulness and a positive attitude. And like you say, a big part of that is practicing while listening to those around us.

      You are also so right about the fact that compared to the Buddha's time, accessing knowledge about the Dharma is so much easier now. And that is definitely something to be cheerful about! :)

      With Metta,



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