The Jewel of the Sangha


kids peace ceremony

               Children handing out luminaries at the Peace Ceremony, Blue Cliff Monastery.                     Photo courtesy of Bruce Nichols


“Two thousand five hundred years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha proclaimed that the next Buddha will be named Maitreya, the ‘Buddha of Love.’ I think Maitreya Buddha may be a community and not just an individual.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, “This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”

“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.”  ~Upaddha Sutta: Half (of the Holy Life) (SN 45.2), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

“Because you feel supported there, the sangha is the most appropriate setting and environment for the practice of looking deeply. If you have a sangha of two, three, maybe even fifty people who are practicing correctly—getting joy, peace, and happiness from the practice—then you are the luckiest person on earth.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

In August, I attended the Together we are One retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery. This retreat brought monastics from Plum Village, France, Deer Park, USA, and Magnolia Grove, USA to Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, NY. We practiced together, as a fourfold sangha, monastic individuals and lay, coming together to co-create the legacy of the Buddha’s greatest gifts to the world, the beloved community, or sangha. These retreats we go on are a way to simplify our existence and remember what is truly important in our life and world. The Sangha is a community that takes care of each other. For me, participating in a community that cares about each other is an awakening to the potential of society. The experience of being in a totally safe place, where I am accepted and welcomed, is powerful medicine to counteract fear. Being in a collective, nurturing environment is especially healing for those who have lived through abuse, trauma, or feel the impact of the greed and self-obsession rampant in the world.

In the opening talk, a monastic quoted, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.” Practicing in a community devoted to creating understanding and harmony is a gift we can give to ourselves and to the world. The amount of peace and joy we create in our lives directly contributes to the peace in the world. We are all responsible for the integrity of our individual consciousness, that contributes to the collective. Thây tells us that the next Buddha is not an individual, it is a community and that community is already here.

The Sangha in Buddhism is one of the three jewels. Buddhists take refuge in these three strengths, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. When we take refuge in the sangha, we take refuge in all three jewels, as the sangha contains the Buddha and the Dharma. The acceptance of the three jewels does not mean we worship a being or organization outside of ourselves but allows us to come home to the Buddha and the Dharma that live inside of us.

The word refuge can have two meanings. One is a place of shelter where we can rest, the other is to escape from danger. Thay speaks of the need to find refuge:

“When a situation is dangerous, you need to escape, you need to take refuge in a place that is safe, that is solid. Earth is something we can take refuge in because it is solid. We can build houses on earth, but we cannot build on sand. The sangha is the same. Mindfulness, concentration, and insight have built up sanghas and individuals that are solid, so when you take refuge in the sangha, you take refuge in the most solid elements.”

When we take refuge, we are making a commitment to carry the remembrance of the three jewels with us and to rest and trust in the Buddha in ourselves, the wisdom and understanding that is part of us, in our own experiential truth of the way or the path and to benefit from the teachings of the ones we deem wise, that is the refuge in the Dharma. Committing ourselves to the flowering of compassion in the world, that is taking refuge in the sangha. It is trusting the potentiality of our luminous mind that lives in us all and actively participating in creating peace in our own corner of the world.

Being on retreat in a large cooperative community is challenging as well as supportive. There are many opportunities for our habits of indignation, righteous anger, and irritation to manifest. Working with the understanding that other people’s behavior is not personally directed at me and that unacknowledged suffering, creates more suffering can help us get free from our strong reactions and feelings of hurt of anger. On retreat, there are many folks in one room and there are always bathroom lines, food lines, and days where we don’t get enough sleep. Part of our practice is learning how to care for ourselves, even with difficulties, even when we don’t get our own way, when we are late for lunch get only beet soup. Thay tells us that this is part of our path:

“In the sangha, there must be difficult people. These difficult people are a good thing for you—they will test your capacity of sangha-building and practicing. One day when that person says something that is not very nice to you, you’ll be able to smile and it won’t make you suffer at all. Your compassion will have been born and you can embrace him or her within your compassion and your understanding. Then you will know that your practice has grown.”

The opportunity to go on retreat is a gift we can give ourselves and others. We may all develop strength and wisdom when we practice alone, but holding others’ suffering and experiencing our own suffering held by those who care for us and the world is the best way I know to build loving kindness, compassion, equanimity, and plenty of sympathetic joy.  Please take the opportunity to uncover the treasure of the compassionate community waiting for you.

May we all trust our light,


If you would like to find a sangha near you practicing in the Plum Village tradition please go for a listing of sanghas worldwide.

To read the entire article about sangha by Thich Nhat Hanh click on this link: from Lion’s Roar

Sister Dang Nghiem shared a beautiful Dharma talk on Trauma and Beginning Anew from the Together we are One retreat at Blue Cliff. Some of the content may be difficult. She speaks plainly about physical and sexual abuse and healing. Please use your discretion.Sister Dang Nghiem, Trauma and Beginning Anew

Triple Gem

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh


“I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
Until I attain Enlightenment.
By merit accumulations from practicing generosity and the other perfections
May I attain Enlightenment, for the benefit of all sentient beings.” ~Buddhist traditional prayer.


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