Encuentro: A New Model of Sangha

It’s time for a new model of Buddhist sangha: the encuentro. Taken from the autonomist and horizontalist movements found in the Zapatista, Argentine, Occupy and Indignados movements, the encuentro is a form of self-organized community. There are no leaders, no teachers, no organizers, no priests, monks, lamas or gurus. It’s a peer-organized group that decides what they will discuss and how they will carry out their own agenda. The Ambedkar Society of Halifax pioneered this style of Buddhist organization with its Meta Buddhist Inquiry, also known as XPostNon. We have been meeting for over a year in a small group, bringing forward our deepest concerns, fears, hopes and joys, discussing all our doubts, objections, questions and aspirations regrading Buddhist dharma and practice. There is no lineage, no specified practice. There is only an open question: what concerns us about Buddhism? Zapatista_Justicia_Y_Libertad-Ernesto_Yerena-Screenprint-trampt-19724o.jpg

I have long been a fan and secret member of Dharma Punx, but have been somewhat disappointed with the lack of engagement on issues of social justice. What happened to the revolution? It was promised but not fulfilled. But the revolution is not just content or what we talk about, it’s process, it’s how we organize ourselves as sangha that is the revolution.

I’m glad that Refuge Recovery, an outgrowth of Against the Stream, insists on a peer-led model for recovery. It discourages a hierarchy of elders and domination by a revered hand-picked teacher. It’s understood that everyone is on their own path of recovery, and addicts are the only ones who can bring out about their own recovery, with the help of fellow recovering addicts. But other groups modelled on Against the Stream/Dharma Punx have fallen into the “revered teacher” trap, led by people who become the focal point for dispensing dharma and liberation. Don’t get me wrong: I love Noah Levine and Josh Korda, I listen to their teachings on the Dharma Punx/ATS podcasts all the time. I would just like to take the DP/ATS model to the next level and make it completely horizontal, autonomist, peer-led, an encuentro. DIY Dharma in Vancouver, BC is one such model. They use recordings by known Theravada teachers and monks, but the teaching is self-delivered as the group listens to a podcast or watches a video. This is good, but Meta Buddhist Inquiry takes it one step further: we are our own source of dharma, and only we can bring about our own awakening, with the help of fellow practitioners. Meta Buddhist Inquiry insists on questioning and challenging all dharma teachings, even those that we essentially agree with. Moreover, we look critically at the ambivalent role of Buddhism in modern life.

Marina Sitrin, author of Everyday Revolutions, defines encuentro as  “a reflection: reflecting on what we’ve experienced, what we learned; creating new theory about what we experienced.” She defines it further in Occupying Language, her primer on the ideology of the horizontalist movements of Latin America and the Occupy movement:

Encuentro means a coming together, generally with horizontal relational forms, but unlike an assembly, an encuentro does not need to have the desired end of a discussion or consensus; it is the gathering, the process, that is the goal. The reason for the encuentro is the coming together. . . The Zapatista concept of “un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos (one world in which many words fit) has also been brought into the meaning of encuentro, so that rather than being thought of as a place to make a single, unifying program, a gathering is instead a place where all can come together with all of our differences and diversity. (Sitrin: Occupying Language).

So what I would like to do next is to make it official: XPostNon: Meta Buddhist Inquiry, is an encuentro, and you’re all invited to join the revolution. Look for our next encuentro at the Ambedkar Society Facebook events page for Meta Buddhist Inquiry.

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