Refuge in the Sangha

I’ve been searching for something I wrote on ‘dukkha’ as ‘unsatisfactoriness’ and while I haven’t found it yet, I’ve come across other writings which I also ‘lost’ some time ago and gave up looking for—but now I’ve found them. Here’s a comment on ‘yuppie Buddhism’ which I once posted to a Tricycle article. It was so scathing and sarcastic I deleted it, but I saved it in the dark recesses of my disk drive and now here it is.

What refuge in sangha is: My thinking now is to take a simple, humanistic view of sangha. In the most basic human sense, what is refuge? It is mutually supportive relationships with people you care about and who care about you. It is people you can count on. It is love, kindness, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion. It is putting up with people’s failings because you know, deep down, despite their faults, they really care about you and you care about them. It is friendship you can count on; in street parlance, they ‘got your back.’ When the chips are down, sangha is people who will look after you and take care of you, as you will take care of them. These are the kind of relationships you could ‘take refuge’ in. And that’s what it’s all about, Charlie Brown.

And this is precisely why most Buddhist organizations are not sangha and why no one in their right mind would take refuge in such cold, artificial relationships. Sangha is not membership in a Buddhist organization. The sangha you take refuge in is the people you love that love you, and I would guess that most of them aren’t even Buddhists.

I doubt you would find this definition of ‘refuge in sangha’ in any suttas of the Pali Canon or any authoritative teachings on Buddhism, but so what, I’m way past that now.

And the following, I would say it’s exactly what ‘sangha’ is NOT.

I would have been perfectly happy to stay with one sangha and one tradition, except for what I found at the two Tibetan sanghas I tried to join:

1. Yuppie Buddhism. Based on what I’ve seen so far, Buddhism is obviously for rich white people who have nothing better to do then endlessly go on retreats, meditate and talk about their neuroses. Rich white people who can afford to chase Tibetan Lamas all over the globe and go on retreats for months at a time. Rich white people who absolutely refuse to deal with the reality of people whose lives don’t resemble those of the top 10% of income earners in North America.

2. Strawberry Fields Forever. Let me take you down, cause I’m going to, Strawberry fields, nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about. Strawberry fields forever. If it’s not a problem for the Yuppie Buddhists (also known as neoliberals) it’s not a problem. Problems don’t really exist. The world doesn’t really exist. You don’t really exist. Nothing really exists. Except my bank account and do I have enough on my World Traveller MasterCard to fly to Nepal next month for a retreat with Lama So-and-So for the Varjayogini empowerment.

3. Buddhist Magazine article: How to be a rich, sexy, creative, emotionally grounded fully realized yuppie Buddhist with a Buddhist psychotherapist and a summer “retreat” cabin in Banff even though you don’t actually exist.

Conclusion: Why I refuse to join a sangha and instead, work my path on my own: Because every Buddhist sangha I try to join ends up feeling like some version of Scientology.

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