A Healthy Sangha Works with Struggle and Doubt

The following is a reproduction of a conversation we are having at Triratna Gender Diverse Buddhists on one member’s struggle with doubts about Buddhism and ‘being’ a Buddhist as opposed to practicing Buddhism. Of course, we all share the same struggle. As John Holloway would say, it’s our ‘misfitting’ within the status quo that is the ground our awakening and revolutionary movement. A healthy Buddhist sangha allows people doubt and struggle, and helps them work through it, even if it means they eventually leave. One member says “Don’t look for an ideal community. Look for one that has the most interesting problems that are relevant to you.” [Names have been removed to protect identity.]

I have a question (or perhaps a vent) about…doubt, I suppose, or perhaps wandering attention, maybe both. I’ve identified as Buddhist for about a year I suppose. Previously I was strongly atheist. My eyes were opened to spiritual and religious thought during a period of severe mental turbulence. I was first properly introduced to Buddhism, 2, maybe 3 years ago as part of my degree. I attended a Buddhism course at the Cambridge centre a year ago and that was when I decided I was probably Buddhist. Since then I’ve been attempting to solidify that view, something I believe I have been successful in doing. I feel confident that i am a Buddhist. I feel comfortable with my experience of Triratna. And yet I doubt, or my attention wanders or something. I mean, Buddhism is BIG. There are so many schools and I’m certain they all have positives and negatives, triumphs and scandals. I look at everything else and find myself thinking what about that? And what about this? I don’t really know how to describe it, except as a mix of intense desire for everything the Buddhist world has to offer, with little to no regard to direction or pace, and doubt about if I’m doing the right thing or not. Its frustrating, and I was wandering if this is something other people had experienced either in their own practice or in other ‘new’ situations, and if they could offer any advice for dealing with it.

It took me six or so years until I finally took refuge after my first exposure to Buddhism. I agree the dharma is vast but the core of Buddhism is simple. Everything depends on causes and conditions, nothing is permanent, every action of body speech and mind has a result and the state of cyclic existence is profoundly unsatisfactory. Realising this as concepts is relatively straightforward but having a non conceptual understanding of the nature of reality is hard. My final learning is faith in the three jewels means doing the practices of meditation ethics compassion patience and generosity, while nurturing the right view of the nature of reality. This is a bit different to the triratna presentation of the path but is at its heart really similar. Of course lots of methods exist to support practitioners with different inclinations eg Zen but the elaborations all reduce to the instructions do the practice. I like the Zen saying.which.says something like everyone should meditate for 20minutes a day. If you are too busy to meditate you should do an hour a day.

I think where you are is absolutely fine XXX. I think the important thing is to be active in your engagement with the Three Jewels, meet your Buddhist friends, look at Buddhist art, read a bit of Dharma in prose and poetry, do some meditation, try to be mindful and compassionate but don’t be concerned if it all takes time to sink in. I think long periods of fallow in which the cultivation of higher evolution is pursued with the opposite of zealous dedication, and in fact with an undercurrent of uncertainty as to the possibility, is a common feature of many people’s journey with this stuff

You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be at this stage. I’ve been going through exactly what you’re going through for the past seven years. Sometimes identifying as a Buddhist, sometimes not. Its a steep learning curve with lots of strange new ideas In what is, for a westerner, an alien culture, being not only Asian but also 2500 years old. And being founded in not one but dozens of Asian and Western cultures.

It’s ok to doubt and to struggle through all this stuff. My advice: question everything. I found that it’s by working through all your doubts and misgivings about Buddhism that you actually ‘wake up’.

I think it is less about worrying if you are buddhist or not, more about finding what is meaningful and helps you be happier and understand the world, helps you transform yourself and become more connected and kind – we could call that anything really?

Question everything, what works? What’s true? Separate the wheat from the chaff. There’s plenty of both I reckon, especially the latter. Find those nuggets.

Hey XXX, interesting, important questions. Personally I’d tread carefully in solidifying your view of being a Buddhist – I think the label can sometimes get in the way and add another layer of fixing self-view. I love your sentence ‘I don’t really know how to describe it, except as a mix of intense desire for everything the Buddhist world has to offer’ – if you’re able to, you might enjoy the vast awe of that intense desire for a while before solidifying anything – see where it takes you!

Aye, enjoy the experience, it’s way more important than the identity :). That probably sounds flippant – but I’ve made a point for years of not saying “I’m a Buddhist” but instead saying “I’ve been trying to practise Buddhism for years…”

I reckon the only Buddhist was this dude called Sid. I am his disciple. Buddhism should be a verb, not a noun. It is something I am trying to do, to live by. Anytime I try to “be” a fixed identity of any kind, I am falling down a rabbit hole of delusion. As for Triratna, do “shop around”, it will build more discernment and understanding of Triratna and it’s very valuable to have perspective and connections to the maha-sangha. [Founder] did. And then after a while he made a choice. An informed one.

Every sangha has problems and unique expressions related to the cultural context it came out of. Having spent quite some time in different traditions, it became clear to me that I had to choose the sangha with the most interesting and valuable problems. So I stay clear of the ideal of the perfect sangha. Rather I choose a sangha with imperfections that I resonate with – I see my own growth and collective growth in working through them. So when you shop around, shop for the best problems.

I think there’s so much dharma, and so many sanghas, because there are so many different kinds of people – who will respond to and be inspired to practise by different things (and different people). I’m content with Triratna being the right-enough place for some people :).

[ME] I’m really encouraged by the open-minded approach of this community, the willingness to embrace struggle and doubt.

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