Average Reading Time: 2.92 Mins.
Commitment to spiritual development requires a lot of nerve. Often it means going against what you were taught and what you know, as well as walking away from people who don’t understand what you’re doing with your life.
Though some paths are more taxing and intense than others, transformation requires ongoing dedication. Change occurs incrementally and sometimes the improvements are so gradual that it can be easy to think nothing is happening at all.
Destroying the old you and replacing it with a new and improved version takes guts and it is easy to becoming disheartened and lose your balance. Doing it all by yourself can be nearly impossible. One way to stay focused and optimistic is by belonging to a spiritual community.
Buddhists have a concept called the “Three Jewels”, or three precepts by which followers structure their lives. The first jewel is the Budhha, which includes the historical Buddha and the idea of buddhahood as the underlying state and goal for all; the second jewel is the Buddha’s teachings. The final jewel? The sangha, or spiritual community. Buddhists are taught to “take refuge” in the trinity.
Belonging to a group of likeminded people has so many benefits. Those farther along the path are there to provide guidance. Students learn from each other, and training together increases motivation, accountability, and focus.
Experiences, ideas, and resources are shared. The spiritual energy generated while coming together in a group is usually more powerful than what can be done alone, and a positive social environment can works wonders for overall wellness.
A sangha could be a group of monks or nuns, any collective of practitioners following the same teacher, or a gathering of likeminded seekers wishing to advance. A church, small circle of friends, or large international organizations are all examples of sanghas. Some people identify all followers of the same religion as a sangha, and the broadest definition is seeing all of humanity as a spiritual community.
The world is full of distractions and false idols. It’s easy to get sucked into what gives short term pleasure, but never delivers lasting satisfaction.
Having others who share your goals and values reinforces why you are doing this in the first place and makes it easier to ignore the temptations of a worldly existence. Most people live in an earthly manner and have terrestrial goals and priorities. Dedicating yourself to what lies within is not a widely accepted goal in Western societies and going against the grain becomes necessary.
This pursuit is peculiar to the majority of souls in both East and West, and these people may misunderstand, discourage, criticize, or simply distract you from your process. Their attitudes may feed into your own doubts, making your growth that much more difficult.
Existential pursuits are abandoned far too often due to inadequate social support. Having “spiritual” friends provides a soft place to land on your quest.
When choosing a spiritual community, it is wise to use discretion. “Spiritually focused” people may or may not be living up to their ideals. Some practice out of ego, are outright hypocrites, practice in an unsafe manner, or are deluded into thinking they are making great progress when in reality little change has occurred. Some hide behind spirituality because they are lost or are overly dogmatic and rigid. Adopting a holier-than-thou attitude is not unheard of. A common pitfall I see among Westerners who follow Eastern religions is what I call “spiritual narcissism”. There are more than a few practitioners who proudly embrace the idea of being humble and smugly see themselves as superior to their peers who have not yet found the “truth”.
Of course, no one is perfect, and we are all in the process of bettering ourselves. Practice helps work out the kinks and dissolves our flaws. Nevertheless, some groups are more genuine and determined to practice what they preach than others. Be especially cautious about organizations led by ego-driven teachers. No good can come of participating in these places.
If you have the right intention, you will find yourself among well-meaning, caring people who share the same interests and help you stay dedicated.
It is important that you know yourself and what kind of group is best for you. Some are happiest belonging to large, formal organizations with regular meetings and retreats, while others prefer smaller communities.
Others are content with one or two close friends with the same yearnings. Many groups are led by a central teacher, and others are not. No single model will work for everyone and you may need to try a few out before you find one that fits.
Your task is finding what suits your needs. Participating in a sangha will help speed along your development, amplify the good vibrations, and keep you from falling off the spiritual wagon.