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The Beauty of Community

November 9, 2015

The word “sangha” comes from Pali- the language used at the time of the Buddha. Sangha means community and was generally used to describe the order of ordained monastics. These days it is widely used in the West to refer to any sort of Buddhist community.


One morning a woman named Terry came by Karuna. She had been travelling from San Francisco to visit a friend in the Portland area. We got to talking and it turns out that she lived in France at Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreat center, Plum Village for six years. Not only that but she currently works at Parallax Press, Thich Nhat Hanh’s primary book publisher. I would venture to say that he is one of the father’s of non-violent peaceful resistance and was nominated for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King for his work in Vietnam. I admire the dedication of individuals like Terry who have devoted much or most of their lives to serving others in their quest for understanding and self-realization.


My friend Kim recently came in looking for Firelight glass candles for the Hillsboro Shambhala group that she has recently formed. Kim found herself in Hillsboro after moving in with her boyfriend and subsequently starting a family. It was a completely new environment for her and far away from family, friends and “sangha.” Now she is taking the lead and starting a group near her. By planting these seeds I believe that, while the motivation may have been grounded in a simple need, she may benefit others far beyond her vision. Go Kim, and may the light of goodness propogate the 3 jewels!


When I was first starting out with Karuna I sold cushions in a bead store on Broadway. At one point a PSU student named Asher Wallis reached out to me. He wanted to buy some zabuton mats wholesale for a small meditation group that he led. It was a very confirming experience for me and I was so grateful to Asher for someone who was legitimizing my little business. Fast forward 4 years and Asher is still going strong ~ leading meditation group, being active in various mindfulness retreats (notably, Inward Bound) and supporting his main teacher Amma Thanasanti Bhikkhuni who, after 19 years of being a nun, was ordained in the Theravada Buddhist tradition as a Bhikkhuni at Aranya Bodhi Forest Hermitage. I was finally able to hear her teach a few weeks ago, hosted by Heart of Wisdom Zen temple and sponsored by Asher’s group. Asher also connected me to Anita Argo who brought Karuna zabutons to Mindful PSU! Like Terry and Kim, I have tremendous admiration for Asher's dedication to building, cultivating and nurturing sangha.


Speaking of nurturing sangha, there are several communities in Portland who are having fundraisers soon. One of them is Maitripa College. Maitripa College, founded in 2005 as Maitripa Institute, is a Tibetan Buddhist college in Southeast Portland. It is an affiliated member of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international network of Gelugpa dharma centers. Maitripa's founding president is Yangsi Rinpoche, a tulku and Lharampa Geshe. They offer an MA in Buddhist Studies and a Masters in Divinity. They hosted the Dalai Lama a few years back and have done a number of things (like City Sit) to build community and awareness around meditation and Buddhism. Their fundraiser gala is at Melody Ballroom on Friday, November 13th.


Another one of them is Peace In Schools fundraiserPeace in Schools launched the first for-credit mindfulness course in a U.S. public high school one year ago. This year it has expanded to five high schools in the Portland area! Thanks to the work of Executive Director Caverly Morgan, Peace In Schools in making a huge impact in the lives of teenagers. Taught by one mindfulness instructor and one yoga teacher, the kids are able to connect with both the physical and mental aspects of their lives. They also bring this program to at-risk teens in alternative schools. Their fundraising event is at The Little Church on Saturday, November 14th.


There is a homeless man near the store. He is always friendly and seemingly, always drunk. He has told me that I get an A+ in parallel parking. A week ago he went missing and I grew concerned. Today he was back, with a walker and broken glasses. He said he had a stroke. His absence made me appreciate him, the mayor of 18th & Hawthorne, and understand the important presence of those we view as playing only a neutral role in our story and how, ultimately, they are part of a wider community, the community of an interdependent web that is greater than our own personal story.


Last week Karuna received three 2015 Natural Choice (NATTIE) Awards ~ NEW BUSINESS AWARD, FAVORITE GREEN BUSINESS & BEST ENLIGHTENED BOOKS & GIFT STORE. Thank you Natural Awakenings readers and friends of Karuna!!!

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