Friday, March 1, 2013

A Visible Means fo Support?

      For Theravada Buddhists, last Monday (Feb 25) was "Magha", "Magha Puja"or "Sangha Day".   While often seen as referring to the community of Buddhist monks and nuns (i.e., the Sangha), it has, in many places, been extended to refer to a more broad, inclusive, community.  At root, however, "sangha" refers to a community of wisdom (indeed those who've achieved enlightenment), and Sangha Day is a day when Buddhists reaffirm their commitment to Buddhist practices and beliefs.  While the search for enlightenment is primarily a solitary undertaking, Buddhists recognize that the support of a community of wisdom is essential.
       The notion of community is central to most religions, and is manifested in different ways. Corporate prayers for Muslims features people standing side-by-side, shoulders touching: the community manifest.  Among Jews, public prayer requires a minyan, ten adults,* in order to be valid.  Early Christians (and their heirs) put a high value on "the apostle's teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers" (Acts 2.42).  Even in those traditions in which monastic, or, more particularly, solitary monastic life is practiced, the monks and nuns often return to be together for mutual support and encouragement.
        As someone who listens to students during their first few weeks and months away from home, one of the things I (and other counselors) hear are accounts of loneliness; students miss their friends, their home.  They haven't yet found a community that can replace that of their past.  In most cases they will, of course, but the gut-wrenching feeling of loneliness speaks to the importance of community, especially during times of transition and disruption (as the move to college, or any relocation represents).
       We recognize that our mobile society almost guarantees that friends will move away. Medical advances have lengthened some of our lives, one of the consequences of which is that we lose friends through death with fewer peers to replace them.  All of this translates into a loss, one which some of us feel more acutely than others.  Our supports are gone.  I doubt that most of us who are Facebook users would count our "friends" as an adequate substitute for real community.  Yet we all are finding ourselves in an increasingly fragmented world, and such "social networks" provide a great way to stay connected.  But is "connection" all we need?
      Every so often, I take a break and muse on what/who are my visible means of support. With whom do I share joys, sorrows, questions, dreams?  With whom do I link arms in solidarity?  With whom do I play, or just "chill"?  Such stock-taking often leads me in new directions; it also leads to me to a greater appreciation of what I have.  Existing supports and new supports, together, provide a firm foundation for continued growth and hope.  May we all seek and find wise companions, and communities, that support, challenge and delight us!



*  For some Jews, the "ten" must be adult males; for others, the minyan can consist of both adult men and women.

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