By Daniel Scharpenburg
Buddhism was created because a guy sat under a tree by himself.
Prior to that he studied with some spiritual teachers, but he didn’t find the relief from suffering that he was looking for. Then he practiced asceticism with some other men, trying to see if not eating or sleeping would bring some kind of spiritual awakening, and that didn’t work out either. Ultimately, he was left to sit alone under a tree.
He struggled with all his delusion and self doubt, and eventually found what he was looking for, suffering and the way out of suffering. He was alone in this difficult journey.
How lucky are we that we are not?
Years later after the Buddha had been teaching for a while he had this exchange with his cousin Ananda.
Ananda said, “You know, I think I’ve realized something about spiritual friendship. I think community is important. I think spiritual friendship is half of the way.”
The Buddha replied, “Ananda, spiritual friendship is the whole way.”
I was studying and practicing Buddhism for almost 10 years before I ever visited a community and I had all sorts of reasons. I was introverted. I didn’t think I could handle meeting a bunch of people all at once—you know, that kind of stuff. And of course that was before the days when meeting people online and talking about Buddhism that way was really a thing.
Admittedly there are good Buddhist communities and bad ones; I think we all know that. I’ve had my own less-than-ideal experiences, to be honest, and I know these days lots of people are telling their stories of absolutely terrible experiences with their communities. It’s all very sad. But the role of community is important.
Where can we go when we’re struggling to maintain our practice or when we’re wondering what text to study next? Who do we ask when we need meditation tips or when we just don’t think we’re good enough to be Buddhist? The community.
The Buddha did it without a supportive community, but we don’t have to.
My advice: Visit the Buddhist communities in your area. If there’s more than one, check them all out. There is no reason to settle in with the first one that you find, that could be a mistake. Explore and try to find the best fit for you.
Of course, then there are places where there are no Buddhist communities, too. For people who are far away from any opportunities for spiritual friendship, there are still options. Practicing online is hard and there are all sorts of things that can’t be done without a physical community, but it is the next best thing. So, with that being said, I have some recommendations for ways to practice online. I don’t want you to read this and think “Okay, so I don’t have to practice with a real life community.”
Above all I recommend getting out there and meeting like minded people. I know some people can’t do that and some people just don’t want to. No one should tell you that you’re not a real Buddhist just because you’ve never met another one in real life. That’s my take on that.
We’re trying to grow the Tattooed Buddha Community. It’s a great Facebook group now with lots of engagement and we’re trying to figure out ways to make it feel more like a community. We want The Tattooed Buddha to be more than it is now and to really reach people.
Other avenues that I’m a fan of for finding community online are:
Some Sanghas are online and have events too. If you’re near Kansas City, please go like my page Tattooed Buddha: Kansas City and come to one of my events.
These are some great opportunities that weren’t available when I was starting to study Buddhism. I encourage you to check them out yourself. And by all means add your own suggestions in the comments.
Editor: Dana Gornall