The community of practitioners – the sangha – is a crucial aspect of the dharmic path for secular Buddhists. But what do we mean by community? How is a community different than other forms of collective organizations? How do we create a true community of practitioners that help each other develop their practice and contribute to a ‘culture of awakening’?
Stephen Batchelor and Winton Higgins, two of the most prominent secular Buddhist teachers and authors, have given these questions a great deal of thought as they have attempted to develop the notion of a less hierarchical, more democratic sangha.
In Dharma and community for meditators Winton Higgins asserts that a community, including a sangha, is not just a collective in which people interact but an active process whereby people with common interests actually engage with each other. Community doesn’t imply fixed membership and rules; it does imply warm interaction between people on the basis of mutual commitment, equal worth, equal influence and inclusiveness.
Similarly, in Creating a Buddhist community – connections that work Stephen Batchelor views a community as a network or a set of friendships and relationships that serve the individuation of each member of the community. It is not a collective that requires you to ‘toe the party line’. A community provides a forum in which to nurture and develop relationships that helps each person realise their own potential, values and goals.
Creating the kind of community that Winton and Stephen advocate is not easy, but it is vital if we want to make a secular approach to Buddhism relevant in our contemporary world.