Guest columnist Ruth Folchman: Generosity helps sustain Buddhist sangha
|Published: 09-15-2023 4:42 PM
Most of us know something about the longing for a place we can call home, where we can rest and receive what is offered, allowing things to be as they are without fear or judgment.
What a blessing it is when we can find that place within ourselves. As a lifelong seeker and aspirant to make sense of this complicated experience of being human, I am grateful to have found a source for that kind of potential in the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, transmitted over generations by dedicated practitioners who share their experience of this spiritual path.
This wise man, Siddhartha Gautama, who later became known as “the Buddha,” taught that there is refuge available to those on this path, naming the “Three Jewels” of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. “The Buddha” is the original teacher, a human being just like all of us, who showed through his own lived example that freedom is possible; more broadly, this has come to represent all teachers who inspire us, and even the radical and compelling awareness that each of us already has Buddha nature within us, with all the wisdom, love, and compassion it represents.
“The Dharma” is the teachings of Buddhism, starting with the fundamental truths the Buddha taught as common to all of us, at all times … or more simply, as the truth of how things are. And “The Sangha” is the community of practitioners who come together on this spiritual path.
Our understanding of sangha expanded under the pressures of the pandemic, when a common refrain in our Buddhist community was “our practice was made for these times,” and the longing for refuge in the storm of conditions that were so challenging was visceral.
My Sangha, the Insight Meditation Community of Western Massachusetts (IWM) made an extraordinary leap into technology and carried on with online offerings of classes, Dharma talks, and practice opportunities throughout the pandemic. This, even as it also maintained the actual place of practice, the meditation center at Eastworks in Easthampton. Because having a place to call home can be anchored in physical space, a place that invokes our wholesome intentions and reminds us of the causes and conditions that have led to this present moment.
For 25 years, IWM has offered a place to learn about the Buddha’s teachings, a place to come together with others to practice meditation and investigate how to bring wisdom and compassion into daily life. Insight relates to the school of Buddhism offered, also known as Vipassana, which means “to see clearly” as rooted in the practice of moment-to-moment awareness. IWM is a place dedicated to encouraging and welcoming diversity of race, class, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, body-based features or abilities, or cultural and religious background.
How delighted we are to celebrate this 25th year of existence! Even as we know that conditions are changing all the time, it inspires us to fully commit to nurturing what is here and now, and also honor our aspirations for moving forward. For IWM, that forward movement is both a celebration and a fundraising effort to ensure our sustainable future, one that diversifies and expands our teachers and supports a broad range of practitioners to grow and deepen in the Dharma.
And what a celebration it is: Joseph Goldstein, a beloved and internationally known and revered Dharma teacher, has offered a benefit event titled Dharma Practice in Daily Life and the Path of Liberation. Many know Joseph as the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, a residential meditation center in Barre, more than 40 years ago, as well as the Forest Refuge and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. His teaching and guidance have inspired and nurtured thousands of practitioners on the path.
This afternoon event (2 to 4 p.m.) will be offered in Northampton on Sept. 17 in a conversation facilitated by Devin Berry, another beloved Dharma teacher, at the Edwards Church with both in-person and online options. Masks are required at the church and pre-registration is required for either event via the IWM website (www.insightwma.org).
A preeminent teaching of the Buddha was generosity as a practice. From his time forward, teachers of the Dharma have offered their wisdom freely, relying on the financial support of the community. And yet, providing access to those offerings requires time, energy, and infrastructure. Many hands are required to keep our doors open, to continue to make the Dharma accessible in ways that are both equitable and sustainable.
Generosity as a practice can mean simply offering our presence and attention, volunteering, or offering money. Not everyone has the means for financial gifts, and this is not a problem: You are still welcomed! We bow in gratitude for your willingness to share as generously as feels possible for you.
Even as this event is a fundraiser, it is also offered to the broader community as a rich opportunity to investigate for yourselves what it means to be Buddhist and to practice the Dharma. You are warmly invited to investigate an ongoing array of offerings for practice and learning on our website.
Ruth Folchman, community Dharma steward, Insight Meditation Community of Western Massachusetts.