Why take part in a sangha?

A variety of reasons, including:
  • to discover how to alleviate suffering in your life – this can be anything from mild not-quite-rightness to meaninglessness to intense stress or crisis
  • it means you meditate (and your mind quietens down) at least once a month
  • to learn about the dharma (‘Buddhism’) from non-dogmatic but knowledgeable and experienced teachers, as well as others on the path
  • to get to know some lovely people who are all on a similar journey
  • to feel your mind and your heart grow and open

If I come along will I be expected to keep coming or commit to something?

No. In this tradition, dharma practice is a personal pursuit and as such is entirely driven by you. Whether or how often you come along is entirely up to you. There’s no roll call, the sangha is just there for you whenever you want to come.
Having said that, the Buddha identified ‘right effort’ or applying yourself to living the dharma, as one of the eight items on his to-do list for awakening, so the more consistently you can come, the more benefit you and the sangha will receive.

What will be expected of me if I come along?

Not much – other than being genuinely interested in participating and learning and being respectful of others’ attempts to do this too. It might be worth reading our "principles for a thriving sangha" to see if this is an appropriate group for you.

Do I need to know how to meditate in order to come along?

Not necessarily, although it helps. By the way, there’s no one right way to meditate, so don’t worry about it if you’ve learned in a particular tradition, with the only caveat being that we practice silent meditation.
If you’ve never learned and you’d like to come along, just try following these suggestions. Then have a look at the events page to see when the next beginners’ workshop is being run – that gives you a great overview of different approaches to meditation.
1. Sit comfortably either on a chair, cushion, or meditation stool.
2. Sit with your back straight but relaxed – imagine a string going from your spine up through the crown of your head and it’s being pulled gently from the top. This helps you sit without slouching.
3. Start by taking a few slow deep breaths to really fill your lungs
4. Focus on each part of your body starting from the top of your head and working your way down to the tips of your toes and feel each bit relax in turn with each out-breath.
5. When your body feels relaxed, focus on your breath. Notice how the air is cool when it comes in and warm when it goes out.
6. Soon enough your mind will start thinking (that’s what minds do). Let it think and at the same time try and observe or notice what it’s thinking and what feelings come up as it does. Whatever you notice, just be gentle and accepting with it. If you hear a harsh or judgmental voice when you catch yourself thinking something, see if you can be accepting and gentle with that too.
7. If you wish, at the end of the meditation (often called a ‘sit’), note down a summary of what happened for you.
8. You can use your observations of your meditations, as well as observations of what happens in your life, as material on which to apply the dharma to help you understand yourself and move along your path to awakening.

Does it cost anything to come to the sangha?

Casual attendees donate $15 to help cover costs (room hire, insurance, tea, bikkies and various items that we use). Traditionally, dharma teaching has always been offered free of charge so that it is available to everyone. Generosity constitutes one of the central values and practices of the Buddhist world. So in return, those who receive the teaching practise generosity towards their teachers. In this way both teachers and practitioners have an opportunity to practise generosity, and the teachings continue to be available on the same basis as they have been for the last 2500 years. We suggest a minimum of $10 if you can afford it.

Beaches Sangha continues this tradition. Nobody checks how much you give – it’s simply an opportunity to practice generosity (this type of donation is called dana). As the Buddha said, ‘if you knew what I know about the power of generosity, you would not let a single day go by without practising it.’

Where does today’s insight meditation movement sit in relation to other Buddhist approaches?

One of our teachers, Winton Higgins, has written a paper on this exact topic if you are interested (see The big picture).
The short answer is – it doesn’t identify with any of the ‘schools’ of religious Buddhism (Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana), although it acknowledges an historical debt to the Theravada. It is most closely aligned with the new movement of Secular Buddhism.
The three well-known religious currents (mentioned above) crystallised over many centuries in various parts of Asia after the Buddha’s death around 400 BCE. Everywhere they absorbed and developed beliefs, forms of practice and institutions in line with the culture of their time and place. On his deathbed the Buddha pointedly refused to anoint a successor, which has meant there has never been any central authority or ‘apostolic succession’ in the Buddhist world. Despite this, monasticism claimed a privileged status over lay practice almost everywhere.
Starting in Sri Lanka in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a movement to modernise Buddhist practice and institutions began and spread to other Asian countries as a response to European colonialism and the related advance of missionary Christianity. This ‘modern Buddhism’ accorded a new dignity to lay leadership and practice. In particular, insight meditation practice – originally taught by the Buddha himself as ‘the direct path to realisation’ – was revived as a powerful practice that sat well with lay life. The whole Buddhist path, spiritual progress along it, and full awakening came, once again, within reach of ordinary people.
We have now entered an era some have called ‘global Buddhism’. With the advent of the internet and affordable air travel, the myriad currents of the Buddhist world now communicate with each other for the first time. It is an exciting period of cross-fertilisation, creativity, questioning, pluralism and adaptation. It also has its dangers: in recent decades aspects of the dharma have been misappropriated to quite antithetical purposes, such as New Age ‘spirituality’ and pop psychology. For this reason, the insight meditation movement places strong emphasis on serious practitioners studying the dharma carefully, especially the original central teachings that underpin insight meditation.
This is the reason our sangha has regular dharma study (including the study of the relevant suttas – the earliest written accounts of Buddha’s teachings.) We are fortunate to have a number of teachers who are well versed in the suttas, and their social and historical context, to help us learn about this for ourselves.

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