Sangha and community

/ February 12, 2016


For most of this half term I have been contemplating the relationship between myself, my home-life and my work as Head – the infamous work-life balance. My thinking around this, which I began to explore on the staff Inset day at the beginning of term, started with an idea of how we all need to take care of ourselves, in order that we can take care of others. If this balance is somehow disrupted, then all sorts of negative emotions and patterns can arise and cause us more suffering. This disruption can occur in manifold ways, but the fact that it arises is pertinent particularly to those of us attempting growth in a spiritual way, as we seek a reflective life that moves towards awakening. Our inclination is to help others, though it comes sometimes at the expense of ourselves. This may achieve results and relief in the short term, but in the long term there is an accumulation of resentment, tightening and tiredness. As we tighten, our thoughts and feelings can become less attuned to ‘what is here now’ and more defined and directed by the tightness.

A couple of weeks later, another aspect to this knotty reflection occurred to me. In school, I am part of the work team and the wider school community. Although I am still a new Head, I am considering the whole structure, the school and the sangha. The word ‘sangha’ (Sanskrit for ‘inseparable’) most often refers to a community of Buddhist monks or nuns, but can include both monastics and lay practitioners. Even though I use the term loosely for our school community, as I get to know people more fully, I feel an increasing interconnectedness with you as parents, staff and the children.

Perhaps the defining practice that distinguishes a Buddhist practitioner is the ritual of going for refuge. It is often referred to as ‘Going to Refuge to the Three Jewels’. The three jewels, or three most precious things are the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. It is said that taking refuge in the sangha, in the community of those practising, is committing to noticing the inherent connectedness with all life, past, present and future. As the third jewel of Buddhism, Sangha offers a deep well of support and wisdom. This sense of support renews and strengthens our inspiration and energy especially when our motivation has waned.

In our technological, individualised culture, it feels countercultural (the Buddha referred to it as swimming upstream) to emphasise sangha. As a member of the school sangha, the school’s success and health does not just depend on me, on us all, but is central to ‘me’, as I am interwoven with it and so are all of you.

To go back to my original reflection, that of work-life balance, there is then this additional aspect – teamwork. It seems that in noticing my deep interconnectedness and my good fortune to be where I am, there is some extra engagement and elasticity. For instance, I am no longer working in the state sector with all the pressures that entails. I am able to work with others on this grand project of creating a unique, grounded, child-centred education. As a strong sangha we can develop young learners with skills, heart, aptitudes and dispositions which will serve them and the world. In short, this is an amazing school and it has amazing potential.

Enjoy the half-term break!

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