by Rev Wayne Arnason
The last of the Three Refuges chanted by Buddhists of various lineages says: “I Take Refuge in the Sangha” which is the community of fellow practitioners in both your present life and throughout space and time. It can be harder to “take refuge” if you would prefer to find a sangha with Unitarian Universalist connections with whom to share your practice. Where are they, what do they look like, and how do I find one?
The answer to the first question is that they are all over North America, although they are sometimes hidden away within a nearby UU congregation. Congregations rarely sponsor UU Buddhist sanghas, unless the minister is an identified UU Buddhist and makes offering a sangha experience a part of their spiritual teaching. In that case, you might find the opportunity to practice with that minister displayed more prominently in church media.
More often, a minister or lay leaders may organize a sangha that is hosted by the church in the building, sometimes as renters, sometimes for free, with the opportunities for practice publicized in the congregation’s program notices or calendar. Renter sanghas may be gathered and led by people who aren’t UU’s, but who have made a connection to the local congregation through sangha members who attend the church.
What do UU Buddhist sanghas look like? The sanghas that meet in UU congregations represent diverse lineages and traditions of Buddhism. Nothing about UU Buddhism is associated with a single lineage or teacher. The dominant lineages you will find represented in sanghas within UU congregations are Soto Zen, Vipassna, and Community of Mindfulness, but the Shambala (Tibetan) lineages are also represented.
The groups also vary in their degrees of formality. You might find a group identifying as a UU Buddhist that is primarily a book discussion group, or you may find that the nearby sangha has a full schedule of weekly meditation and intensives, including a full liturgy, and participation requirements.
During the recent pandemic, many sanghas that had never before considered meeting on-line began to use Zoom for shared meditation, study, and discussion. It’s likely this option for participation will continue. So you don’t have to be geographically close to a sangha of your liking to be able to participate.
How do I find one? You’ve just got to poke around on congregational web sites in your area, or ask around among any other UU Buddhists you know, including any members of the UUBF Board that are listed on this web site, to get advice about locations. Practicing with a sangha is one of the three treasures because it helps us remember to be accountable to our practice and that we are not alone.