Today is an important day in the Buddhist calendar - it's Sangha Day, where we celebrate one of the 'Three Jewels' of Buddhism. The Three Jewels are at the heart of Buddhism, and include:
- The Buddha (The person who gained enlightenment for the sake of all beings, and shared his experience with others) - Yellow
- The Dharma (The teachings through which the Buddha shared his experiences of enlightenment, making it possible for others to achieve) - Blue
- The Sangha (The spiritual community who have gained enlightenment, and the people with whom we share our lives) - Red
Community plays an important part in my life, both in my Buddhist practice but also my interest and roles within the Joomla! Community, so I thought it would be helpful to unpack what my thoughts were on why community is important in today's society.
As a child I think I had a strong sense of community - I lived in a small village and had a pretty tight-knit family around me, so it was quite a shock when I moved to University and was transplanted into the middle of a large town, hundreds of miles away from everybody I knew. Something you do pick up on strongly at University is a sense of community - different to the community I had at home, but everyone was in the same boat being far away from family, despite coming from wide and varying backgrounds. This is something I think we sometimes lose touch with in adulthood - the importance of having a strong sense of community. I've found having a strong sangha around me to be a real priviledge - not only helping me along when things are tough, but also reminding me how far I have come, and gently bringing me back on track when I venture off on one of my many tangents!
Online versus offline community
I have just returned from the Joomla! World Conference which is a gathering of people from all over the world who are part of the Joomla! community - for those who don't know, Joomla! is an Open Source Content Management System and web development framework, and it is the system I've used exclusively for the past six years or so for website development.
On a day-to-day basis the Joomla! community exists for me in a plethora of Skype chats, Facebook groups, Google+ communities, mailing lists, and more locally through my User Group. Twice a year a large proportion of the community comes together for two events - J and Beyond in Europe, and the Joomla! World Conference in the USA -the community is physically united. It's quite an amazing experience, to meet the people you've interacted with for the past 12 months online and share a weekend together. Being an online community simply isn't the same as meeting up, face to face, and being in each others' presence.
The same is true for the spirtual community, I think. It's great to keep in touch with people on Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype but it's not the same as physically being in the same room and talking, practicing and sharing our lives. There's something about having regular face to face contact with the people who matter in your life that just can't be met by online replacements for real-world engagement. It's something I've been neglecting somewhat over the past 18 months, as things have been tough with my business and pressures on my time have escalated, and I really notice the lack of this important community in my life.
Why does community matter?
Having a community around us is important for many reasons - first and foremost it means that we're not in the world alone, we're not fighting our battles by ourselves. Within a community, we have others we can turn to for help and support - perhaps just to seek advice or at times for more literal support. We have others to share our lives with, to care for and help in their time of need. Certainly for me, arriving at University was pretty scary, and having other people around to support me was invaluable.
It is also easier to manage large, unwieldy tasks in a group or community than it is as an individual, which is often why a community naturally forms around ideas and problems. It is important to involve the people who are affected by something - to allow them to have a say in the ongoing development and progress - without their input it is difficult for a project to proceed in a direction which supports those who are affected. A classic example is in town planning, where local residents are encouraged to be involved with 'having a say' on development plans for their local vincinity.
Why do we need community?
I think nowadays in a world which seems to favour the individualist, the importance of being surrounded by a strong community has, in some cultures, dropped in importance and needs to be revived. Being a part of something bigger than yourself is a humbling experience, and brings you up against challenges on a daily basis. Challenges that can help you, and others, to grow in a positive way.
Being alongside people from other walks of life, people who don't see the world through your own eyes, can be a very challenging experience - but we have the opportunity to grow and learn from that challenge. We can expand our experience of the world, and learn how to communicate and interact in different ways. It also challenges our fundemental beliefs and concepts at times, which while a little un-nerving can in fact be refreshing. It's amazing to realise sometimes just how bound down we are by our preconceptions and judgements about others, and when those are broken down we realise just how many similarities there are - at the end of the day, we're all people, and we all experience suffering and pain, happiness and sadness, good times and bad times. Being a part of a community means taking all of that on board, in all its beauty and ugliness, and approaching it with kindness and understanding. Walking in their shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, and trying to find a way to move forward together.
Thinking about the most recent times I have been truly happy, it has almost always been in the context of friendship, community, and sangha. Sometimes, strangely, this has been after very challenging situations that I've had to work my way through, seemingly never-ending and pushing all of those bright red buttons that set off every annoyance and niggle that irritates me.
Do you find the same? Why is community important to you?