July 16, 2007

No Self No Sangha

On Saturday evening, just after dinner, a caravan of cars came out of the shadowed mountains, heading down the highway towards the bright lights of the city. They converged on a single coffee shop in Olde Town where a woman sat at a old but well tuned upright piano. She sang and played with a soft passion and a strong fervor as the travelers lounged on soft couches, studied the paintings, or wandered the labyrinthine bookshelves tucked in the back. And when she stopped singing, she was greeted by loud applause, whistles, hoots, and calls of encouragement, for she is one of us.

Lilli Louis, late of New Orleans, Louisiana, performed at The Bean Cycle in Fort Collins and drew her own fan club with her. Lilli and Liz, her partner, have been here a few scant weeks, just like all of us. They plan to stay. I am convinced this is the enlightened society Chögyam Trungpa spoke of; a society in which we accept everyone and readily support them in whatever they do.

There on the shelves of The Matter Bookstore, tucked in the back of The Bean Cycle, I found Five Philosophers, the collected works of Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, and James, published in 1962. I opened it randomly to find the previous owner had underlined sections lightly in pencil. (I love used books!) There she highlighted:

“It must be some one impression that gives rise to every real idea. But self or person is not any one impression, but that to which our several impressions and ideas are supposed to have a reference. If any impression gives rise to the idea of self, that impression must continue invariably the same through the whole course of our lives, since self is supposed to exist after that manner. But there is no impression constant and invariable.”- page 196. No self. David Hume’s got it going on!

There is a calligraphy framed and mounted in Elkhorn, the staff’s one refuge on the land, “The next Buddha will be a Sangha.” We are a sangha, but we are not a self. We must keep within us the idea that we are building an enlightened society not for ourselves, nor for our sangha, but for all. Just as there is the concept of No Self in Buddhism, so too is there No Sangha. If we allow ourselves to become set apart, we cannot fulfill our goal. We cannot destroy the notion of self by wrapping our identity within that of a larger group and we cannot save the world unless we save the entire world. (Sometimes, it sounds silly to speak of “saving the world,“ but when faced with an oath to work towards the liberation of all beings, I think silliness is a saving grace.)

When Lilli’s set ended, the group that had gathered in the coffee shop called out a rousing “Ki Ki So So Ashe Lha Gyelo Taksen Kyun Druk Dhy Arke!” Three times we chanted in support of Lilli, and it was rousing happiness. I chanted as well, swept up in the fun of it. And the coffee shop staff and other patrons looked on and shook their heads. To some degree, I believe this willingness to challenge others perceptions is good. They may see that we are different, strange even, but they cannot fail to see that we are happy. However, it brings a caution to my mind.

The Dalai Lama said: “…the embracing of a particular religion does not mean the rejection of another religion or one's own community. In fact, it is important that those who embrace a religion should not cut themselves off from their own society; they should continue to live within their own community and in harmony with its members. By escaping from your own community, you cannot benefit others, whereas benefiting others is actually the basic aim of religion.” The Dalai Lama’s Webpage

Let us be a community, but not a community apart.

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