In Part 1 of this blog, we provided an overview of some of the major transformations in the manifestation of this teaching over the last two decades, and what we see on the horizon.

Um … What If I’m Just Not Into These Changes?

Dharma Teachers Doug Duncan Catherine Pawasarat

© M. Gohl

A natural human response to change is resistance. In some respects good health and safety or security are related to comfort – it’s working as it is, so shouldn’t we carry on like this?  So we have a biological imperative to remain comfortable. Staying where we are takes less effort than changing, so additionally it may feel more efficient or energy-effective.

That said, any youth, traveler, innovator or awakening being will point out that comfort can get boring, even stagnant. Embracing or even igniting change can be an outstanding source of vitality and creativity. On a personal level, it also requires effort.

However, as mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, change is the nature of the universe. The world isn’t staying put or going back to where or how it was, ever, no matter what subject’s at hand. Adaptation is part of human evolution.

Our teacher Namgyal Rinpoche defined “intelligence” as the speed and facility with which one adapts to changing circumstances. We’re in an ongoing, eternal dance with the cosmos (and each other), and the tunes and the steps keep changing. Cha cha cha!

If I’m Dancing With The Universe, Do I Need a Sangha?

S&C-chachaThe short answer is, “yes.” Our teachers and our sangha members (fellow practitioners) are the best dance partners we have: we may be some of the only ones perceiving the cosmic music.

What an interesting sign of the times that many people come to these spiritual teachings attracted to and looking for community. And that, at the same time, the community is an oft-cited source of discontent.

What gives?

Firstly, our modern lifestyles give us the illusion that we don’t need community, or the current community, and that we can shop around for whatever community suits us best at any given time. With an ATM card, a credit card, and a grocery store, this illusion persists. We don’t tend to think of the banking staff, ATM machine technicians, card manufacturers, farmers, grocery store supply chain employees, etc. as our – invisible but absolutely vital – community.


© C. Conroy-Low

A sangha, or community of dharma practitioners, is an intentional community, and an awakening one. We get together to practice and to spur one another on to greater awakening. Notice the word “spur” is spikey; though massaging or seducing one another into greater awakening also works, it hasn’t entered our language yet. And we encourage everyone to try the massaging and seducing, as well as the spurring!

Alas, there’s just no way around the fact that our blind spots are blind – we simply have no way of knowing that we have them on our own. It takes other people to point them out to us.

Spiritual community

© D. Steinbock

Even then, we have absolutely no idea what they are going on about! “Qui, moi? You must be projecting.” This is a standard response to a sangha member compassionately taking the trouble to point out our blind spots to us. It gets aggravating for all concerned, and – until we get more skillful through a lot of practice – it’s not unusual for arguments and conflict to ensue.

Equipped with my ATM card and multiple grocery stores to choose from, we can decide to make like a banana and split this increasingly uncomfortable scene. Who are these people, anyway, to point their fingers at what they are imagining to be my stuff?  The texts call them “the noble sangha,” one of Buddhist philosophy’s three gems. Without their pointing and poking and spurring, those blind spots stay blind. In other words, our neuroses stay neurotic, our egos stay in charge, and we stay unawakened. No joy!

When we can suspend our disbelief and our ego’s smarting, we can begin to see that our sangha is helping us to work with our deepest fears: of abandonment or non-love, of ego annihilation, and of isolation.

Karma Yoga

© K. McAllister

Our sangha offers us some of our best training grounds for learning about compassion, loving kindness, and transcending the illusion of separation between self and other. Learning together speeds up our skillfulness and awakening. Many hands make light work, and many awakening minds make speedy unfoldment.

Besides, sangha makes awakening more fun. Have you ever been to a dharma party with just one person?

Clear Sky (our retreat center) is a crucible for awakening, where we offer the most supportive conditions for our awakening to speed up, in community and for community. Planet Dharma (this online forum) serves as a virtual center where we endeavor to keep this practice up together as best we can when we can’t be at Clear Sky. As well, local subcenters or sanghas, however small, are opportunities to actively support one another’s awakening.

How Is This All Going to Work?

That’s a good question, one we’re holding as we experiment and reiterate and invent it.
We see three central pillars of our practice as being key for this to grow:

1) Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga Zen Sweeping at Clear Sky

© D. Steinbock

Traditionally there were six branches of yoga – hatha yoga, meditation and scholasticism are some of the others – originating in the Hindi tradition. Karma Yoga is the path of action or service, what we call Awakening in Action.

When we practice karma yoga, everything we do becomes a service to others (or to the greater good, to our community, to those who have helped us awaken more fully, to future generations, etc) and thus grist for the mill of the path to awakening.

Given that most of us don’t have the supporting circumstances or perhaps disposition to meditate for several hours each day, we believe karma yoga holds tremendous potential as a path that dovetails well with our busy modern lives.

Karma Yoga has countless manifestations, from letting others know about the teachings or organizing meditation retreats to running an organization founded on dharmic principles. Our karma yoga practice is limited only by our imaginations.

Click to read this blog on karma yoga to learn more.

2) Dharma Training

Karma yoga sustainabilityThis is the key to make sure that our karma yoga doesn’t get confused with its cousin, volunteerism. Doing karma yoga under the guidance of someone who has more dharma or karma yoga experience than we do ensures that we undertake our tasks mindfully and fulfill them well. It might be the difference between a beautifully prepared, delicious meal and a bowl of cereal, or communications that inform, magnetize and entertain rather than just some relevant words put together.

Using karma yoga as a path to transcendence entails transcending our ego preferences: what we’d like to do, don’t want to do, how we prefer to do it, how we might feel about being told to do things a different way, etc. Our trainer and the training challenge us to stretch our comfort zones, open our minds, and broaden our skill spectrum.

While our various responses arise, we have the opportunity to watch them with a meditator’s mind … while we’re going about our day.

3) Dāna

Photo: Nancy>I'm gonna SNAP! (flickr)

Photo: Nancy>I’m gonna SNAP! (flickr)

Our dāna or generosity practice helps us to generate merit, and also supports the teachings and teachers, enabling them to share the teachings and practices with more people and thereby benefit more beings. Like anything else in modern life, this may involve developing infrastructure, such as a retreat center, scholarships for underprivileged practitioners, an online teaching platform, etc. More beings’ practice and dāna, in turn, support ours.
While it’s natural to start out with a transactional mindset regarding dāna – I’ll give money and/or karma yoga in exchange for teachings – a deeper dāna practice helps us to train ourselves to let go of fears and anxiety around impermanence, and develop greater trust in the universe.

While it’s essential to ensure one’s own material wellbeing, we can move beyond the transactional model derived from our capitalist upbringing, and learn to broaden our views of the cosmic nature of energy exchange. Such ideas have found a new manifestation in phenomena like the gift economy, Slow Food and Slow Money. Of course the natural laws that energy follow are much more comprehensive and far-reaching still, and await our exploration.

We’re delighted to be pushing our own definitions of “awakening,” as we embrace this new turning of the wheel for our teachings.

This post was written by Dharma Teachers Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat. Find out more about them and read about whether the path of awakening in action might be a fit for you?

Sign up here to be notified when a new blog or vlog has been posted.

Dharma Path

© D. Rogers