Taking refuge has always meant more than just becoming a Buddhist. Along with the personal commitment of taking vows to live by the precepts, taking refuge includes a broader commitment to the sangha, our dharma family.
In the Buddha’s time, this family not only included the monks who gathered locally but those who had wandered afar, who were rarely seen in any particular community. However over time, as Buddhism spread throughout Asia, it began assimilating local flavors, philosophies, and cultural nuances that have evolved into a rich variety of schools and cultural traditions. In turn, these schools and traditions have developed into local sanghas whose membership often sees their sangha as being somewhat separated from all other sanghas.
But as with all concepts of separation, this is an illusion. Every sangha is simply a natural extension of the Buddha’s original sangha of wandering monks.
Much like the family it emulates, this multifarious and greatly-diversified tradition has grown into an extended family that encompasses the world. Moving outward from its native India, the wandering monks and laymen of Buddhism have spread the dharma to the four corners of the globe, creating the great mahasangha (greater sangha) we have today. This natural diversification has been the lifeblood of Buddhism, and has resulted in the evolution of Buddhism into the worldwide religion of today.
This diversity is nowhere more apparent than here in the West. Unlike the Buddhism of the East, where the traditions have become synonymous with those cultures and otherwise generally homogenized, Buddhism in the West is more like a banquet table where one can experience virtually every varied tradition.
In urban areas, one often finds Buddhist temples or centers of diverse traditions within a few blocks of each other. For those looking in from the outside, the diversity of Buddhism may be oversimplified or overlooked, but from the inside, those of us who belong to a dharma family can see how rich and varied this tradition has become.
We from particular Buddhist traditions and local sanghas find ourselves confronted by the vast diversity and traditions of the greater Buddhist family, whenever we step out of our homes and neighborhoods and look beyond the fence and the temple gate. Once we open our eyes to the reality of the greater extended family of Buddhists, we discover that every tradition, sangha and sangha member, is a member of our family.
Despite all the outward differences, they really are Buddhists just like us! This is the mahasangha of Buddhism, the family tree from whence each of us has sprouted like a leaf, fundamentally the same yet different in our own way.
It is because of this realization that the Northwest Dharma Association (NWDA) has come into existence, and lives to serve the greater mahasangha of the Pacific Northwest. The recognition that we are all working toward awakening is fundamental to NWDA’s mission. We strive to be the conduit by which all members of our extended family can be connected, and can extend our individual concepts of sangha so that it becomes greater than just our local congregation or tradition.
It is through our connection with NWDA that all of us can relate to each other and feel that we are among family, no matter how different or isolated we might feel because of our particular circumstances. I have come to believe that NWDA is just another example of the opening of the dharma to the West, and I feel that this type of organization is exactly what is needed to help Buddhism to become a Western tradition, as much a part of our culture as it is part of the cultures it came from.
So please join with me in supporting the Northwest Dharma Association, and the gathering of the traditions as family. There is so much for us to learn, and so many ways for us to support each other along the way.
As individuals and individual sanghas, we can benefit from supporting the Northwest Dharma Association and staying connected to the greater mahasangha, our family in the dharma.
Your brother in the dharma
Koro Kaisan Miles
President, NW Dharma Association
Photo by: Cooper Carras