Amida Sangha
When we recite the Triple Treasure we use the words Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha declared that to see him was to see the Dharma and to see the Dharma was to see him. In other words, his character was the Dharma itself and the Dharma itself was his character. The two were inseparable. But what about Sangha?
The word itself means community or congregation. It is related to the "syn" in "synergy" or "symphony." It means literally ‘a harmonious togetherness.’ Originally the term referred to monks, nuns, laywomen and laymen working together for the sake of following the path to awakening and nirvana. This was called the Sangha of Noble Persons, or Free Persons. 

In the course Buddhist history this word, for some Buddhist communities at least, came to mean monks and nuns only. Eventually it even developed into a “monks only” perspective.  

But Shin Buddhism took another path. In a broad sense we are an Amida-Sangha. This is clearly developed in the 48 Vows of the future Amida. In one of our sutras, the Shorter Amida Sutra (Amida-Kyo), all living beings are embraced by the Amida—the Buddha of Infinite Life. That is why Amida is called Infinite Life. The sutra goes on to tell us that there are all kinds of life-forms in the Pure Land---just like on our shrine in the temple, just like in the so-called real world. 

Furthermore, like all Buddhist Sanghas, an Amida-Sangha has restorative powers: “Signs of long years of saying the nembutsu and aspiring for birth can be seen in the change in the heart which had been bad and in the deep warmth for friends and fellow-practitioners; this is a sign of rejecting the world. This you should understand fully.” -Shinran, Letters #19.  

“ ….Since you have begun to hear the Buddha’s Vow you have gradually awakened from the drunkenness of ignorance, gradually rejected the three poisons, and come to prefer at all times the medicine of Amida Buddha.” Letters, #19. 

Thus our Sangha is a harmonious togetherness of those who follow the Buddha, as well as a community that carries within it the Dharma as it is lived in real-life relationships. So it turns out for us in the Amida-Sangha that to see the Sangha is to see the Buddha Dharma in action in ordinary life. 

As we work together cleaning the floor, washing dishes and doing organizational tasks, let us never forget that there is something happening at a deeper level: the heart of a person of shinjin already and always resides in the Buddha Land (Shantao). How could it be otherwise? After all we are the Amida Sangha!

Sensei Ulrich
April 25, 2010