Meta-Sanghas

by Vincent Horn

A meta-sangha is a new type of community that stands apart from (i.e. meta to) standard sanghas, but is simultaneously inclusive of them and supports their development.

Standard training sanghas offer an interlocking system of practices and ideas, supported by an enabling community structure. Taken together these systems, and the relationships therein, provide a rigorous and transformative training environment. The purpose of these environments is explicit — even if it is framed in multi-faceted terms — and there are clear indicators of what constitutes success in these systems. Furthermore, each sangha emphasizes their primary goals differently — sometimes just slightly and sometimes in extreme contrast with one another. They also structure their communities differently, have different practices, expectations, and models for how to achieve these goals. Because of this, while sanghas can be more or less tolerant of one another, they resist any kind of intimate partnership with another sangha that would hurt the integrity of their system.

The rigor and coherence of sangha training systems are deeply honored in a meta-sangha as they provide time-tested methods for experiencing deep transformation. But because a meta-sangha invites its members to become familiar with the ideas of other systems, and regularly interact with people of differing backgrounds and pre-suppositions, participants often begin to sense the limitations and boundaries of their own favored systems.

Meta-sanghas differ from normal sanghas in that they do not themselves offer a specific system of contemplative practices and individual training to be mastered, or offer a coherent and agreed-upon definition of what success looks like. Instead, they invite in leaders & members from multiple systems and offer a framework for exploring their experiences and conceptions through cross-paradigmatic & multi-lineage exchanges.

Because meta-sanghas are not in direct conflict with standard sanghas they can invite representatives from multiple sanghas into their fold and can help serve a critical function in helping solve the “sampling problem”. The sampling problem is what happens when relatively new practitioners are trying different approaches out and having trouble settling upon one. Meta-sanghas can serve as a kind of “sorting hat” for participating sanghas, helping to educate and direct new practitioners that come in through the meta-sangha to appropriate sangha systems. They can then continue to provide a complementary space that maintains a broad, multi-lineage conversation and which serves as a space for cross-fertilization and pollination between different systems.

The future of Buddhist Geeks is in helping enable one of these emerging meta-sanghas.

Note: After writing the first draft of this post I was delighted to discover that a fellow teacher named Jeff Carreira has written something on the idea of the meta-sangha as well, and his reflections are well worth considering: http://jeffcarreira.com/awakening-in-the-age-of-the-meta-sangha/

I find his ideas interesting, in their own right, and also promising in that they point toward this being a co-emerging concept.