SuttaCentral

Practicing without a Saṅgha

Hello friends! I live in Mexico City, without a proper Theravada Saṅgha close by. The nearest monasteries are both in different states (yes, there are only two in the country, that I know of). What I’ve found are “Vipassana meditation centers,” but I remain unconvinced, as they all seem to be a syncretistic mixture of elements, with a focus on practicing “mindfulness” and not necessarily the full breadth of the Buddha’s teachings.

I’ve been practicing on my own, reading the EBTs, reading forums, listening to pre-recorded Dhamma talks, etc. It’s worked well for the most part, but in days like today—an Uposatha day—I really wish I had a community to practice with, who share my love and gratitude to the Dhamma.

So, two questions: Is anybody aware of any Theravada monasteries in Mexico City? And if not, does anybody have any tips on practicing alone? Like, if there were an online Saṅgha that would be cool, for example (this forum is pretty close to that, I imagine, but I can’t know, because I’ve never practiced in a Saṅgha, of course).

Much Metta.

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Oh nice, finally a confirmation I may not be wrong that 14th day is the day before new moon. The 8th, 14th and 15th was confusing at first :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: Just need to figure out what the special days are :thinking:

Anyway, there’s a lot of streams happening around weekends where you can hang out and ask Sangha some questions about the practice. Here’s some of my favourites that I know of:
Amaravati Zoom group meditation & Q&A (8AM your time)
Bhikkhuni Zoom event (requires Zoom account for this one)
BSWA Events (Your lucky day Sutta Class is back this week!)

That’s the ones I know so far, maybe someone will add more!

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The Buddha recommends practising alone in liaison with a chosen teacher, and these days that means reading. An isolated practitioner is in the ideal position for clear reflection. “Comes to an agreement” means comparing the meaning of new sutta information with that already known and established, experienced through practice. This present sutta is delivered by the Buddha to a layperson of another religion and the suttas most relevant to western laypersons are those delivered by or addressed to Ananda, nuns, Rahula or laypeople, or concerning the Buddha-to-be’s pre-enlightenment experience.

“When, on observing that the monk is purified with regard to qualities based on delusion, he places conviction in him. With the arising of conviction, he visits him & grows close to him. Growing close to him, he lends ear. Lending ear, he hears the Dhamma. Hearing the Dhamma, he remembers it. Remembering it, he penetrates the meaning of those dhammas. Penetrating the meaning, he comes to an agreement through pondering those dhammas. There being an agreement through pondering those dhammas, desire arises. With the arising of desire, he becomes willing. Willing, he contemplates (lit: “weighs,” “compares”). Contemplating, he makes an exertion. Exerting himself, he both realizes the ultimate meaning of the truth with his body and sees by penetrating it with discernment.”—MN 95

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I just use an Uposatha calendar, haha. Tracking the phases of the moon is too much of a hassle for me.

Thanks so much for these recommendations! :heart: Much metta.

Thanks so much for sharing the Sutta quote and the explanation. So it seems like one can do a good deal of progress while alone, right? In your experience, does there come a point where one needs to have the support of the community?

Much metta!

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In the modern situation you can make all your progress alone. Indeed isolation provides the motivation and clarity that’s essential, reading is all that’s necessary. The three main authors are appropriate to different stages of practice. For the foundation to build on Bikkhu Bodhi’s “The Noble Eightfold Path” is recommended. Social practice is not a feature of the suttas, and since the advent of the internet practitioners have become confused with advanced aspects of the path which are not relevant to their experience. In general the suttas are addressed at a level above that of the western lay practitioner. Bikkhu Bodhi is intent on showing the internal unity of the noble eightfold path and the practitioner should make it their goal to understand that logic:

“The essence of the Buddha’s teaching can be summed up in two principles: the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The first covers the side of doctrine, and the primary response it elicits is understanding; the second covers the side of discipline, in the broadest sense of that word, and the primary response it calls for is practice. In the structure of the teaching these two principles lock together into an indivisible unity called the dhamma-vinaya, the doctrine-and-discipline, or, in brief, the Dhamma. The internal unity of the Dhamma is guaranteed by the fact that the last of the Four Noble Truths, the truth of the way, is the Noble Eightfold Path, while the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, right view, is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Thus the two principles penetrate and include one another, the formula of the Four Noble Truths containing the Eightfold Path and the Noble Eightfold Path containing the Four Truths.” —-Preface, “The Noble Eightfold Path.”

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And then there is SN 45.2 Noble friends are the whole of the holy life.

There are so many online live meditations and Dhamma talks now because of the pandemic. It has been a great boost to my feeling of sangha while I live in a place that also has a dearth of Theravada nearby. I hope many of these online programs continue even as some centers in the US open for in-person events.
Here are my favorites
Blue Lotus Temple

BAUS

Buddhist Insights
https://buddhistinsights.org/events/

Tilorien
https://tilorien.org/en/isangha/

If you can find programs by Ayya Anopama, she is a Spanish speaker, from her time in Cuba. I’m not sure where she is now.

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Depending on level of practice, SN 45.2 “Noble friends are the whole of the holy life” can be interpreted as follows:

“Now if I, having gone forth, were to think thoughts of sensuality, thoughts of ill will, or thoughts of harmfulness: great is the community of this cosmos. And in the great community of this cosmos there are brahmans & contemplatives endowed with psychic power, clairvoyant, skilled [in reading] the minds of others. They can see even from afar. Even up close, they are invisible. With their awareness they know the minds of others. They would know this of me: “Look, my friends, at this clansman who — though he has in good faith gone forth from the home life into homelessness — remains overcome with evil, unskillful mental qualities.” There are also devas endowed with psychic power, clairvoyant, skilled [in reading] the minds of others. They can see even from afar. Even up close, they are invisible. With their awareness they know the minds of others. They would know this of me: “Look, my friends, at this clansman who — though he has in good faith gone forth from the home life into homelessness — remains overcome with evil, unskillful mental qualities.”’ So he reflects on this: ‘My persistence will be aroused & not lax; my mindfulness established & not confused; my body calm & not aroused; my mind centered & unified.’ Having made the cosmos his governing principle, he abandons what is unskillful, develops what is skillful, abandons what is blameworthy, develops what is unblameworthy, and looks after himself in a pure way. This is called the cosmos as a governing principle.”—AN 3.40

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I think these are interesting questions; one thing I was just reflecting upon is that if you are part of a community you might tend to rely more on senior teachers who are usually highly regarded within that community. At least on some occasions I have seen that when one has a doubt, one goes and ask one of the senior teachers in the Monastery.
Being isolated and reading the suttas for yourself and the posts on a website like this will give many more different points of view (just to give an example, @paul1 interpretation of the Anapanasati sutta in a recent post is different to that which I had taken for granted as I had heard it from an Ajahn).
Since different teachers seem to have different takes on some of the basic teachings of the suttas, my thought is that if you practice with the right teacher it’s probably ideal to be part of a community; otherwise you might be better off being isolated and using websites such as this to have access to different points of view and interpretations of the teachings.