Meetings are a wonderful opportunity to practice skillful speaking and listening. When we gather to discuss and take care of our Sangha, there are opportunities for members to present gifts to our Sangha and for our members to practice receiving gifts. An important purpose of meetings is to practice mindfulness. It is important that the Sangha practice during meetings in ways that bring ease, peace, and joy to meeting participants. The process of making decisions is as important to the harmony of the Sangha as any action that the Sangha can take. We recognize that like all phenomena, these guidelines are impermanent, and may change as needed.
Thay invited us to be mindful at meetings and suggested that we communicate with each other using kind and respectful speech and deep listening in order to share our insight so that we can make the best decisions for the beneﬁt of the Sangha. The following is an aspiration that Thay offers for our use:
Dear Lord Buddha and All Our Ancestral Teachers, We vow to go through this meeting in a spirit of togetherness as we review all ideas and consolidate them to reach a harmonious understanding or consensus. We vow to use the methods of loving speech and deep listening in order to bring about the success of this meeting as an offering to the Three Jewels. We vow not to hesitate to share our ideas and insights but also vow not to say anything when the feeling of irritation is present in us. We are resolutely determined not to allow tension to build up in this meeting. If any one of us senses the start of tension, we will stop immediately and practice Beginning Anew right away so as to re-establish an atmosphere of togetherness and harmony. (from Joyfully Together)
Here are the guidelines that we use for meetings of the Laughing Rivers Sangha:
- Each member’s ideas and comments are a gift to the Sangha. We will practice to listen without judging and should first identify the gift offered before considering its usefulness.
- We will practice to express ourselves clearly and as briefly as possible. Talking over people, interrupting speakers, and rushing to speak as others pause are some ways that we limit others’ ability to speak.
- Repeating points that we already made, speaking for long periods, and making comments that are dealing with multiple issues at once, can be intimidating and overwhelming. We will practice to make every effort to present simply and briefly.
- We will practice to be careful before we represent the views of others who are not present.
- The Mindfulness Trainings present many opportunities for practice during meetings:
- Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views.
- We shall learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences.
- Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves I the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech.
- Aware that words can create sufferings or happiness, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully and constructively, using only words that inspire hope and conﬁdence.
6. We will practice speaking with candor and gentleness to safeguard the Sangha.
Tony Silvestre, True Hall of Peace, is convener of Rainbow Buddhists of Pittsburgh, a social and educational group for LGBT people and their friends. Other members of Laughing Rivers Sangha in Pittsburgh contributed to this article.