To Practice Alone or Together? Ying Cong’s reflection on Sangha day.

3 mins read
Published on Feb 23, 2024

The Sangha, a community of like-minded seekers, was an essential element I had overlooked in my spiritual journey. 

Over the years, my solitary approach to spiritual growth underwent a transformative shift. 

Today, the observance of Sangha Day signifies the power and importance of a community, marking my transition from walking alone to walking together. 

Origins of Sangha Day: A Historical Prelude

Sangha Day’s roots are steeped in a pivotal moment in Buddhist history. It commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 enlightened disciples, ordained by the Buddha, on the full moon day of the third lunar month. This day, also known as Magha Puja, is when Buddha delivered teachings that would become the bedrock of the Buddhist community: 

To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, to purify one’s mind – This is the teaching of the Buddhas” – Dhammapada verse 183

Sangha Day celebrates the unity and togetherness of spiritual friends: those who strive to uphold this teaching. As the Buddha taught Venerable Ananda on another occasion, Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, and admirable camaraderie make up the whole of the holy life. 

However, this understanding eluded me for years… until I met her. 

The Scout Camp Retreat: A Doggedly Solitary Pursuit

My journey began at a makeshift retreat center, previously a scout camp nestled away from Singapore’s urban sprawl. The air was drenched with a mix of anticipation and serenity, a striking contrast to the city’s perpetual motion. Seated on my blue cushion, surrounded by fellow practitioners, I embarked on a 10-day silent retreat. I was determined to grit my way through alone, as I always have for most things in my life.

A Fateful Encounter

Yet, it was amid this isolation that an unexpected connection formed. It was on the retreat’s final day, the silence finally broken, that our paths crossed. She was there, her presence a gentle yet undeniable contrast to the camp’s starkness. She was perusing the array of Dhamma books neatly arranged on the bookshelves. Our initial conversation, hesitant yet curious, blossomed into a meaningful exchange about our meditation experiences. Before we left the camp, we exchanged numbers, and long story short, she is my fiancée today. 

This serendipitous meeting, much like the unexpected assembly of the Buddha’s disciples, was a turning point, leading me from solitude to the discovery of a spiritual community.

A Gradual Integration: Discovering Community

When we first started dating, pair meditation was a frequent couple activity. Over time, she introduced me to her Buddhist friends, and I began joining group sittings at the Botanic Garden. Gradually, I began to understand that just as the 1,250 arahants found strength in their community, so too was I finding strength in mine. My interactions, initially marked by a guarded nature, slowly transformed as I embraced the communal spirit of these gatherings. 

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The communal aspects of Buddhism, once foreign to me, began to breathe new life into my practice, revealing the rich tapestry of shared spiritual exploration. These shared practices and discussions, far from diluting my solitary meditation, enhanced it, imbuing my spiritual journey with a collective vigour and purpose. 

Group sittings were more than just an accountability device to show up and sit through the hour – the idea that there are others on the path also gave me more spiritual energy. Observing how selflessly the others do dana of food and service also inspired me to give more of myself. And being human, I do still have long periods of low mindfulness, but one plus point of being surrounded by conscientious fellow practitioners is that I catch myself quickly. 

Sangha Day Reimagined

Through these experiences, my understanding of Sangha Day evolved. 

It transformed from a historical commemoration to a personal celebration of spiritual camaraderie. In this journey, my spiritual exploration expanded to encompass the voices and support of others.

To me, Sangha Day holds a significance far beyond its roots in an ancient assembly. It serves as a symbol of the transformative voyage from solitude to unity, from individual meditation to communal enrichment. This day becomes a living testament to the Buddha’s wisdom that the spiritual path is not only about individual enlightenment but also about shared journeys. The parallel between my transition from a silent retreat participant to an active member of a spiritual community underscores the joy and growth inherent in togetherness. 

Sangha Day acts as a poignant reminder that, while the path to enlightenment is personal, it is the spiritual friends (kalyāṇa-mittatā) who illuminate the path and give us strength. They become our guiding lights, bringing us back to the path whenever we falter and infusing our practice with the richness of joy and connectedness.

May the spirit of Sangha Day resonate in our hearts. May this celebration continue to inspire us to walk together on this path of enlightenment. 

Wise Steps: 

  1. Expand your circle by signing up for a meditation retreat or Buddhist activity! Who knows, beyond making new friends, you might meet THE one 😉
  2. Find your ‘tribe’ to support you in your spiritual journey! You can explore different communities across Singapore here (Click the ‘Community’ tab). 
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