This is just a brief statement as to why, although I write in an occasional blog, that nevertheless, I do not belong to a sangha, social or virtual. Of course, I take Refuge, but only a a subjective inclination of the will, not as an external social expression.
The reason is easily understood. As far as I can tell: the modern sangha is largely a mess. Visiting virtual sanghas has demonstrated this to my satisfaction.
Most online sanghas, and their web links, seem confused about, or, worse, uninterested in, their own foundational principles. They expound on plenaty of culturally-related activities and issues, such as Obon festivities, preach unchallenging “feel good” sermons, engage in “churchy uplift” … while simultanesously maintaining a non-noble silence about basics such as the nature of Amida, Shinjin, Deep Listening, and the great saints Shinran and Rennyo. For example, a Shin podcast to which I have repeatedly listened featured two “experts” in the field confessing their confusion about Amida’s existence and Shinjin: a kind of doubt that could only arise in minds that in fact do not have expertise in the area.
Of course, I do understand that any religion must – for it to be both universal and pragmatic – find a balance between simple fundamentalism and overly-intellectual mythicism. For me, the ideal condition must lie somewhere between the two extremes.
To understand what I am saying, the reader is directed to examples of the “two kinds” of extremes, as follow below.
1. Simple, non-scholarly Shin:
… and …
2. Complex, overly-mythicist Shin:
By this time, the reader is entitled to say, “Quit your whining”. Don’t I have anything positive to say? Sure I do, as exemplified in the following links:
The point, however, is that to the best of my knowledge there are very few modern sanghas that emphaise and promulgate both of Shin’s basic truths, namely that:
1. Amida is a real Buddha; a transcendent being who works and whose work, according to Shinran, is both the unfolding of the Dharma and ultimately “inconceivable”;
2. Amida also has a symbolic role that points beyond Monk-Dharmakara Amida to the Buddha’s ineffable cosmic Dharmakaya Body ; and a symbol, as well as a concrete reality, of our enlightenment and salvation.
Perfect balance may be an impossibility for any humanly-operated institution and is probably just too much to hope for. Yet I see (in my perhaps limited vision) a sangha that is unnecessarily imperfect, and needs a good dosage of reform performed with the motivation for, and express purpose of, attaining the ideal of perfect – or at least near-perfect – balance, between fundamentalism and mythicism.