The titles scream at me everywhere, in my email, in conversations with friends, on the television, on the radio, even on my eyelids when I try to rest at night -Amnesty International, Save the Children, ACLU, Human Rights Council, Americans for Freedom, Jews for Jesus, APAC, AVAZ, AA, NA, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, even my local favorite - Uptown Bill's Small Mall. They shout, "Adopt our cause and change the world, or at least your neighborhood." It's enough to make a body consider renting the Unabomber's cabin and starting an Anthrax mail campaign.
Today, I sit across from a professed Buddhist. He asks, "Who is your sangha?" My sangha? I'm supposed to have a sangha?
I reply, "I don't have one."
He says, "It gets awful lonely out there."
Out where? In the world? I should feel lonely if I cannot recite a list of organizations and groups I belong to and support? At such times I feel as if I am from some other planet. I hardly ever feel lonelier than when I sit among a particular group of people who profess a common belief or cause. Inevitably, I feel trapped, as if the members will soon tie me to a chair (or at least stare at me pointedly) and insist that I pledge allegiance to their beliefs. Those around me start to look like Chatty Cathy dolls. Pull their string and they will recite the approved phrases. Eventually, something deep inside me resists. "Shut up." it says, "Just shut the fuck up." This practice does not lead to popularity.
In my more grandiose moments, I feel a wondrous connectivity as I walk down the street or sit in a local coffee shop. It's a much deeper connection than I feel when I am in a "special" group. I see all of life as my sangha. My membership card is my DNA. I start up conversations with almost everyone I meet. How could they not want to stop and chat with someone like me? When I am filled with such enlightenment I insist that others realize it. I smile and nod sagely as I listen to their whining. I puff out my chest and congratulate myself for being one of the few that is truly open to and understanding of the world's wonder. The universe becomes my sangha, my church, my political party. I begin to consider setting up a non-profit organization or a church to collect dues and carry my legacy forth unto future generations.
I have learned that such states likely are caused by small seizures in my temporal lobe. They are great fun nonetheless. In the sangha of Dale there is no need for priests, teachers, policemen, or politicians. My sangha is open to anyone who acts with kindness. If they want to tell me about how dangerous it is not to follow their spiritual teachings, if they want to carp about the ignorance of other groups, or if they want me to hate and judge non-members they are not welcome. Filled with hormonal wisdom and joy I try to "teach" others to find their own path to "kindness" as I define it. I do it for the "purest" of motives. After all, it's painful to know I'm the only possessor of universal truth. It would be uncivilized of me not to share it.
In calmer times, I'm less prone to evangelizing, but my discomfort with groups remains. Their "fellowship" seems as imaginary, if not more so, than the sangha of Dale. Their "causes" or "rules" for membership feel like cellular membranes designed to keep out the "undesirables" or those who are "toxic" to the group. Clearly group "membranes" are natural. Perhaps we could not exist without them. Perhaps without membership in groups we would simply dissolve into a morass of formless goo. I don't know. I do know that when I force myself to align with the expectations of a group or its teacher I feel like a patch of goo. The stronger or more passionate the group's "cause", the gooier I become.
I think I'll avoid special groups for a while. Causes blind me. The more I focus on a cause the dimmer my life becomes. Everything I see, taste, touch or feel is filtered; its value determined by how well or how poorly it supports the cause. Eventually, I lose contact with the wonder of my brief time in this world. So let me be free of groups today. Let me experience my connection to the universe even if it is just a figment of my imagination stemming from some strange spark inside my skull. I sometimes worry about choosing this path. I wonder if my life will be meaningless without a recognized cause or purpose, that I will be lonely and filled with pain, that I may even be hated by those pursuing causes. Oh well. I prefer to risk pain for the sake of joy than to sacrifice joy to avoid pain. If I must have a group or sangha, let it be like an amoeba whose only membrane is kindness; an amoeba moving and flowing past more rigid groups and their important causes. Anyhow, amoebae have more DNA than humans (231 times more) and they can survive by eating most anything (even poop). They just don't feel the need to brag about it.