The Next Buddha is Sangha

Dear Abhi-dhamma,

I have practiced meditation on and off for years. It is so frustrating when I stop, to get restarted in a daily practice. I was in a Sangha, and moved from the area, and very far to return. I am sure others have this struggle. Thank you for your assistance.


Remote Sangha Member


Dear Remote,

Thanks so much for your question. Living far from a Sangha can be quite challenging, – especially if you have been fortunate enough to have experienced the benefits and support of being a part of a vibrant and thriving Sangha!

Fortunately, in the internet age, this is not as great a challenge as it used to be. I’m going to offer you many possibilities. What is best for you will depend on where you are in practice, what you are looking for, and your temperament.

If you’d like some beginning meditation instruction, Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein’s  course Insight Meditation: An In-Depth Correspondence Course on How to Meditate  can be an excellent support to understanding, establishing, and supporting practice.

If you are interested in deepening your understanding of any aspect of the Dharma, there are a myriad of resources online. You could start at Dharma Seed which is a repository of teachings given at the Insight Meditation Society, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Gaia House and other retreat centers world wide. Is there a topic you of interest? Search for it and  you will find a treasure trove of talks. Is there a teacher you want to hear? You can explore talks by that teacher.

Perhaps you could gather some friends in your home or elsewhere in your community to listen to guided audio meditation instructions and/or a Dharma talk, and a Sangha is born! You could meet weekly or monthly, for example, focusing on a topic. For  links to resources of guided instruction, check out the list on the Insight Meditation Society website.

Regarding focusing in a small group on a topic, you may be interested in starting a Kalyana Mitta group. Kalyana Mitta means spiritual friend. The Buddha said that having spiritual friends are the whole of the holy life – so your desire to be connected to a Sangha is a wonderful impulse! These are peer led groups meeting and focusing on exploring a topic or a dharma book. Spirit Rock Meditation Center has some good resources on Kalyana Mitta groups here.

If you’d like to delve deeper into the Dharma and you are an experienced dharma student, you could apply to the Integrated Study and Practice Program (ISPP) through the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS)   or the Dedicated Practitioner Program (DPP) through the Spirit Rock Meditation Center.  These programs have different formats and schedules, but a group of students move through a study of the teachings of the Buddha under the guidance of a mentor. There are several study retreats during the course of the program and communication amongst the community through listserves or Skype in between.

Depending upon your age, you may be interested in the BCBS Going Forth Virtual Community.  It is intended to create and sustain a virtual community that inspires the daily practice and guides the ethical living of a far-flung network of Buddhist practitioners who are retired or close to retirement. Information can be found on the BCBS special programs page listed above.

You may also be interested in the online programs at Gregory Kramer developed an interpersonal meditation practice called Insight Dialogue. He and his senior teachers offer residential retreats world wide, but there is also a very rich and vibrant online community. You can learn more about how to become involved here.

If you have a smartphone you can use the Insight Timer app to create or join a community.  When you use this timer you can see how many people are meditating worldwide, and you can also create your own group … perhaps of the people you left behind in your Sangha when you moved? Meditate together, have discussions, stay connected.

Finally, are you sure that there is no local Sangha? The Buddhist Insight Network has a searchable data base of Sanghas and sitting groups. Check it out here!

With metta,

Elaine Retholtz