The word "sangha," quite simply, means "community." The Benicia Sangha was founded in 1994, by Patrick Thornton, PhD, a practitioner of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Patrick is no longer our teacher as he has moved away from the area, but our group (20-30 core participants as of 2017) has continued to meet, twice monthly, on Sunday evenings to meditate and discuss the Buddhist dharma from a Vipassana/Insight point of view with teachers from the Bay Area.
Our Mission Statement:Benicia Sangha is an Insight meditation community open to all, that offers opportunities for individuals to learn from the dharma, deepen their understanding of Buddhism, and strengthen their own spiritual practice.
Each Sunday meeting (6:00 - 8:00 pm) consists of a 30-40 minute meditation period, social "tea time," and a 40-50 minute dharma talk by a Buddhist teacher. "Dharma" refers to the teachings of the historical Buddha. Our Dharma talks are given to us by a variety of Buddhist teachers from the Bay Area. Our teachers are most commonly grounded in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition (the earliest known teachings of the Buddha), one of the primary schools of Buddhism now studied in the West. In addition to our basis in Insight meditation, we have teachers who provide a perspective from the Zen tradition.
Everyone is invited to attend, listen and explore the teachings. We think that you will find that they are universal in nature. Buddhism is not a mystical or esoteric philosophy. Quite the contrary, it offers practical life teachings and wisdom to people of all religious backgrounds.The Buddha taught respect for all religions and, in fact, encouraged his followers to question his teachings. Like the Buddha, we encourage questioning the Dharma, the teachers, and the sangha, as well as our inner conceptions.
When Do We Meet? Alternate Sunday evenings each month. Meetings begin promptly at 6:00 p.m. with a 30-40-minute silent sit, followed by a 10 minute tea break/social time period. The final hour is devoted to a dharma talk by a guest teacher. Other activities have included study groups, films, and potluck community gatherings. Please refer to the section, "Calendar and Activities" for more information.
Where do we meet? St. Paul's Episcopal Church at 120 J Street (at the corner of First Street) in Benicia, California. Enter on J Street at the far end of the building; walk down the steps to the lower level. You'll see our sign on the door.
Directions: If you're coming from either North or South of Benicia on Route 780, take the Benicia 2nd Street (downtown) exit. Turn left at the stop light as you come off the freeway. This puts you on 2nd Street (as if you're going into the business district). Then, turn right at the first stoplight (East Military). Go one block and turn left as the first stoplight (1st Street ). Travel two blocks on 1st Street to J Street. St. Paul's Episcopal Church is on the far left corner. (There is street parking on 1st and J Streets.)
Handicapped Entrance: A handicapped accessible entrance is available by entering from First Street (instead of East J Street). Enter through the driveway behind the church (between the church and a commercial building). The church will be on your left. Enter through the first door. It leads directly into the room where the Sangha is held.
Is there a fee for the Sangha? The Benicia Sangha functions as Buddhist gatherings have for thousands of years - on the basis of "dana," the Pali word for giving and generosity. This Buddhist tradition is based on the premise that the Buddha's teachings are so precious that attaching a specific monetary value is impossible. Consequently, Buddhist teachers offer their teachings freely. In return, those benefiting from a teaching have the opportunity to express their appreciation, in a financial way if they are able, by making a contribution at whatever level is personally appropriate. Contributions go toward supporting our teachers' lives, as well as overhead, including room rent, insurance, and website hosting.
What is Insight (Vipassana) Meditation? "Vipassana," means insight into the true nature of reality or "to see things as they really are." It is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation, It was practiced by Gautama Buddha more than 2,500 years ago, and he, in turn, taught it to others. The goal of meditation is the eradication of suffering, a state of liberation, and the highest possible level of happiness. Vipassanā meditation has been reintroduced in the Theravada-tradition by Ledi Sayadawand Mogok Sayadaw and popularized by S. N. Goenka.
Insight meditation is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the interconnection of mind and body that can be experienced by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that interconnect and thus condition the mind. Our mind is a magnificent part of us, and yet we don't always use it in the most skillful manner. Insight meditation can train the mind, in order to help effectively harness its resources. The most common meditative practice is to concentrate on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. Many think that meditative practice necessarily involves pushing away thoughts that intrude in meditation. But our minds have evolved that habit of thinking and wandering! Instead of pushing them away, mediators are encouraged to observe thoughts and, after observing them, simply return to following the breath. The thoughts that arise are important, for they can lead to insight.
Meditation, which is at the heart of a Buddhist's practice, is also often incorrectly thought to be characterized by a mystical or magical state of nirvana. More accurately, it is a practice of concentration that can lead both to deep insight and a physiological state of calm. There is more than one way to enter into and practice meditation. Here is an example of a basic meditation instruction, and here are a series of 3 - 19 minute guided meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. Visit the "Resources" page for information on meditation instruction courses.
What is the etiquette, or basic protocol, of the Sangha? The intention of the Sangha is to honor the teachers and the community participants in a number of ways. We ask that everyone arrive on time. We begin promptly with meditation at 6:00 p.m. If, for some unanticipated reason, you are late, please enter as quietly as possible, take a seat, and join the meditation. Our practice is to remove our shoes and leave them in the hallway when we arrive. If this is not comfortable or possible for you, we respect your choice. Completely turn off your phone and other electronic devices before you sit so not to disturb anyone's meditative state. Utilize the restroom, if possible, prior to or after the meditation period; and, in general, limit activities that could be distracting. Can you attend if you have never meditated or know nothing about Buddhism? Absolutely! As mentioned above, you won't be alone. Many meditators are "first timers" or relatively new to meditation. It is a life-long practice. If you would prefer not to meditate, feel free to arrive after meditation, for the dharma talk only. In this case, we suggest arriving around 6:45 pm. If you would feel more comfortable talking with someone before you visit for the first time, please contact Judie Donaldson, firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-771-1217. We would be happy to meet or talk with you. We also invite you to read our Welcome Guide.
Would you like to help the Sangha? There are a number of ways individuals can serve the Sangha. Those who volunteer consider it a part of their Buddhist practice
Steering Committee The Sangha is cared for by all of us, including a Steering Committee that consists of Sangha members who essentially serve as "community caretakers." The purpose of the Steering Committee is to provide skillful guidance to ensure that the Sangha is meeting the needs of individuals as well as possible. The Committee consists of: the Sangha administrator, historian, teacher recruiter, treasurer, potluck chair, and three rotating positions. There will be announcements when Steering Committee openings are available. The following individuals presently comprise the Committee: Sarah Beserra, Judie Donaldson, Barbara Ichikawa, teacher recruiter; Lars Ekdahl, Treasurer; and Laurie Baker, website & mailing list, Michael Semansky, Stacy Gardner, coordinator, David Ross, Amy Hames and Anne Petty, Teacher Recruiters. The Committee welcomes suggestions and ideas. They can be submitted to email@example.com
Sangha Opening and Closing Sangha community members are encouraged come an early to prepare the room and/or remain at the conclusion to close the room, which we rent for our meeting. We are grateful to Lars Ekdahl, Michael Semansky, Elisabeth Gulick, Steve Hall, and Steve Voight who have served the Sangha in this way. Other volunteers are welcome. Contact Michael Semansky or any other Steering Committee member if you are interested in helping with this creative and easy task.
Would you like to advance your practice by applying for a scholarship to attend a residential retreat? Sarah Beserra, a Buddhist and long-time leader of Benicia Sangha, is demonstrating the true path of a bodhisattva (a person on the path to enlightenment who is committed to the enlightenment of others) by annually offering a $1,000 prize to an individual who has never attended, but who would like to attend, a residential retreat. Each January the Sangha will announce when applications are invited (from any and all Sangha participants) for the First Retreat Program.
If you have questions or would like to be added to our email announcement of Sangha meetings write to firstname.lastname@example.org