Do I have to meditate with other people?
You don’t have to, but it can help depending on your personality.
For most people, doing anything with other people encourages them to do it more often and more regularly. Whether it’s exercising, playing sports, playing music or writing, for all of these activities, it can help to have someone who’s doing them with you.
I’ve have workout days with friends and family where we go to the gym and workout together. It’s inspiring looking across the gym and seeing everyone exercising and working away at the same thing you’re wanting to do. It’s motivating and it increases my stamina to continue doing it.
Same with artistic skills. It helps to gather with others to learn from and be motivated by. It helps to learn form an experienced teacher. I’ve taken drawing classes, music classes, and writing classes. There’s a lot to be said for doing something with others and learning from others, especially when they’re interested in what you’re interested in. When they’re as passionate about what you’re passionate about.
In some Indian meditation traditions, there’s actually a word for this. The Buddhist and Jains refer to the sangha. The Sikh tradition calls it sangat. Both sangha and sangat are from the same root word sang, which means association or gathering or community. In Buddhism, a sangha is a group of people who practice the teachings of the Buddha together in a community. The sangha is considered one of the three jewels of Buddhism in which monks and serious practitioners take refuge.
Three Jewels of Buddhism
The three jewels are:
- The Jewel of the Buddha, the fully enlightened one
- The Jewel of the Dharma, the teachings expounded by the Buddha
- The Jewel of the Sangha, the monastic order of Buddhism that practices that the Dharma teachings of the Buddha
There’s even a Pali, one of the main languages of Buddhists scriptures, chant for the Three Jewels of Buddhism:
- Buddham saranam gacchami. “I take refuge in the Buddha.”
- Dhammam saranam gacchami. “I take refuge in the Dharma.”
- Sangham saranam gacchami. “I take refuge in the Sangha.”
So yes, it helps to be part of a meditation community, just like it helps to be part of any community that shares your aspirations and intentions.
How Important is a Meditation Community?
Do we have to be a part, part of a meditation community to have success at meditation?
We can phrase the question as do we have to be part of a musical community to have success at music?
Certainly there are many great musicians who were self-taught and achieved tremendous expertise. They’re the musical prodigies or geniuses of our age. But most great musicians are a part of some sort of musical community where they exchange tips and techniques to speed up their learning and accomplishments. Similarly, visual artists or movement artists or writers have communities. They gather in groups, take classes and learn from each other.
Writers are an especially interesting example because most writers work by themselves alone in front of a keyboard but many of them still gather in writing groups to get feedback from each other. Many still seek out guidance from successful authors.
It’s the same with meditation. You don’t have to be a part of a meditation community. Especially now with all that’s available to us online and free of charge. There’s videos and courses and meditation apps. There’s podcasts. Through all of these we can get tips and techniques, direction and inspiration. We can gather momentum and passion.
We might even find an online or virtual community to be a part of.
Being a Part of Virtual Communities
I’ve been part of various meditation communities, both in person and virtual. Some of them were wonderful and inspiring while others were suspect and discouraging. So I’ve experienced both sides of the coin.
But I do like gathering in community with fellow meditators who share the intention of a dedicated meditation practice who share the intention of wanting themselves to be better and thereby make the world better.
I try to go on a retreat regularly, either in person or virtually.
Being part of a meditation community is usually really helpful. Not always, but usually.
Most of the time we are like writers but instead of sitting alone in front of a keyboard, we’re sitting alone on top of a meditation cushion. But it’s still helpful to find like-minded meditators to connect with and practice with.
You never know what new style or tradition of meditation you might get exposed to. It can be exciting. It can be beneficial and it can be motivating.