The 2017 FCM Mahasangha Member Gathering was held in Tampa the weekend of March 24th to celebrate and deepen our connection as a sangha body. During the weekend we explored "American Buddhism," and in particular how our greater "Maha" sangha manifests our Buddhist values in community and in the world. We also celebrated our lineage together through both beautiful formal ceremonies and many casual and joyful moments of connection. We asked a diverse group of members, from "long-timers" to brand new, from early 30s to more "mature", to share their reflections of what the weekend meant to them. With much gratitude to our members, below, for these sharings.
Betsy Arizu, Tampa (FCM Board President)
As we chanted the Evening Chant together on the first night of the Mahasangha I was filled with awe and inspiration, hearing our voices joined so beautifully together as we honored the Buddha. I could feel an energy and power in the Dharma Hall filled with old friends, new friends, local friends, friends from afar, all brothers and sisters acknowledging our capacity and commitment to awaken, individually and collectively. What a joy and honor to experience being part of a sangha, especially a mahasangha.
I thoroughly enjoyed our weekend discussions on Buddhism in America. I find it fascinating how Buddhism spread from India throughout Asia in such a peaceful and organic way while taking on unique and distinctive flavors and forms in each region and culture it traveled to. And now as Buddhism takes root in America I see how profound and relevant the teachings are to this time and place in history and how it is unfolding in its own rich and unique way in our culture. As we discussed with Fred FCM’s vision, mission, and core values, he told the story of FCM and how it started in his living room in Naples. Later came the purchase of property on Nebraska Avenue and now the next step is to build a retreat center of our own to bring more and affordable retreat opportunities to our sangha. We are so fortunate to be part of the Florida Community of Mindfulness on this path of awakening.
Other highlights of the Mahasangha were the small group discussions, the mindful work groups, the neighborhood clean up, the delicious meals, and the uplifting and meaningful ceremonies. I thank Fred for his vision and leadership during the Mahasangha and for recognizing how valuable and renewing it is for our community to come together yearly in this fashion.
Carly Johnston, Tampa (New Member)
My immediate refection about the Mahasangha Gathering was of special moments where I felt part of a community of loving and kind people. Although I knew very few, I felt the welcoming energy of all of those around me. I watched people from afar at times and rejoiced in their closeness while other times I saw many who wandered through the weekend with an openness of invitation for meeting others. I think what felt most comfortable for me was the genuine positive attitude that I experienced. People were willing to share and express their feelings on various topics that were being discussed and invited others to their circle of conversation. This provided me with good resources and opened up opportunity for questions which encouraged more communication. I felt a warm and caring nature from the group.
I was most surprised and awed with the professional approach for coordinating the entire weekend…from program to food preparation and delivery in a timely fashion. Watching how fluid everything seemed to flow was quite impressive. Having been a professional meeting planner, I appreciate the time, work and effort of many people coming together to make such an event look flawless and successful. I realized I was part of a group of dedicated and talented people who took pride in their work —- all coming together for the good of the Community. I’m very proud to be part of FCM and look to the future to contribute what I am able.
And, not to be forgotten…… “thank you” for the generous opportunity to experience a very special weekend.
Christopher Lee Nguyen (Naples, WakeUp Leader for Southwest Florida)
Yesterday my friend and coworker died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was around my age, and had been supportive friend in my career training. He helped me get past many obstacles on the job, and my computer is full of notes I received from him. We often get busy in life and never take the time to be together and get to know each other deeply until it is too late.
The Mahagathering is a great opportunity to insure we don’t have any regrets by being able to practice being together. It’s a chance for us to realize that we are not alone; never were alone; and never will be. That is a wonderful thing. I think Liễu Quán expresses it very beautifully in his gatha from the early 1700s, “The fruit of transcendent wisdom, can be realized by being wonderfully together.”
Coming together in openness to practice deep sharing and deep listening is a very profound practice. It creates a space where my Buddha-nature can unfold and shine brightly. Being able to meet new people and be inspired by their aspirations and the resounding sound of the sangha echoing out “same, not different” is a precious jewel when you live far away from the center.
Whether singing together, sitting together, or even picking up trash outside together, it is not a matter of what we are doing but that we are together as a living sangha creating a refuge and open space for all sangha members to be nourished by the collective energy of togetherness and actualize coming together “as a river”.
I offer gratitude and thanks to all my sangha brothers and sister, near and far away, for everything they do and for helping to create a sangha where I have the opportunity to be nourished by the fruit of transcendent wisdom by being wonderfully together.
Fran Reilly, Naples (Longtime Mindful Yoga Leader for FCM)
Dear Tampa Sangha,
I wanted to write a note of appreciation to all of you for your hospitality, sharing, teachings, feeding us on so many levels and opening our hearts and minds. The Mahasangha weekend was truly a gathering of spiritual friends and cultivated a deeper appreciation of our Sangha community for me and I’m sure for others as well.
The food was amazing and nourishing; the opportunity to interact and support each other in work groups and small group interactions and the overall attitude of support and community was pervasive and nourishing as well. The planning and thoughtfulness of all of your hard work was evident and your welcoming attitude was heartwarming. I felt greeted as a dear friend and all of the hugs and smiles brought a smile to my own heart.
The dharma talks were enriching and the ceremony on Saturday evening , with the beautiful cello, chanting, the readings, the fire, all under the stars in the beautiful garden setting was especially inspiring.
The whole weekend opened my heart and inspired my practice.
Kerri Vantreese (Tampa, New Member)
For me, the mahasangha weekend was filled with opportunity to take yummy bites to satiate not only the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual appetite... deepening the sense of what community actually IS and how vital its heartbeat is in support of FCM's commitment to flow like a gentle dharma river.
The joy of exploring relationship in such a wide variety of ways was exceptional... from blissfully fun selfless service, shared meals at FCM, shared home space thanks to our B n B program, as well as multitudes of other fantabulous moments in small group discussions, the vibrant, palpable essence of the collective sangha and the special energy of sharing one-on-one time with old and new friends alike!
bowing in deep gratitude,
Maria Sgambati, Tampa (Our Mahasangha Gathering Noble Coordinator)
What a joy it was to practice together with the community during the MahaSangha gathering. Although I’ve been an FCM member at a distance for 4 years, I began practicing in the Plum Village tradition about 12 years ago. I was happy to have been asked to be gathering coordinator, since having moved to Tampa in February, it gave me a wonderful opportunity to both support the sangha through self-less service and get to know my dharma brothers and sisters more deeply.
For me, every moment of the gathering became a moment of practice, in which I asked, what is needed right now? I always tried to return to my breathing, to keep my steps and voice calm and compassionate, to really slow down and take my time to listen and be with what was, even when toilets overflowed! The whole weekend was such a rich experience, but in particular the series of talks on Buddhism gave me a deeper sense of the historical foundation of the practice path. I am grateful to all who made this weekend possible.