There is an expression in the Taoist tradition, known as “fire feeding upon fire,” which explains why practitioners of that tradition, like the Buddhist, Hindu and Zenkondo paths, value participation in a community of practitioners, or sangha.
While wood (or another substance) might burn and produce a fire, there is nothing which produces the intensity of energy and illumination that occurs when the fire feeds the fire itself.
Take a single candle, and you can illuminate a room. But bring the wicks of two candles together, that the intensity of the flame grows exponentially.
And so it is with the Dharma path. When we engage our spiritual practice, and begin serving others, with the intention of alleviating suffering and the causes of suffering for ourselves and for all sentient beings, we fill the space around us with illumination — Sacred Light or Pure Awareness — the unquantifiable energy that Einstein refered to as “zeropoint energy” from which all matter arises.
And so the work of the solo practitioner serves the world well.
But when we come together and practice as part of an intentional community… When we serve with fuller, more open hearts, because we have united in purpose, in truth and in awareness itself… the space around us, which becomes illuminated is exponentially larger, and we literally fill the multiverse with that Pure Awareness and Light.
The focus of fire feeding fire is not assimilation, but rather integration. Each bringing that which is uniquely their gift to offer, but forgetting the self, and allowing the common good to be served without losing sight of our individual responsibilities, paths, and insights.
The sangha is an opportunity for bring that insight to the table, where we can offer it freely and with pure love, not out of an egoistic need for recognition, but rather as a simple offering… a spiritual tithe, if you will, to be used by the whole community as fuel, or what Ram Das calls “grist for the mill”.
My Root Guru, Ma Jaya, would tell us that the key to longevity of spiritual practice was to learn how to “drink as you pour”. And that metaphor is simply another metaphor for the Taoist “fire feeding fire”.
“Purify your mind,” Ma would tell us, “with your heart of love.” And when we come together as sangha, that is what we do… We purify our minds, and become One Heart of Love.