Sangha: the buddy system

Vajrasati yoga is a daring and bold enterprise in the yoga world. It has been founded on the basis of a great belief, a belief in the potential of the individual. Many yoga schools are guru based, there is usually a founder who is also set up as an authority figure and revered as such.

There is no doubt that any movement needs a leader, someone with a vision with which others find resonance and someone who is willing to co-ordinate and act as a go between to facilitate and orchestrate some of the practical expression of that vision. But this is very different to the authority figure, which attracts a certain type of person.

The aim of Vajrasati yoga then is a community of self-empowered and self-governing teachers all committed to the central aim of shared learning for the benefit of all. This is a double-edged sword which makes for a formidable tool but has its added dangers. Where a group is ruled with unquestioned authority from above, the group can find a sense of security and can harmonise itself within those parameters, it is clear what should be done and how to do it. This relationship is inevitably unbalanced, giving a superpower status to the leader and disempowering the followers.

There is no doubt that the students from the system where the balance is more equal have a better chance to grow to their full capacity, but there are pitfalls. This kind of system, which is almost anarchic to a point, requires that natural ethics come into play; this is where the onus is on the individual to act in a respectful, generous and helpful way to their fellows in the group. It is where thoughts, speech and actions are born from an open, expansive mind and not a contracted one This will naturally require that individuals are mindful of what they think, say and do, and avoid letting themselves get carried away with un-rooted thoughts and feelings that can soon grow in directions ever more divorced from reality.

To cut a long story short, if we don’t want to be told what to do, if we believe that it is best to learn what to do, to have teachings demonstrated rather than dictated, then we need to also take on the added responsibility. Vajrasati then is the ‘grown up’ group.

Further thoughts on how to promote concord in the sangha can be found in Vajrasati: the importance of sangha.

The buddy scheme then is a great example of this, suggested by Vajrasati members; it is a great way to stay in contact. We all know how texts, e-mails and even phone messages can be misunderstood – it is very easy to get the wrong end of the stick without a live, two-way communication, without the extra information that comes with body language and facial expression. The buddy system keeps graduates and trainees in contact with one another and as a result keeps us all in a more direct relationship with one another. This is a really effective way of keeping us all informed about one another and hopefully dispel any disharmony that nearly always arises from a little too much speculation and a little too little information.

As well as promoting harmony and concord amongst us all, the buddy system will also:

*Act as a way to help trainees, to work through common difficulties in training.
There are many difficulties that occur during training that are common to all, such as worry about homework, self doubt or a misunderstanding regarding the commitments of trainees or what the training sessions aim to do and how to best support that. Many of the graduates will have gone through some of those exact same experiences and so will be able to offer advice and reassurance based on discussions and realisations that they have had. This will also release Jim from some of this kind of responsibility, which obviously, as Vajrasati grows, will become an increasing logistical impossibility for one person alone. Not only that but the insider’s view is invaluable.

* There is a dialogue between graduates and the course: As the training program develops and grows, dialogue with current participants will give graduates an opportunity to make their comments and give their feedback about this, as well as keeping them current with useful new ideas and discoveries from within the evolving training program.

* Give a sense of connection with someone out there teaching: This can serve as invaluable insight to trainees who might not realise why certain things are taught as they are, where the graduate particularly as they spend more time ‘in the field’ may well have met with some of the difficulties that the training course tries to prepare for.

* There is the huge value that a regular exchange of thoughts can bring both ways. Many of the trainees have experience in other fields that may be of use to the graduate and vice versa. And the graduate has experience of teaching and learning that they can share with the trainee.

It is of vital importance that all buddies also have regular contact with Jim and with each other; so that where misunderstandings arise or where further clarification may be needed, it is provided for. In this regard, there may be times where the buddy may feel out of their depth or simply unsure and a chat with Jim may iron this out for the buddy to go back and explain or it may become apparent that the trainee actually needs to speak to Jim directly, in which case a meeting can be arranged.

It is also essential that all buddies try to attend as many training events, days, courses and retreats as they can to help further their connection with their buddies and so they have first-hand experience of some of the current emphasis in the school.

Different types of buddy
Buddies will need to be of two types the roving buddy and the stationed buddy.

The roving buddy obviously refers to the buddy who is not abiding in close enough proximity to a trainee to make face-to-face contact. Such a buddy will need to communicate by e-mail and will be a roving buddy also in the sense that they may be in contact with one or more trainees at a time.

The stationary buddy is more of the nature that I described above and it will be essential that they have a head-to-head at least monthly or as much as possible with their designated buddy. Where there are more buddies than trainees, some will be designated as roving buddies (even if they are around) allocated to one or more trainee via e-mail, then this can rotate mid yearly, so that all have the benefit of the face to face.

No one has to be a buddy. And everyone ultimately is everyone’s buddy and I hope we all meet up as much as we can as well. The system will need to be flexible and since people may change from one type of buddy to another we may need occasional reshuffles.

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Quotes

“Train your senses to be obedient. Regulate your activities to lead you to the goal. Hold the reins of your mind as you hold the reins of restive horses’’

— Shvetashvatara Upanishad