by Luke Tinson (Florac, France)
I see the Community Groups as an idea that ran away with itself, and feel very lucky to have somehow got swept up on the way. They were set up by our very much loved Gary Born, one of the Bodhi College trustees, as a participant-run accompaniment to the Thinking Out Loud course in 2021. One group became two, and it’s a testament to Gary’s instinct that not only did the tri-weekly meetings continue under his “shepherding” (as one participant has called it) beyond the end of the course, but also that, by common agreement, they have carried on since his tragic passing away on 21st April 2022.
Lockdown was still in full sway when we began: for me, holed up at the time in a small flat in France, the joy of meeting like-minded anglophones from various countries, of all ages and experiences, to discuss the dharma, was an obvious boon. But why did almost all of us, most of whom were already involved in other groups, decide to continue?
I suppose that, having met through Bodhi College, we are likely to be curious types given to critical thinking. And if Bodhi College is a teaching establishment, I see my Community Group like an informal students’ discussion society. A place where, relying only on our own supervision and some simple principles of dialogue proposed by Gary from the start, we can mull things over, test hypotheses, air doubts. A space in which we can really talk about our own lives and how we negotiate them personally in relation to the dharma. If it’s not quite a virtual bike-shed where we hide out to smoke, it’s a regular, reliable spot where I know I’m going to join people who have become genuine, valued friends and whose ideas, coming from different experiences, lifestyles, approaches and traditions, ping off in rich and unexpected directions but can always come back to a common anchor point, a shared approach. Finally, for me, the fact that this horizontally-organised, participant-led structure continues to thrive and bring benefit to all involved is a life-affirming testament to what humans are capable of when the conditions are right.
I have sometimes felt it an undeserved favour to be involved in the Community Groups by virtue of having just been in the right place at the right time. If more spaces like these can be opened – mini self-organised sanghas with no single person as a reference or “refuge” – I would not only feel less like part of a privileged group, I would see it as a valuable and beautiful instance of the dharma in action.