Linda: In the Bhuddhist tradition, Sangha is a word in Pali and Sanskrit meaning association, assembly, company or community and refers to both the monastic community of monks and nuns, plus laymen and laywomen. Sangha, a community of admirable people, is considered to be an essential aspect of spiritual development.

I’m convinced that it takes a supportive community, a whole village, to grow a great marriage. I once heard Malidoma Somé, a healer and ritualist, tells a story about his homeland in Africa. He is of the Dagara tribe in Burkino, West Africa. In this community everyone understands that the well-being of the entire tribe depends on the success of each married couple. The whole tribe supports the couple. Whereas in Western culture divorce is a readily available, in many indigenous cultures, this possibility does not exist. In the Dagara culture, there isn’t even a word for divorce

Their approach to differences is simply to bring to bear whatever personal, family, community, and ritual resources necessary in order to bring about reconciliation when it is required. Although there is an understanding as there is in the Western world, that differences and conflict are inevitable in all relationships, the means to come to terms with these differences successfully are built into the fabric of the larger community.

Family members, friends, community leaders, even entire villages are involved if need be when differences threaten to erupt to the degree that the couple and family unit are threatened. A huge effort is mobilized to support the couple and the family to work things out in a fair and reasonable way, in order to honor the sacred nature of the marriage.

In The Daraga culture, if a woman attempts to communicate something of importance to her husband and he is unresponsive, she goes to her women friends. At first they advise her, and if her husband doesn’t respond, they speak to him directly. By then he is usually motivated to take action, because if things don’t work out after he speaks with the women, his wife’s next recourse is to approach the other men in the tribe. Generally, the husband recoils at the prospect of being confronted by his male peers! Of course, it works both ways. The husband has the same system of support available if his wife is closed to something that is important to him. First he will approach the men for advice, then his men friends may meet face to face with his wife. As a last resort, he will turn to the tribal women.

For many in our culture, this tradition seems a terrible invasion of privacy. But I see great wisdom in this high level of community support. I can remember numerous times when I wanted desperately to reach Charlie and was frustrated in not being able to do so. I’m sure we wouldn’t have gotten so stuck if we had had a system in place that allowed for the influence of family and friends. While their advice

may not always be helpful, we all need the love and companionship of our friends, even when things are moving along well. We especially need their support when the inevitable stresses and challenges of life occur.

Somé says that in our American culture, the couple begins at the top of the mountain and falls off. In his tribe, the couple starts at the bottom of the mountain, and the whole community pushes the couple to the top. It is the wise couple that solicits assistance from family, friends, and professionals. All of us have blind spots and, at times, can benefit from objective input and feedback. When life knocks us down, our loved ones can help us to climb back up.


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