Introducing Sangha Circles

Sangha Circles are a new way to deepen our connection to each other and our Buddhist practice. Small groups of 6-10 will meet once a month for the three months of Ango to discuss a topic and for fellowship.

Sangha Circle groups are facilitated by members of the Temple who complete a training session. Sangha Circle meetings last about two hours, which includes socializing before/after, group check-in and facilitated group discussion. All Circles will cover the same material each meeting.
If you have questions about the Sangha Circles, please contact Leadership Council,

Frequently Asked Questions

I'm not an active member. Can I participate in a Sangha Circle?

Yes! Sangha Circles are open to our whole Great Heartland Buddhist community. Newcomers to the temple, long-time visitors, and former members looking to reconnect are all encouraged to participate in Sangha Circles.

Are Sangha Circles oriented toward experienced practitioners or beginners?

Sangha Circles are set up so that all participants will feel welcome. The topics will be accessible and interesting for newcomers and old-hast alike. Our design is that the Circles will serve as a forum for new and experienced practitioners to deepen their connections and practice together.

How often do Sangha Circles meet?

Each Circle meets three times during Ango – once a month for three months. The discussion and practice portions of a gathering are designed run about an hour, plus socialization time before and after.

What will the readings be? How far in advance will we be able to get the readings?

The readings will always be short and designed to serve as a focus of discussion. The first topic will be the Sangha Covenant that we recite when we meet. The hosts of the Circles will always have access to the reading available, so the main thing is to come and participate and not worry about preparing anything in advance.

I don't even know enough to ask a question!?!

Good! Beginner's mind and all that. Sign up for a Circle!

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind, there are few.” - Shunryu Suzuki

Additional Information for Potential “Sangha Circles” Hosts and Participants

“Sangha Circles” serve the dual functions of helping people in the Sangha to socialize with each other and deepen their relationships in the context of fostering spiritual growth and Buddhist practice in a small, informal group setting. Small groups of 8-10 people meet once a month (for the three months of Ango) to discuss a topic such as how we deal with difficult emotions like anger or guilt, or how we work to achieve the goals of practice such as equanimity and authenticity, or how we approach challenging parts of our practice – such as being a Buddhist “in public.”

Sangha Circle groups are facilitated by a member of the Temple (who could be a member at any level) who is committed to the mission of the Sangha, is willing to host a Sangha Circle and who completes a two-hour orientation/training session for facilitators. Sangha Circle facilitators choose the day of the week and time that they want to host a Sangha Circle group. Typically, groups will meet at the home of the facilitator, although it may also be possible for a host to facilitate a Sangha Circle at the Temple if the host prefers. Sangha Circle meetings last about two hours, which includes socializing before/after, group check-in and facilitated group discussion.

To join a Sangha circle, individuals provide to the Sangha Circles Coordinator their name, contact information and day/time that they prefer to participate, based on the available groups that are being facilitated. Individuals are assigned to groups based on their preferences, availability of spaces in the group and, ideally, with an eye towards having each group comprised of both newer as well as “older” members of the Sangha.

Regarding recruitment of Sangha Circle hosts and participants:

  • Sangha Circle hosting or participation is great way to demonstrate an extra commitment to your practice during the Ango period (a fun and easy way to “up your dharma game” that only requires hosting or attending a social group once a month for three months).
  • We are going to start small and do this only for the three months of Ango as a pilot. If it works well, then in the fall we may decide to run the Sangha Circles for a full year, or we may decide that doing Sangha circles only during Ango is a good way for us to go.
  • For potential hosts, being a host of a Sangha Circle is an excellent way for anyone interested in future ordination to show Sangha leadership and build Sangha-sharing skills.

Necessary Elements
1.              SIZE: about 10 people. At least five and no more than ten (counting the host).
2.              FREQUENCY: once a month, in someone's home (or at Temple).
3.              FORMAT: combines meditative and Sangha practice readings and personal check-in periods at the start and end. (See the recommended format below.)
4.              FACILITATORS (“Hosts”): Person(s) who volunteer to host a Sangha Circle and who participate in a two-hour “train the hosts” meeting prior to beginning. Ideally, for each Sangha Circle group, there are two co-facilitators who work together to facilitate the group. One co-facilitator may take a partner’s place when he or she must be absent.
5.              COVENANTS: During the first group meeting, groups should discuss how to be with each other (especially safety and confidentiality within the group). [For possible items to include in covenants, see the section on them below.]

Sangha Circle Format
PRE-START: Socializing, getting tea/coffee/snacks (Allow 10 minutes for folks to gather)
1.              OPENING CHECK-IN (Allow 30 minutes) – Three Parts:
(a) Facilitator lights incense on home alter.
(b) Group members recite the Sangha Covenant.
(c) Check-in with group members; deep listening is the goal of the practice. Forms may differ. One way is to ask each person to briefly state their answer to a question such as: What seems most important to you these days? Another way is to allow each person to speak for 2 minutes without interruption about whatever they wish to bring to the group and to end with 5-10 minutes of follow-up by the group. A third way is to ask each person to share about the current state of her/his physical or spiritual health, about joys and concerns about loved ones and/or concerns/excitement about what is happening in his/her life. Each group may develop its own customs as to the length of sharing and about how to respond, if at all. The goal of the practice is deep listening.
2.              READING / COMMENTARY / GROUP SHARING and DISCUSSION (Allow 40 minutes) – the facilitator reads a paragraph or two that lays out a topic (e.g., by Thich Nhat Hanh or Pema Chodren. Rev. Rinsen will provide commentary and have questions available that will elicit thoughtful discussion and significant reflection. [These readings/commentary are not intended to be a heavy-duty koans, but may prompt some serious reflection from group members.] All Sangha Circles will be using the same reading/commentary each month.
                  FORMAT for Group Sharing/Discussion (timing to be done by group facilitators)
                  (a) Round 1: One minute for each person in the group to briefly share what comes up for them based on the reading/commentary (about 10 minutes total).
                  (b) 1 minute of Zazen
                  (c) Round 2: Two minutes for each person to share (about 20 minutes total).
                  (d) 1 minute of Zazen
3.              CHECK-OUT: a positive format for feedback using a brief go-around the room; likes and wishes; ending thoughts; how people are feeling (allow 10 minutes).
4.              CLOSING: these bring the formal session to an end.
                  (a) Statement dedicating the Merit of the Practice.
                  (b) Bodhisattva Vows
END: Those who wish to can leave while others may stay to socialize longer.

Covenants [some of these things will not be relevant for a short-term “Ango only” group.]
1.              The primary covenant will be about how the members agree to be in relationship with each other over time. Together the group establishes a community in which justice, democracy and human dignity are embodied. The group agrees to abide by a set of ground rules for right relationship.
2.              A second covenant is a commitment to welcome new members to the group. The empty chair at each meeting is to symbolize this commitment. Openness to change prevents exclusiveness and factionalism.
3.              A third covenant is an agreement to engage in service to the Sangha and the larger world on a regular basis. This promise maintains a connection to the larger organization and works against excessive inwardness within the group.
4.              A primary covenant might also include:

  • What people hear within the group, stays within the group
  • A person can pass
  • People do not interrupt each other
  • Expenses are to be shared
  • Starting and ending times are fixed or flexible
  • Side conversations are to be minimized (disruptive)
  • A commitment to understanding those with different opinions
  • Members share the privilege and responsibility of helping the group function
  • People will not participate in or encourage put-downs
  • How time is shared, such as only one person speaking at a time
  • Alcohol is/is not permissible

Facilitators' Role

  • Possess a strong commitment to Buddhist practice
  • Understand the general concept of Sangha circle
  • Attend orientation/training meeting with Priest and Sangha Circle coordinator
  • Understand the guidelines and topics for the group discussion
  • Take responsibility for managing group process issues
  • Deal with the logistics (times and places) of meetings; always begins and end the meetings on time
  • Help groups to establish their covenant (what they agree to as a group) and to maintain these ground rules in practice
  • Keep the group on track
  • Maintain shared leadership
  • Model facilitation skills
  • Clarify group expectations
  • Encourage participation by all
  • Model openness and caring
  • Facilitate group decision-making
  • Maintain appropriate confidentiality
  • Share with the priest when someone in the group is having a particularly bad time, with permission, of course

* Much of this material is adapted from Unitarian Universalist “Small Group Ministry” (aka “Chalice Circles”) with language and procedures adapted for Great Heartland Buddhist Temple of Toledo “Sangha Circles.”
Additional Background Material on the “Chalice Circle” concept for small group ministry is available from under Small Group Ministry: "Designing and implementing a 'small group ministry' focus for your congregation by the Rev. Glenn H. Turner. "Transforming our churches with small group ministry" by the Rev. Glenn H. Turner. "A Small Group Ministry Resource Book: The Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta, Maine by the Rev. Calvin O. Dame
Available from “A Covenant Group Source Book” by the Center for Community Values