Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Harmonious vs. Quarrelsome Communities

Wisdom Quarterly
Real Buddhist monastic life in the original forest tradition, modern Sri Lanka

PARILEYYAKA FOREST, India - The Buddha stood in the woods. Ven. Anuruddha welcomed his teacher and led him to the wilderness abode he shared with two other Buddhist monks, Nandiya and Kimbila.

They welcomed the Buddha and were overjoyed on account of his visit. They saw to it that he was able to rinse his feet and drink and sit in a prepared seat. They prostrated, happy at the rare opportunity to show their teachers all the customary marks of respect.

The Buddha asked about their progress along the path-of-practice and in terms of securing the allowable requisites (almsfood, robes, shelter, medicine, etc.). They answered that they lived a quiet, peaceful, and harmonious life. As such, their needs were met and they were able to use the suitable conditions to make progress in their meditation practice, encouraging one another along the Dharma path.

The Buddha asked how their relationship as fellow practitioners was going. And Anuruddha replied, "We meditate separately and come together to discuss the Dharma on a regular basis. We live in harmony mixing like milk and water. My companions are a great blessing. Before I do or say anything, I ask myself how they would react. Instead of following my own impulse, I defer to them. If I question that my actions might offend, I refrain. We may be three, but we are of one mind."

The Buddha indicated his approval and turned to the other two recluses. Kimbila added, "What Anuruddha says is true: We live in harmony with great consideration for one another."

Nandiya added, "We share not only the offerings we collect but also encouragement and meditation experience."

The Buddha expressed delight and offered them praise, noting how they lived in contrast to the quarreling monks of Kosambi:
  • Nine years after he began teaching, the Buddha was residing in Kosambi when a quarrel arose between two groups of monastics. Some were experts in the disciplinary code (Vinaya), others in doctrinal matters (Dharma). He tried to settle their quarrel. But when his efforts failed, he left them without a word, taking only his bowl and robes, and retired to the Paileyyaka Forest without an attendant. There, an elephant ministered to his needs, clearing a portion of the forest to reveal a stone cave and each day bringing him fruits as an offering. A monkey observing this brought an offering of his own, a honeycomb. And when the people of Kosambi found out that the Buddha had gone into the forest alone because of the quarrels, they stopped offering alms to them. As soon as news reached Ananda, who was spending the rainy season in Savatthi, he decided to visit the Buddha and told him that people everywhere were eager to hear the Dharma, particularly in Savatthi. The monks in Kosambi settled their quarrels and came to seek the Buddha's forgiveness, resulting in a sutra with the message that:
"One should associate with the wise, not the foolish.
It is better to live alone if good friends cannot be found.
For there is no companionship with the foolish."

He praised Anuruddha, Nandiya, and Kimbila by saying, "Excellent! Harmony is the way. A spiritual community is only a real Sangha when there is harmony and mutual encouragement. It is because of authentically awakening [penetrative insight leading through the stages of enlightenment culminating in arhatship] that you live in harmony.

The Buddha stayed with these monastics for weeks observing how they went out on almsround after morning meditation. Whoever returned first prepared seats for the others, fetched water, and set out an additional clay bowl [bowls were made of clay at that time]. Before eating, he placed some of his food in the empty bowl to share. When they finished eating, they gathered their leftovers and donated them to creatures on land or in the stream. They shared duties not keeping track of who did more or who less and they made sure to meet regularly and otherwise lived together in silence.

Before the Buddha departed, he spoke in praise of harmony and declared six principles to achieve it:
  1. sharing a living space whether in a city or forest
  2. sharing duties essential to life
  3. observing the precepts
  4. uttering only words that contribute to harmony, leaving unsaid words that might split the community or ruin its harmony
  5. meeting together to share their insight and understanding of the Dharma
  6. respecting others' viewpoints without coercing others to follow their views.
A community living in accord with these principles lives in happiness and harmony. The monks were delighted at this teaching. The Buddha went from Parileyyaka Forest to Rakkhita Forest, took a seat under a lush Sal tree, and decided to spend the following rainy season alone in the woods.

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