Sangha

31 Jul

The 5 companions were now disciples and in turn they each spawned their own followers. As the Buddha travelled throughout the land, his teachings and storytelling took root and grew like the canopied branches of the banyan trees around him. People began to take notice of the Buddha’s wanderings into their towns and villages.  Some people were so moved by the serenity and peace that the Buddha brought with him that these people provided food, clothing, and shelter for the Buddha and his followers. It was as if these people knew that in helping the Buddha they were purifying themselves in some way.  Additionally, these people came from all walks of life — all castes, genders, and levels of society. The Buddha’s message was not limited to any a particular segment of society. It  provided a lucid paradigm for the attainment of the ultimate knowledge that any person could employ and strive towards. And even if a person was not ready to commit to the spiritual practice the Buddha taught, it was the idea of helping the Buddha and his followers continue on their journeys that connected the lay person to the Buddha’s message. This interdependence between the practitioner’s need to live and eat in some kind of balanced way and the lay person’s wish to do good in assisting the practitioner reach his goal was the basis for creating the community the Buddha had sought.  This community itself represented a Middle Way. It could not simply be composed of monks and disciples, but instead had to include the lay person. The Buddha expressed this concept of community to his disciples. “Remember that the desirous allegiance to only wanting to attain Enlightenment by yourself and just for yourself is like the man who stubbornly attempts to walk uphill in the face of a mudslide.  You must open yourself to other people even those not traveling on the same path. Through this opening of yourself, you both support and are supported by the other person. As such, you will learn to let go of the self and instead connect with the whole.”  His disciples understood the importance of establishing and maintaining this connection between themselves and the lay people surrounding them. There could be no “us” and “them”.  There had to be a shared experience leading to a  mutually beneficial result for both sides.  The Buddha continued. “The man that stands alone and who has decided to obey only his desire to find truth, may be weak and slip back into his old ways. Therefore, you must stand together, assist each another, and strengthen one another’s efforts. Be like brothers and sisters to your fellow man; one in love, one in holiness, and one in your zeal for the truth.”  On one of the Buddha’s initial travels with his disciples, the Buddha returned to Lumbini where his now 8-year old son approached him and asked for his inheritance. The Buddha who had nothing more than a begging bowl and the robes on his back told his son that his inheritance would be ordination as a monk. And so his son was ordained right then and there and joined the ranks of Buddha’s followers.  Buddha’s father who was still upset with his son could not hold on to his anger for long once he saw the wisdom and spirituality of the Buddha.  He too accepted the Buddha’s teaching.  Only the Buddha’s wife had not come out of her chambers to see the Buddha upon his return to the palace. She had been grieving his departure for many years and had even cut her hair once she had heard about the Buddha’s renunciation. She had been grappling with deep feelings of abandonment mixed with hope that one day he would come back for her and their son.  The Buddha went to her chambers and when he saw her, he immediately understood. The Buddha acknowledged her pain and explained that her devotion to him revealed that she had the highest moral grounding. Further, she had not only been his supporter in this life, but they also had a shared past and that she had saved his life during that previous life. She would become one of first nuns in the Buddha’s order and reached an exalted status due to her memory and knowledge. So, the Buddha’s outreach to his family had resulted in bringing them within his circle and they formed an important part of the initial pillars of the community the Buddha hoped to build. As the Buddha continued his physical wanderings during the next 45 years of his life, the threads of this community became strong and thick. They tied huge swaths of once disparate peoples and cultures together, and they brought together kings and hermits alike.  The Buddha knew that after he passed on, the legacy of his teachings would be intertwined with this community and so if the community disintegrated, then his teachings would likely succumb to the same fate.

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