Tag Archives: community

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.

Dharma

30 Jul

There would be many teachings in the Buddha’s long life, but the heart of these teachings was contained within the first sermon the Buddha gave to his 5 companions on that day.  There were 4 truths the Buddha wanted to share with them and each truth had to be recognized, its pursuit envisioned, and its attainment fully achieved in order for any person to become Awakened. “Think of these 4 truths as the footprint of an elephant,” the Buddha began. “Just as the footprints of all the other animals – tigers, deer, monkeys, and birds – in this forest can fit within the footprint of an elephant, in the same way, these 4 truths will provide the footprint for everything else you will ever learn.”  However, the Buddha prefaced his teaching of these 4 truths by explaining to his companions that one would never be able to pursue any of these truths through engaging in the practice of either extreme self-denial or extreme sensual indulgence. The companions had to follow the Middle Path in managing their lives and staying on the path that the Buddha could only map out for them. The first truth was based on those eye-opening visions the Buddha had experienced when he had gone outside the palace’s walls – sickness, old age, death, and the wandering stranger who spoke of suffering.  These realities of human existence could all be summed in one thing: there was suffering. From the moment of birth, each person took a step closer to aging, illness, and death. But, suffering did not manifest itself through the physical only. There was also mental and emotional suffering which most people had to face each day of their lives and this took the form of dealing with dissatisfaction in one’s life, being separated from what made one happy, and not getting what one wanted.  So, the Buddha told his companions that they had to accept the fact there was suffering in human life and they had to understand the physical and emotional incarnations of this suffering.  The second truth was acceptance of the underlying causes of suffering. Suffering was rooted in our attachments, our need to cling to things we believed made us feel better or made us look better in the eyes of someone else.  One’s desire to seek out that which was pleasing and to live a life only in pursuit of such desire was a common trait in all people.  And it was this same trait that had so many people become miserable in their lives because of how they could not cope with being cut off from what pleased them. The third truth the Buddha spoke of was simply the recognition that only when one detached and freed oneself from the innate desire to only seek out the pleasing could suffering end.  This was straightforward enough, but the spiritual practice and discipline that one had to apply to relinquish the blinding cravings for self-gratification that created suffering was not so easy. This was the fourth truth and it was more than just a statement. It embodied the same journey to Enlightenment that the Buddha had traveled and it was the essence of his teaching. After one accepts and understands the first 3 truths, one must recognize that the cessation of suffering will not occur through meditation and reflection alone. Again, extreme self-denial would not work. There had to be an active desire that would fuel one’s spiritual practice, but one could not let this desire to overcome and subvert the person.  The Buddha made sure to caution his companions about this. They would never be able to become Awakened if they only attached themselves to their cravings to attain Enlightenment. This compulsive  desire would have the adverse effect of creating suffering since they would become quickly dissatisfied with the clouded and forced nature of their findings. They would only awaken to the cessation of suffering through maintaining a Middle Way during their spiritual practice and the specific guidance the Buddha taught his companions for their practice consisted of 8 principles:  they each had to invoke the right understanding, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.  There was an ethical import to the “right” kind of mindset and conduct each of them would have to integrate in their actualization of these 8 principles.  The Buddha would illustrate the nature of each of these principles in many of his parables and lessons he would later teach. His sharing of these 8 guiding principles with his companions for the first time could be said to be similar to when Moses received the 10 Commandments.  When Moses was given the 2 tablets listing each Commandment he was told to share them with the Children of Israel so that they would have a set of principles to follow. These principles established ethical parameters around their dealings with one other and their worship of God.  Breaking of any of these of the 10 Commandments would bring with it penalties of either an earthly or divine nature depending on the transgression. The Buddha explained that following this 8-fold path of spiritual practice could lead to Enlightenment for his companions in their present lives.  There were no provisions for worshipping the Buddha or any creator of the world, and there were no penalties if one fell off this path — the only consequence would be that one would not attain the complete knowledge that came with being Awakened.  Further, the Buddha told his companions that after one had achieved Enlightenment, then the final goal was to consummate the end of suffering by extinguishing it fully – and that was when one reached Nirvana.  This was not Heaven as understood in the usual Western sense, but instead represented one’s passing into a state of spiritual and physical bliss – freed of suffering – and it could be realized in life or upon death.  His companions absorbed all the Buddha spoke of on that day. They repeated the 4 truths and then discussed each of the 8 principles that they would incorporate into their spiritual practice going forward. They had become the Buddha’s first followers and wanted to travel with him to wherever he would go next. They had to spread his teachings and so they decided to go back to the site where the Buddha had attained his Enlightenment. The Buddha would return to see that king who had 6 years before asked him to rule the Magadha kingdom by side. The Buddha would now tell the king what he had learned and the king and all his subjects would convert to the Buddha’s teachings.  The Buddha knew he would need to establish a bond with the laity. He had to have a spiritual network that went beyond just those would follow him.  He would have to connect his ministry to the public and that meant creating a community. This community would then sustain him and his message.

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