Everyone is Relevant

What we learned from Gethin in Chapter 4 was how the Buddhist community or Sangha was comprised of both monks/nuns and laypeople and how these two groups were mutually dependent on each other.  The Monks relied on the laypeople to house and feed them and laypeople depended on the monks for their spiritual concerns.  This system of interdependence was laid out in the Vinaya, the part of the Buddhist scriptures that described monastic rules and regulations, with a heavy emphasis being placed on community relations.  The tradition of allowing laypeople the opportunity to actually play a fundamental role in the “success” of the Sangha and monks and nuns path to enlightenment may have been, and may continue to be, an important factor in Buddhism’s longevity throughout the years.

In fact, this relationship is a win-win situation for all members of the Buddhist community.  For example, it would be difficult, I imagine, for monks and nuns to feel like they had given up their attachments if they were still focusing their energy on obtaining food and preparing their meals everyday.  Since I am not on a meal plan and I rarely eat out at restaurants, I find that much of my free time is devoted to planning what I will eat/cook, getting my food, creating appropriate meals (for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks), etc.  It would be impossible for me to claim that I have no feelings of attachment toward food because of the amount of time I spend focused on getting and making food.  With the laypeople taking care of all of their dietary needs, monks and nuns were able to detach themselves from food’s importance and could then concentrate instead on their spiritual quests.

For lay people, they may have understood and felt comforted by the likelihood that their help and support was what permitted the monastic community to succeed.  Or perhaps just having the opportunity to assist monks in such a tangible way and the chance to interact with monk so closely was what satisfied the laypeople the most in their relationships with the monks.  Since Gethin notes on page 108 that “the Buddhist path can be summed up in terms of the progressive development of generosity (dana), good conduct (sila), and meditation (bhavana),” maybe laypeople felt that interacting with monks provided them with straightforward opportunities to demonstrate generosity, good conduct, and easy access to mediation, thus placing them directly on the Buddhist path.

So, the success of the Sangha may have something to do with how no one is left out of any important roles.  Buddha may not have planned it this way in the beginning, but this formula has resulted in the continued practice of Buddhism in many different countries for hundreds of years.  Everyone feels relevant and everyone is relevant.  Hopefully, as we discussed in class, the relevance of women will be acknowledged more distinctly within Buddhism in the years to come.

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2 Responses to Everyone is Relevant

  1. MG says:

    I also agree with the sentiment that Buddhism is a system of interdependence. I also liked the way you pointed out that the interdependence may not have been planned out by the Buddha in the beginning, though the system appeared to settle in this way after his initial teachings. However, it is interesting to me that although the system between monks/nuns and laypeople seems on the surface to be equally give and take, the same equality was not extended between the monks and nuns. How could it be that the roles of monks and laypeople seemed to be so well laid out and agreed upon, while nuns were left to fight their way into the practice?

  2. SW says:

    You are right to point out that Buddhism is a system of interdependence. I like how you described it as a “win-win” situation. This interdependence is a characteristic that still exists within of a lot of religious communities today. For instance, many churches and temples rely partially on the donations of their followers to maintain themselves. They hand out baskets for donations after masses for their patrons to choose to generously give or maybe not give. In Buddhist practice however, this interdependent relation is absolutely necessary, as they not partially, but fully rely on the lay people for food and necessities. I also found it interesting how you pointed out “the success of the Sangha may have something to do with how no one is left out of any important roles.” This idea could be wort examining more.. do you think Buddhism was purposefully designed in this way? Maybe the monks and nuns made some sort of deal with one another? Or did this system of interdependence just naturally happen? It would be interesting to explore this system further.

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