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.