Hearing you

Many suttas begin with the usual, “I have heard that on one ocassion, the Buddha was at…” They also recount a definitive answer and teaching posed by a situation. The Buddha tells Ananda that noble friendship is the whole of the holy life; he tells Vakkali that “he who sees me sees the dhamma.” ….all of which is rather iconic, shaped, and intentioned towards a lesson.

What the suttas do not seem into bring direct consideration is the entire context of the situation and the attention being paid. Even before the Buddha’s grandest act of conversion and mass enlightenment, the Buddha spent time with the fire worshipers, listening to their beliefs and understanding them before he gave his sermon. In visiting the sick Venerable Vakkali, the Buddha sees him struggling and insists he not make such a fuss so they can sit where they’re at, before concerning about his condition. Before inquiring about noble friendship, Ananda sits to one side with the Buddha so that they may hear each other. In another sutta, a teacher notes subtle changes in nature and its brevity, such as the evaporation of dew drops or water flowing in a river. All this before measuring the lives of humans and giving his own version of Seasons of Love.

I can on occasion be caught with a friend or staring at the grass. Memories that pop up include sitting down and facing faces, scrunched noses while laughing, and slow tapping soles on a sidewalk. I do not always remember the conversations or things done with such clarity, but somehow that does not seem to matter. The world around stops for that time shared and sometimes little needs to be said. All that mattered was that we were there, we listened, and that we cared.

The suttas are certainly not here to expound on the pretties of being together, but something feels missing from its context. By passing down through oral tradition with monasteries serving as centers of literacy and knowledge, the I feel like the suttas were the objects of community. Monks chanted, memorized and shared the teachings, amongst themselves and alongside lay persons. They all gathered and spoke and listened. This was the only way to be able to practice. In my own practice as of late, I feel a dearth of this. I can read discourses on my own through this screen. Meditation can happen with no one else around. But I’m missing people and connection and feel a need to be surrounded by friends and community to continue further. Do you all feel further in your practice by being in community?

2 comments

  1. Barry Briggs says:

    Thank you for this important post. It reminds us that Buddha’s teachings responded directly to the concerns of ordinary people, that these remarkable words were not divorced from the affairs of daily life, and that genuine love depends upon relationship with others.

  2. Aung Kyaw says:

    A great question. I personally believe that support from the community is essential in furthering my practice of Buddhism. In many Buddhist traditions, such as the Burmese one, Dhamma talks are a lot more vocal and interactive, almost call-and-response like in nature (an example) than the ones I find in America, which tend to be dry and cerebral. This sense of reaffirmation, discussion and the sharing of spiritual merit from doing good deeds (ah-hmya) are only a few examples that contradict the overarching stereotype of the “solitary Buddhist.”

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