Toward a Harmonious Community

There is a lot of talk in the spiritual community regarding how people, especially the young, really need to express themselves.  This expression should not regard the feelings or thoughts of others. Some ministers actually teach this in their sermons. “Say what you think no matter what others think.”  There are some “adults” that feel children ages 15-17, or even younger, are like ships in a harbor. “They are made there but do not belong there,” implying that kids can go off by themselves, abandon all their experience and do whatever they want. Besides being a bizarre metaphor and also just not true. Kids are kids and not very young adults. The narrow question is are young adults lacking maturity and decision making experience capable of making life choices on their own? Should children simply renounce authority and maturity when confronted with it? Should agenda driven adults make those decisions for them? Ought children be taught it okay to lead before they learn how to follow?

The larger question is simply this, should adults be allowed create an environment of selfishness and pass it on to their youth? Should it be passed on to anyone? One is liable to witness acts of self-centered entitlement on a daily basis. You have probably noticed it in your neighborhood as well. Selfishness has become part and parcel with modern life and actually intertwined with American “spirituality”. 

After a while it becomes clear that much of the old 1970s New Age philosophy is still alive and well. We do not do “Fairy Dust” Buddhism here. We can see that there is a great profusion of self-centered motivation in our culture and we are passing it on to the next generations. This is only natural. The belief that the universe revolves around me is prevalent, nurtured and made ubiquitous by the entertainment industry, popular psychology, politics and even “spiritual” teachers. The end result of this kind of thinking is that at some point we cease to be a harmonious cosmos inhabited by living beings and become a cosmos of living worlds in collision. Somewhere along the line concepts like peace, harmony and co-operation were replaced by chaos, entitlement and competition.

Conflicts emerge because the self-centered interests of one conflict with the self-centered interests of another. The greater the number of self-centered people leads to greater numbers of conflicts. Everyone becomes competitive with everyone else. There is the belief that happiness is limited and “I have to get my share before someone else takes it.” The fear of the potential loss of this share becomes expressed as anger. Anger is always rooted in fear. Fear takes flight on wings of anger. These “roots and wings” are shared by all of us. It is what we are passing on to the next generation because that is all we seem to know and understand.

All is not lost because there is hope. In the Saraniya Sutta: “Conducive to Amiability” (Anguttara Nikaya 6.12) the Buddha gives advise on how to form a harmonious community – and it even works for children.  He says, “Monks, these six are conditions that are conducive to amiability, that engender feelings of endearment, engender feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity. Which six?” Of course, he is going to tell us. The advice he gives is so obvious that it is hard to see how we miss it.

While the Buddha is specifically addressing the community of monks, the advice is valuable to persons of all walks of life looking for reduced stress and harmony in their lives. He begins with “bodily acts.” Actions leading to harmony in the community should be ones of good will. They ought to be performed both openly and in secret without looking for rewards.  The Buddha advocates acts of kindness freed from ill will, and bent on harmlessness. Wouldn’t it be nice?

Take this as an example such an act. If a group of people are having regular meetings in a building belonging to another, in a room they are loaned, where they are served snacks and drinks would it not be reasonable that they clean up after themselves? If they use the room at no charge this would only be reasonable. A mother at home might tolerate this kind of behavior from her own child, but does it have a place in the real world? Just because I might use a room on a regular basis does not make it my room. It still belongs to the owner of the building in which that room resides. Adult behavior requires us to act as adults. Responsibility is ideally given to those who are responsible. Irresponsibility is its own reward.

In the beginning of this essay teen-agers were mentioned. Just as in the example above,if teen-agers cannot clean up after themselves after their meetings then how can they be held responsible enough to make decisions for themselves? Responsibilities, I’ve often heard are earned not simply awarded. Cleaning up after one’s self is not just one of many marks of maturity it is also one of those bodily actions the Buddha talked about. It is easy to do something when asked. It is much more difficult to do something that is needed without being asked. This kind of behavior leads to harmony and peace.

Do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

The second condition relate to verbal acts as being “conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity.” Just as with the physical acts we can assume that there are acts that are not conducive to these states of harmony. Right off hand I can think of many.

Gossip and idle chatter comes to mind almost immediately. In gossip we rob the person about whom we are speaking of a chance to defend themselves. We also rob them of dignity, good name, freedom from blame and respect in the eyes of other’s. There is no offense greater than gossiping or lying about others. The Buddha told his son, “when anyone feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there is no evil, I tell you, he will not do. Thus, Rahula, you should train yourself, ‘I will not tell a deliberate lie even in jest.” (Majjhima Nikaya 61)

So how should we speak? The Buddha tells us,

1227. One should speak only that word by which one would not torment oneself nor harm others. That word is indeed well spoken.

1228. One should speak only pleasant words, words which are acceptable (to others). What one speaks without bringing evils to others is pleasant.

1229. Truth is indeed the undying word; this is an ancient verity. Upon truth, the good say, the goal and the teaching are founded.

— (Theragatha 21)

There is not much wiggle room here.

Mental acts of “good will” seems to be a no brainer, but it is also the most difficult to work out. We tend to think of mental acts, aka “thinking”, as being involuntary. “Oh, I can’t be held responsible for the thoughts that jump into my head.”  Well, actually we are. We have reinforced our kamma in such a way that they thoughts that pop into our head are the direct and indirect results of all we have thought before. Yet, that is not the issue here. It is how we entertain these thoughts that cause us the problems we run into, our conflicts and our fears.

…pursuing thinking imbued with ill will, abandoning thinking imbued with non-ill will, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with ill will. … pursuing thinking imbued with harmfulness, abandoning thinking imbued with harmlessness, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with harmfulness.

— Majjhima Nikaya 10

It is true you become what you think. The more negative thoughts you entertain the more paranoia and ill will you will develop in your life.

Sharing the good things of your life with others is the next condition that Buddha mentions. This is the act of selfless generosity.  “There is the case where a person is not a giver of food, drink, clothing, vehicles, garlands, scents, ointments, beds, dwellings, or lights to any brahmans or contemplatives, to any of the miserable, the homeless, or beggars. This is how a person is like a cloud without rain.” (Itivuttaka §75). What good is a cloud without rain? I suppose such a cloud can provide shade. The Buddha is making it clear that stinginess makes a being pretty useless.

The practice of virtue is basic to any community as well as personal happiness. There is an ancient Buddhist saying, silam sila viya, “Virtue is like rock.” Virtue came into our language meaning, “power” or “strength” and in Buddhism it was a word that implied “normalcy.” What is normal? It is normal not to harm another, not to steal, not to be sexually immoral, not to lie, and importantly, not become fixated on our own BS. When we unquestioningly believe in the opinions and biases of our own fabrication we are not living in normalcy, we are living out of weakness and not strength. 

The sense of entitlement so ubiquitous in our society is a direct result of living without virtue. “I have a right to (fill in the blank)” is a delusion. “It shouldn’t be this way.” This is a delusion. We become intoxicated so easily with our belief that we deserve better or more than what we have. If we deserved it we would also have it. Things come to us because the causes and conditions make it happen. Sometimes we are the cause that keeps the desired result from us. What causes this kind of delusional entitlement? It is simply greed. It’s the “I want what I want when I want it” attitude.

I know of a case where a small special interest group within a religious community is furious because they cannot get their way. They plot and scheme and organize to undermine the community itself whose support they need to approve their plan. In undermining the authority of the greater community the group has shot itself in the foot. Yet, intoxicated by the delusion that they are entitled to the desired result, they continue to conspire. They really have no choice. They do not know how to work within the framework, the container, of a greater community. They are only concerned with their wants and desires.

Lastly, the Buddha’s sixth condition is harmonious views. What kind of a view is the Buddha talking about? He said it is “[a]bstention from killing living beings is wholesome; abstention from taking what is not given is wholesome; abstention from misconduct in sensual pleasures is wholesome; abstention from false speech is wholesome; abstention from malicious speech is wholesome; abstention from harsh speech is wholesome; abstention from gossip is wholesome; non-covetousness is wholesome; non-ill will is wholesome; right view is wholesome. This is called the wholesome.

And what is the root of the wholesome? Non-greed is a root of the wholesome; non-hate is a root of the wholesome; non-delusion is a root of the wholesome. This is called the root of the wholesome.” (Majjhima Nikaya 9.6 & 7) A right view is a wholesome view.

It doesn’t really do us much good to know the truth if we don’t live the truth. Reality is all around us and yet we refuse to see. We’d rather take in the delusions of our life. They are so much more self-serving than reality as it is.

I am not actually sure how we can instill these values into our youth when the adults in charge are not mature enough to get the point. How can one who is not on a spiritual path teach a path of spirituality? Simply be older or educated does not in and of itself equate to wisdom.

Saraniya Sutta: Conducive to Amiability 

Anguttara Nikaya 6.12 

Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

“Monks, these six are conditions that are conducive to amiability, that engender feelings of endearment, engender feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity. Which six?

“There is the case where a monk is set on bodily acts of good will with regard to his fellows in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity.

“Furthermore, the monk is set on verbal acts of good will with regard to his fellows in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity.

“Furthermore, the monk is set on mental acts of good will with regard to his fellows in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity.

“Furthermore, whatever righteous gains the monk may obtain in a righteous way – even if only the alms in his bowl – he does not consume them alone. He consumes them after sharing them in common with his virtuous fellows in the holy life. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity.

“Furthermore – with reference to the virtues that are untorn, unbroken, unspotted, unsplattered, liberating, praised by the wise, untarnished, leading to concentration – the monk dwells with his virtue in tune with that of his fellows in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity.

“Furthermore – with reference to views that are noble, leading outward, that lead those who act in accordance with them to the right ending of suffering & stress – the monk dwells with his views in tune with those of his fellows in the holy life, to their faces & behind their backs. This is a condition that is conducive to amiability, that engenders feelings of endearment, engenders feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity.

“These are the six conditions that are conducive to amiability, that engender feelings of endearment, engender feelings of respect, leading to a sense of fellowship, a lack of disputes, harmony, & a state of unity.

The Vision of Hongaku Chicago 

It is the vision of Hongaku Chicago to help others cultivate spiritual values and peace for self, family, community, and world.

The Mission of Hongaku Chicago

To serve the public good by cultivating spiritual values and peace for self, family, community, and world, we will:

  • Promote spiritual enrichment
  • Uplift the state of person, families, and communities in the light of the Buddha’s Compassion.
  • Promote the Teachings of the Buddha.

About Sensei Mui

Sensei Mui is a Buddhist monk who took formal refuge and bhikkhu ordination as a Theravada monk in Thailand during the early 1970s. Since those days he has both studied and was ordained in multiple Mahayana lineages. Today the main focus of his practice and teaching is from the Pure Land perspective. He currently acts as the Director and Administrator for Hongaku Jodo, an educational and practice oriented organization of Buddhist teachers of Dharma, pure and simple.
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