Social Relationships and Responsibility

19 June 2524

Within the Monastic Order

In comparison with society as a whole the sangha, or monastic fellowship, is a very small community. It is intended to be the completing segment of society. Relatively speaking, it is an independent community that points toward a transcendent aspect of life. Its essential task is to maintain the dhamma for the society. As mentioned above, Buddhist monks cannot live an absolutely solitary life because they are required by the discipline to maintain good relationships both among themselves and with the lay society. The lives of the monks bound to the sangha are regulated by the disciplinary rules so that they will live in concord and harmony, pay respect according to seniority in the sangha, divide all gains and acquisitions equally among the members, and decide all legal cases justly. The supreme authority remains in the hands of the sangha itself, or the meeting of the community. Even the most solitary monk has to attend the fortnightly meeting of the sangha and any meeting of the sangha convened for the performance of a formal act.2 The spirit of the vinaya that is most stressed is the supremacy of the sangha as a whole and harmony within the order (see, e.g., A.III.330; A.V.74ff.). Causing schism in the order is viewed as one of the most heinous crimes (A.III.146). Historically, as the sangha grew larger, the Buddha himself held its voice in high regard (A.II.21). The ordination ceremonies today still represent this passing on of the authority of the Buddha through the order (Vin.I.27).

This emphasis on the sangha as a whole and its cooperative parts can be illustrated by the six virtues of fraternal living:

  1. To be amiable in deed, openly and in private;
  2. To be amiable in word, openly and in private;
  3. To be amiable in thought, openly and in private;
  4. To share any lawful gains with virtuous fellows;
  5. To keep without blemish the rules of conduct along with one’s fellows, openly and in private; and
  6. To be endowed with right views along with one’s fellows.

The seven conditions of welfare are another good illustration:

  1. To hold regular and frequent meetings;
  2. To meet together in harmony, disperse in harmony, and do the business and duties of the order in harmony;
  3. To introduce no revolutionary ordinance or break up established ordinance, but train oneself in accordance with the prescribed training rules;
  4. To honor and respect those elders of long experience, the fathers and leaders of the order, and deem them worthy of listening to;
  5. Not to fall under the influence of craving which arises;
  6. To delight in forest retreat; and
  7. To establish oneself in mindfulness, with this thought, “Let disciplined co-celibates who have not come, come hither, and let those that have already come live in comfort.” (D.II.77; A.IV.20)

Although these virtues were originally intended for the monks, they have been recommended in the Thai Buddhist tradition for adaptation by the laity as well.

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