We live in a time where it seems that there are more forces pushing us apart than holding us together. If we are to live in community, we have to make a conscious choice that living in close proximity to others is worth the bother.
In an intentional community, there is a purpose or a mission that holds people together, or at least channels their energies in a similar direction. Sometimes there are rules, as in Alcoholics Anonymous. The Buddha’s community of monks and nuns didn’t start out with a set of rules, but as the community grew, new rules were added to address things that came up.
In AN 20:31 Venerable Upāli asked the Buddha what the purpose of his rules was. This is the answer he got (Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation):
- For the well-being of the Sangha (the community of the Buddha’s followers);
- for the ease of the Sangha;
- for keeping recalcitrant persons in check;
- so that well-behaved monks can dwell at ease;
- for the restraint of (unwholesome) influxes pertaining to the present life;
- for the dispelling of influxes pertaining to future lives;
- so that non-believers might gain faith;
- for increasing the faith of the believers;
- for the continuation of the good Dhamma; and
- for promoting discipline.
The purpose of the Buddha’s community was to practice according to the Dhamma and share the teachings so that as many people as possible could attain freedom from suffering. It was narrowly focused and very much against the grain of the dominant culture. As soon as the Buddha died, perhaps even beforehand, senior monks were complaining that the purity of intention was deteriorating or had already been lost. It is hard to hold a community together, even one with such a healthy purpose.
We can start with our own behavior, and move towards spending time with those who share our values. We may share moral values with people we disagree with politically. If a person’s actions tell us that they are motivated by care and kindness, then how they voted might matter less. It’s important that we don’t play into the hands of those who would polarize us. By keeping an open mind, we can act from an open heart towards everyone, and perhaps recognize others’ good intentions in surprising contexts.
Whether or not we are part of an intentional community, we may have to be the keepers of our own rules, and those rules should be coherent. What direction do we want to face in? How are we hoping to grow? Knowing for ourselves that we value truthfulness and harmlessness in all situations can give us a firm foundation for all of our interactions.