In AN 7:23 the Buddha outlines seven principles of non-decline in communities. There is a similar list in AN 7:21, addressed to a group of laypeople called the Licchavis (of the Vajjian confederation). Items five through seven address issues specific to lay and monastic communities, but the first two are identical (Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation):
“As long as the monks (Vajjis) assemble often and hold frequent assemblies, only growth is to be expected for them, not decline.
As long as the monks (Vajjis) assemble in harmony, adjourn in harmony, and conduct the affairs of the Sangha (Vajjis) in harmony, only growth is to be expected for them, not decline.”
The fact that meeting frequently is the first item mentioned sets it as the basis on which communities thrive. The less frequently people meet together, the more likely it is for misunderstandings and resentments to grow. Meeting face to face encourages us to practice respect and kindness, which are sometimes sacrificed in on-line communications or when we’re behind the wheel of a vehicle.
In the second principle the stakes are raised: to assemble in harmony, adjourn in harmony, and conduct the affairs of the group in harmony. To do this, there must be a commitment on everyone’s part to practice respect and politeness when meeting. This commitment has to be explicit to overcome our natural tendency to argue with each other and object to ideas not our own.
These are simple guidelines that can make a profound difference in our actions. Recently, I fired off a sarcastic email to a reporter who I thought had failed to maintain his own journalistic standards. Surprisingly, he responded. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t impressed. I realized (too late) that I had written in haste, used a negative tone in expressing my irritation, AND that if I’d been speaking with the reporter in person, I would have taken an entirely different approach. I deeply regretted that I’d created unnecessary bad feeling for the reporter and myself, and have reflected on the process that caused the action. In a fit of righteous indignation, instead of considering whether I would use these words if I were speaking to the reporter in person, I just went ahead and sent the email. I felt sure that it would be ignored, which might have helped unleash my negative energy. After I saw and thought about the response, I was troubled by remorse and have written again to apologize and explain what I hoped for.
If we want to bring peace to the world and to ourselves, we can start with treating people in our communities with respect and kindness. We can also take the same care and extend the same consideration to others not in our physical presence.