When the Dhamma- Vinaya is held as the focus, rather than a particular place or a position in an Order, there is a guard against the human tendency towards institutionalisation.
|It was revealing because those sentiments would probably be echoed by many of the samanas who are my colleagues in what appears to be a highly formalised and tight-knit Thing, the Sangha. Fortunately for us, the Sangha is not quite what it might appear to be, having been established in a way that cultivates both communality and homelessness. On one hand we praise the value of solitude and lonely places, and the need to be self-reliant and self-motivated; on the other we train in living together in harmony and sustaining way-places for the welfare of those who practise the Dhamma. The value of commitment is extolled, yet the Going Forth asks for no life-time vows. Commitment has to be sustained by the individual out of faith and insight, not out of group pressure. In fact the Sangha is more of an agreement than an Order, shaped by a continual commitment to an individually validated teaching and way of training. |
Monasticism, as Westerners understand it, is more of a Christian than a Buddhist reference. The Buddha certainly allowed monasteries to be built, in a few instances there were great arama like Jetavana and Veluvana; in other cases temporary settlements, called avasa, for the Rains Retreat. Both of these would have had a shifting incumbency. Since then, because of the advantage to the society of having a long-term stable community of spiritual seekers nearby, and the advantages to the samanas in having centres to meet in for exhortation and discussion, monasteries have developed into the normal residence for the Sangha. However, it must also be admitted that along with their benefits, monasteries have been fertile grounds for a host of worldly attitudes, such as the accumulation of power and wealth, inter-monastic rivalry, and even political manipulations. Getting it right seems to depend on whether one seeks security and position, or whether one take dependence on, and therefore seeks to abide in the presence of, a virtuous and competent teacher. If that focus is kept in mind, communality and homelessness fit together. When the Dhamma- Vinaya is held as the focus, rather than a particular place or a position in an Order, there is a guard against the human tendency towards institutionalisation.
This tendency can lead to people regarding our Sangha as some organisational complex that monitors and determines all manner of things. There can be speculation or concern about Sangha policy as regards opening viharas, teaching, publishing, etc. Actually the rationale behind Sangha activities operates more in terms of the way things are than through policy; first, because it would be too much trouble to run such an organisation, and second, because it goes against our own wishes for individual responsibility and flexibility. Generally we don't even plan our talks, let alone have attitudes about teaching or social activity. Everybody naturally feels that teaching is a beneficial thing: sometimes there are people around who can give talks, sometimes there aren't. Sometimes we have to do some building work, sometimes the money or the skill isn't there. Similarly, we don't have a recruitment plan: people get interested and ask for the training, some subsequently lose interest and leave. We're not trying to create an Order and a system that will be perfect and suit everybody's character - any more than the Buddha was.
So, as regards the possibilities of a lay Order; it may be instructive to investigate to what extent is there a 'monastic Order'? An alertness to the possibility of liberation, an agreement to practice, a realistic adjustment of lifestyle to back that up, and dependence on a teacher: maybe those are the themes that people should be thinking about. Are we prepared to move out of the 'homes' that we have made of our habits, and take refuge in a practice that encourages just that?
Living the Dhamma is a living process. Use the teaching to give up belonging to anything else, then the form of the Order takes care of itself.
Temple at Amaravati