Saturday, April 11, 2009

Buried Treasure

I have a theory. Well, actually I have several theories, but one of my theories is this. The Buddha's Dhamma was of universal significance and application, but from an early period it came to be controlled by male monastics (not monks and nuns, just monks) and they determined which parts of the Dhamma were to be emphasized and which parts were not. They emphasized those parts that were of interest, of value and of convenience to them and deemphasized or ignored those parts which may have been relevant to other groups. This trend has continued up till today, and that a task of the modern (Western ?) Buddhist is to rediscover and reclaim the ancient universal Dhamma. For what its worth, that’s the theory.
I may not have been the first to think along these lines. In his booklet on the Desaka Sutta, Nyanaponika describes this interesting discourse as 'hidden like a buried treasure, unknown and unused.' The Desaka Sutta has an extremely important take on compassion and self-and-other-relationships, but is given almost no notice in either traditional commentarial literature or modern expositions of the Dhamma. Why not? Please refer to my theory as described above. Another example of a Dhamma teaching that has been deemphasized is the four sangaha vatthuni. Despite occurring frequently in the Tipitaka, in 38 years of reading Dhamma books, listening to explanations of the Dhamma, talking with learned monks and listening to sermons, I can never recall hearing the sangaha vatthuni being mentioned. And I ask myself 'Why?' Why didn’t Nyanatiloka include it is his Buddhist Dictionary? He included just about everything else. Why didn’t Payutto mention it in his A Constitution for Living where you would think it might have had some relevance? Why didn’t…etc, etc, etc.
Below is a few short paragraphs I have written about the sangaha vatthuni. The term itself is a difficult one. Woodward translates it as 'bases of sympathy.' For sangaha the PTS dictionary has 'collecting', 'gathering', 'accumulation', 'kind disposition', 'kindliness', 'sympathy', 'friendliness', 'help', 'assistance', 'protection', 'favor'. For sangaha vatthuni Rhys Davids gives 'objects (characteristics) of sympathy'. Given all this, plus the fact that the sangaha vatthuni are about creating a group or body of people, I have decided to translate sangaha as 'community', both in the sense of a collection of people and in the sense of the things that bring people together in a shared endeavor.

The four Basis of Community (sangaha vatthuni) are those behaviors and attitudes that help create a sense of togetherness (samarika), fellowship (sahayata) and love (metta) within a group, whether it be a family, an organization or society at large Whenever people come together in groups tensions are bound to arise. One person’s character grates on another’s, ambitions collide, differences of opinion emerge, comments are misunderstood. Such problems can be minimized, soothed when they arise or even avoided completely by keeping in mind what the Buddha called the four Basis of Community, these being generosity (dana), kindly speech (piya vaca), acting for the good of others (atthacariya) and impartiality (samanattata, A.II,248; D.III,192). The four Basis of Community are to the world, the Buddha said, what the linchpin is to the chariot wheel; they keep it moving forward and turning smoothly (A.II,32).
Generosity is usually thought of as being liberal with material things. But we can also be generous with praise, with our time and with our skills and such ‘gifts’ are greatly appreciated by those around us. The power of speech to alienate people and create divisions between them is almost limitless. Gossiping, boasting, whining, put downs, ethnic slurs, teasing, sarcasm and one-upmanship are just some of the many negative forms of speech that can do this. Likewise, words motivated by kindness and respect, help build relationships and bring out the best in people. The Buddha said, ‘If speech has five qualities it is well-spoken, not ill-spoken, commendable, not blamed by the wise. What five? It is timely, truthful, gentle, to the point and spoken with a mind of love’ (A.III,243). The third of the Basis of Community involves being sensitive and aware enough to see when others need help and being selfless enough to offer it to them. Sometimes, just letting people know that you are there to help them should they need it is enough to create or to strengthen a relationship with them. On course, the offer should be sincere. This type of attitude is well illustrated by Reõu’s words to Govinda from a story told by the Buddha; ‘If you are in need of anything I will provide it. If anyone tries to harm you my arms will protect you’(D.II,243). When there are no favorites in a group, when everyone has the same opportunity to excel or to contribute and when the burdens and the rewards are shared equally, then no cliques develop, no ‘in group’ or ‘out group’ and the community remains strong and close.
One of the reasons why the Buddha’s Dhamma spread so widely and so fast during his time was because of the strong sense of community within the monastic sangha and the laity and between the two of them.When the Buddha visited Alavi met Hatthaka, the leader of the thriving 500 strong Buddhist community there. He asked Hatthaka how he had been able to establish such a large and dedicated group and Hatthaka replied that he had done it by applying the Basis of Community and by giving it generous financial support. The Buddha responded, ‘Excellent, Hatthaka, excellent! This is exactly the way to build a large group’(A.IV,219).


Chuan Guan bhikkhu said...

We await with anticipation, fruition of your theory in practice! ^_^

Unknown said...

How can i find a copy of the Desaka Sutta that has been mentioned? no online search is bring it up.
my email is

here's to Buddhism plus intelligent reasoning including the necessity of enabling a the womens Sangha

Unknown said...

The Sutta in question is this:

Samyutta Nikaya XLVII.19

More commonly known as the

Sedaka Sutta although the Desaka Sutta is also true - the reference stated is incorrect though - refering to the Beauty Queen Sutta

Anonymous said...

Dhamma Greetings,

Linchpin & chariot wheel (Saṅgaha Sutta): it's A.IV.32 not A.II.32.