One of the things Ajahn Chah taught was what he called “earthworm wisdom.” For many people, earthworms aren’t worth appreciating. But it’s earthworms that till the soil, and if they weren’t continually working away, the soil would be infertile and incapable of supporting growth. That’s a nice reflection, something to chew on.
The higher aspects of the teachings are certainly worth reflecting on, and there is a lot of profundity to penetrate. But it’s also true that we live in a community and very often, community living is where the rubber hits the road. This is where we have contact, where we come together and rub up against our rough edges. Everyone in the community has the potential to make mistakes and cause offense or harm. When a mistake happens it can trigger different responses, both from the one who made the mistake, and from the one receiving the consequences of that mistake.
In particular, the Buddha says, there are two kinds of fools in the world. One is a fool who, when having made a mistake—either an offense or a hurtful action toward another person—doesn’t ask for forgiveness. The other kind of fool is one who when asked for forgiveness, refuses to give it. Do we sometimes act like one of those fools? That’s something else to reflect upon.
We live in this community and hope that it is a wise community. We want to establish, maintain, and care for harmony here, because it is valuable and also because it is vulnerable. Like all relationships, those we have with our companions here require our generosity, and we have to put our hearts into that. We do this by opening our eyes, taking a look around, seeing how people are doing, and responding with our hearts. We reach out to people who look like they may be struggling, not doing so well, or needing a little bit of a lift.
And in our hearts we forgive those who have made mistakes, whether they’ve asked for forgiveness or not. That’s just ordinary kindness, but it’s earthworm kindness—it’s what creates an environment in the community that is very beautiful and uplifting. It provides the tilled soil from which fertility, growth, and development of individuals can take place.
Solitude in our practice is important in helping us to relinquish the unskillful views we’ve picked up in the past from misguided teachers, friends, books, and other unhelpful sources— views that have influenced us in ways not easily recognized. We need solitary practice to clearly see those views and the effects of our prior conditioning—to discern the Buddha-Dhamma for ourselves. But we have to be careful that our solitary practice doesn’t create a type of selfishness or self-centered point of view.
Living in community helps us remember to open our eyes and see that there are people here who are going through the same difficulties we are, and who may need the same sort of support we have received. It is helpful to be conscious of that, expand our vision, and care for the people around us. We are like earthworms tilling the spiritual soil of the community so it is a fertile place for growth in the Dhamma. When we come from a place of generosity and care, there can be a strong feeling that we are living under very special circumstances. This in turn uplifts our solitary practice and encourages a more encompassing perspective.
This reflection by Ajahn Yatiko is from the book, Beginning Our Day, Volume 2, (pdf) pp. 72-74.