As for the fundamental nature of our need for help: life is difficult, and we realize sooner or later that we’re all vulnerable, subject to illness, subject to pain, and that we need other people’s involvement to keep going.
We wouldn’t have got born or lived past the age of five without an enormous amount of help, and we wouldn’t have survived psychologically without about twenty years of encouragement, guidance, modelling and companionship. So becoming a whole human being takes group effort; you can’t do it on your own – it’s impossible. And you can’t continue on your own; every day you need support from the planet in terms of air, food and water.
But although some people are looking for someone up there in the sky or someone on the other shore to give them help, the spirit of Dhamma-communion is to take the responsibility to provide support for each other. The Sangha can’t materially survive without the free-will generosity and practical assistance of householders, and for their part, people in the world find themselves spiritually bereft without the teachings, modelling, and companionship of the Sangha. So maybe this is how God or Kwan Yin or the Absolute are sending their help – by putting us in situations where we will learn to help each other. At any rate, in terms of Buddhist practice, this is what communion is about.
And yet … One of the most difficult things for human beings to do is to get on with each other. We need assistance and friendship – but we can find other people irritating; particularly if we have to live together and have a lot of contact. And it’s the people who are closest to us – such as our parents, spouse, colleagues or fellow-monks – that we find the most irritating! So, although we need to cooperate and it makes plain economic sense to share and be part of some community with others – it’s the ‘otherness’ that we find difficult.
In terms of my instinctive preferences, I’d like to be in a community of people who always thought like me, had the same tastes and were sensitive to the same things – but that’s a fantasy. Nor would it be very useful for personal growth. Instead we can use other people to gain perspective on our own habits and opinions and learn to broaden. Because if they don’t grow in that way, people always get offended and disappointed with each other, say the wrong thing at the wrong time, are experienced as not being there when they’re needed or being there when they’re getting in the way. If this kind of scenario goes on, it results in falling out and quarrelling.
In fact real friendship, the friendship of communion, doesn’t happen casually, impulsively or by chance.
This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is from the article, “The Good Friend.”