Buddhist cultivation covers more than what we would understand through reading books or even through meditation.
For instance, although solitary meditation is what we see in the discourses, one of the main features in the Vinaya and of the Buddhist life is the practice of community. You can recognize this especially when there is a big gathering such as today’s alms-giving ceremony, the Kathina.
This presents an occasion for communion, a gathering of many people – who perhaps don’t know each other or don’t see each other very much – because they have a common interest in Dhamma. This encouragement of the spirit of communion is one of the main reasons to have these occasions. In this case it’s linked to the down-to-earth process of cooperation for a good cause.
Yet such communion isn’t based on particular personalities; rather, it gets a wide range of people of differing temperaments and backgrounds to work together. The greater the diversity, the better the practice and the richer the results. We get stronger and broader as a collective, and that result pays off in many ways. So an occasion like this is also an expression of faith in human nature, that we can put aside our differences and enjoy warm-heartedness and mutual respect. And of course, be patient with each other’s limitations. This is what Kathina is about.
Communion is a religious term; it indicates a human bond around something sacred. With communion, we rise above our pettiness and self-interest. This, I think, is a fundamental human need; otherwise we just get absorbed in our daily events and targets and lose the bigger picture. We can miss out on inner development and just be getting by. But who wants to spend a life just getting by?
Communion offers a chance to sense that we are part of a shared something that is timeless and benevolent. Both of these aspects – the need and the benevolence – represent the domain of religion: that on one hand humans have a fundamental need for help, and on the other, that there is a blessing for our lives that doesn’t come from our personality, but from where that is put aside.
So whether the cry of the heart is for God’s help or Jesus’ or Mary’s help, or for blessings from Allah or Krishna or Buddha or Kwan Yin, a common theme in religion, beyond its outward form, is the connection to that felt, revealed or intuited source of benevolence.
This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is from the article, “Good Friend.”