The religious and spiritual traditions alive in the world today are many and various. The Buddhist customs and practices of monasticism and mendicancy are only one model amongst many of how a community can live and work to bring forth its most worthy qualities, to use an economy of gifts to generate and support well-being.
The dynamic found in this Buddhist tradition is only one way of sustaining such a fertile chemistry and it has been described here in order to serve as a single example. Such economies of giving can be cultivated equally fruitfully in a great variety of human relations and institutions, for example between teachers and students, parents and children, individual and community… It is a principle independent of religion and culture.
In the classical Buddhist expression of the lay/monastic relationship it is said that ‘the lay community provides material support for the monastics and the monastics, in turn, provide spiritual support for the lay community’. In this expression it seems as though the lay community’s offerings are tangible and have an economic value, whilst the monastic offerings are intangible and have no economic value; they are ‘non-bankable, social returns’, as it has been described.
However, there are other ways that the issue can be regarded which make the picture more nuanced, particularly if we consider well-being as a virtual currency, one that flows in both directions. The blessings flow both ways between the polar partners in the symbiosis. Well-being – material and non-material – is supported on both sides, just as with parents helping their children and children, in turn, helping their parents as occurs in most societies around the world.
As a counterpoint to the spiritual support that the monastic community provides for the lay, the monastic community also receives spiritual benefit from its interactions with the laity. To use Ajahn Chah as an example once again, he once commented that, ‘I developed far more wisdom sitting and receiving people non-stop for 25 years, and helping them deal with their problems, that I ever did sitting meditating in the wilds of the forest on my youthful travels.
This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from the article, A Currency of Well-being, (pdf) p. 9.