One of the fundamental advice for beginners in Buddhism is not to judge the practice of others. Basically, that means to mind our own business and focus on our own development, instead of constantly checking up on the faults of others.
However, that does not mean we aspire to bury our heads in sand!
The Buddha had very clearly advised his followers to associate with the wise and avoid the fools. The wise refers to moral people (laity and clerics) who rejoice in good deeds and take delight in training themselves to lessen their cravings, hatred and ignorance.
So there we have it. A middle path that requires our intelligence to navigate life. Whilst we do not go around criticising people around us, we still need to have the intelligence not to be negatively influenced by people surrounding us. If we have the ability to show people the right path, that will be better. (But never be judgemental)
Wow! all these calls for tons of mindfulness and wisdom right?
One important skill to develop is DISCERNMENT (An ability to differentiate right from wrong). To develop that, we need to have understanding of Buddha’s teachings (Dharma) There is 3 types of understanding.
- Understanding that comes from learning and studying (Fundamental)
- Understanding that comes from thinking and contemplation (Middle)
- understanding that comes from mental development arising from meditation (deep)
Here’s 2 stories that narrates the wise practical laity and how they associates with the Buddhist renunciants.
The Palelai Story
During the Buddha’s time, while He was staying in a particular city, a huge argument broke up amongst the monks. Consequently, the monks were divided into two quarrelling fractions. When the Buddha tried to counsel them, both groups told the Buddha to stay out of their affairs.
As a result, the Buddha departed from the monastery since His monks are no longer receptive to His teachings. He went alone into the forest and remained in the forest. It was recorded that he relied on wild fruits for sustenance which the animals in the forest brought to Him.
It was a practice for the Buddha to lead his monks on alms round; begging for food from house to house. Since the Buddha was in the forest, the laity started to notice his absence. They enquired the whereabout of Buddha.
When they discovered the reason behind Buddha’s sudden departure, they decided that the monks are no longer followers of Buddha. Since their morning offerings are for Buddha and his noble cause, they refuse to donate further to the errant monks.
That was a good wake up call for the monks and they came to their senses. They searched for Buddha in the woods and asked for forgiveness. The Buddha return to the monastery at their earnest request.
The laity started offering alms again after the buddha returned.
“Monks, these two are fools. Which two? The one who doesn’t see his transgression as a transgression, and the one who doesn’t rightfully pardon another who has confessed his transgression. These two are fools.”
The watchful patron
Another story happened in Japan. A wealthy woman wished to gain merits by sponsoring a Zen monk. So with the support of her wealthy son, she built a small hermitage at a corner of her huge garden.
She then invited a zen monk to stay in that hermitage so that she can provide all basic necessity for his spiritual pursuit.
Unknown to the monk, this spritely old lady had engaged her trusted servant to spy on him. At first he was awed by the splendour of the garden and thankful for the daily alms. The conducive environment to meditate and the nice meal and comfortable hermitage. So he was diligent in his meditation.
However, as times goes by, he began to slack off. Preferring to wander the garden and while his time away. It wasn’t long, when he did not get his daily meal. He enquired why and was told :
“no meditation means no meal!”
“The lady of the household wish to sponsor the enlightenment of a monk. If you do not gain some form of realisation within 3 months, you will be chased out!”
That wake up call resulted in the monk repenting his way and taking his spiritual pursuit seriously. He gained some realisation as a result.
Both patron and monk became good friends with deep respect for each other.
Hope you like the 2 stories.
It is important to understand that while we do not judge others, we must still have basic common sense not to condone bad behaviours.