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The four Bases of Community

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The four Bases of Community (saṅgahavatthūni) are those behaviours and attitudes that help create a sense of togetherness (sāmājika), fellowship (sahāyatā) and love (mettā) within a group, whether it be a family, an organization or society at large. Whenever people come together in groups, tensions are bound to arise. One person’s character grates on another’s, ambitions collide, differences of opinion emerge, comments are misunderstood. Such problems can be minimized, soothed when they arise, or even avoided completely, by keeping in mind what the Buddha called the four Bases of Community, these being generosity (dāna), kindly speech (piyavācā), doing good for others (atthacariyā) and impartiality (samānattatā) (A.II,248; D.III,192).

The four Bases of Community are to the world, the Buddha said, what the linchpin is to the chariot wheel; they keep it moving forward and turning smoothly (A.II,32). Generosity is usually thought of as being liberal with material things. But we can also be generous with praise, with our time and with our skills, and such ‘gifts’ are greatly appreciated by those around us. We can also be generous in sometimes letting others have their way, acquiescing to their wishes or by letting them be in charge. The power of speech to alienate people and to create divisions between them is almost limitless. Gossiping, boasting, whining, put-downs, ethnic slurs, teasing, sarcasm and one-upmanship are just some of the many negative forms of speech that can do this. Likewise, words motivated by kindness and respect, help build relationships and bring out the best in people.

The Buddha said: ‘If speech has five qualities, it is well-spoken, not ill-spoken, commendable, not blamed by the wise. What five? It is timely, truthful, gentle, to the point, and spoken with a mind of love.’ (A.III,243). The third of the Bases of Community involves being sensitive and aware enough to see when others need help and being selfless enough to offer it to them. Sometimes, just letting people know that you are there to help them should they need it, is enough to create or to strengthen a relationship with them. Of course, the offer should be sincere. This type of attitude is well illustrated by Reṇu’s words to Govinda from a story told by the Buddha: ‘If you are in need of anything, I will provide it. If anyone tries to harm you, my arms will protect you.’(D.II,243). When there are no favorites in a group, when everyone has the same opportunity to excel or to contribute, and when the burdens and the rewards are shared equally, then no cliques develop, no ‘in-group’ or ‘out-group’ forms, and the community remains strong and close.

One of the reasons why the Buddha’s Dhamma spread so widely and so fast during his time was because of the strong sense of community within the monastic Saṅgha and the laity, and between the two of them. When the Buddha visited Āḷavī he met Hatthaka, the leader of the thriving 500-strong Buddhist community there. He asked Hatthaka how he had been able to establish such a large and dedicated group and Hatthaka replied that he had done it by applying the Bases of Community and by giving it generous financial support. The Buddha responded, ‘Excellent, Hatthaka, excellent! This is exactly the way to build a large group.’ (A.IV,219).

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