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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
SUMMER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 55 H what Buddhism was about at all. Our parents, friends, and colleagues often felt that we were doing something strange, or at least unfamiliar. We had to give up a lot to become Buddhists, and many of us faced misunderstanding and skepti- cism from family and friends. This is still often the case. During his lifetime, Shakyamuni Buddha and his students had to develop the path of dharma— what it meant to be a follower of the Buddha. After his death, there must have been a great deal for each of his followers to do, simply to recall what he had taught and to determine how to continue to practice his teachings and create the frameworks to carry forward the work he had begun. There were councils of senior stu- dents that took place to codify his teachings in the years following his parinirvana. Clearly these were very lively gatherings, often filled with dis- agreements about the teachings but seeking har- mony and agreement in their view. It must have been a difficult time, in many respects. We might say that all the dissension was unfortunate, but look what came out of it. Look at the richness of the dharma that developed over the centuries: so many practices, schools, and points of view that we all now enjoy, yet all with an adherence to the buddhadharma, the truth that Buddha taught. E Ma Ho! Wondrous, marvelous dharma. How remarkable it must have been to be one of Buddha’s direct students. But surely it was no walk in the park. The first followers of the Buddha were a tiny minority within their society. Although there may have been an acceptance of contemplative and ascetic practice in India, the Buddha and his students were doing something radical and unique. They were pioneers. They didn’t join established institutions, they weren’t part of the dominant religion in their country, and they didn’t have centuries of teachings and established ritual to fall back on. What it meant to be a Buddhist—which the followers of the Buddha didn’t call themselves— was just being worked out. What attracted them to Buddha-ism? By and large, through some aus- picious coincidence, they encountered the Bud- dha and were magnetized directly by his state of being and by the teachings he was giving. It must have been an extraordinary time. The situation of the early sangha in India was in many respects analogous to the period that we are in here in North America. Many of us have come to the buddhadharma because we encoun- tered a teacher who directly magnetized us. Those of us who started practicing in the sixties or seventies and have been Buddhists for most of our adult lives entered the sangha at a time when most people in our society didn’t know