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Compassion stirred the Buddha to send his monks out into the community. Sworn to chastity and poverty, they wandered the roads, bringing the Buddha’s teachings out into the world.

Wandering monk with alms bowl
Wandering monk with alms bowl
David Grubin Productions
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"Go forth, monks, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world... There are beings whose eyes have little dust on them, who will perish if they do not hear the teaching. But if they hear the teaching, they will gain liberation."

D. Max Moerman, scholar: "The monks exist by begging. We think of begging as kind of a bad thing. Begging in this tradition is a good thing. It’s a sign of spiritual purity."

Robert Tenzin Thurman, scholar: "You’re not allowed to beg tomorrow’s lunch today, only today’s lunch, then you can’t eat from noon to dawn the next day. Then you have to go out and get another lunch and then in exchange for lunch you give a lecture, unless they say 'we don’t want to hear about it' and you don’t, but that forces you to interact with the lay community."

Jane Hirshfield, poet: "And if you’re not serving them, if you’re not doing something useful for them they won’t put anything in your bowl and that will be the end of your community."

The Buddha himself wandered across northeast India, teaching and gathering new disciples everywhere he went. You didn’t have to become a monk or a nun to become a Buddhist. The Buddha’s teachings were for everyone.

Morning light in Indian forest
The morning light shines through the tree limbs in an Indian forest.
David Grubin Productions
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"Everything is burning.
What is burning?
The eyes are burning.
Everything seen by the eyes is burning.

The ears are burning.
What is burning?
Everything heard by the ears is burning.

The nose is burning.
Smells are ablaze.
The tongue is burning.
Tastes are ablaze.

The body is burning.
The mind is burning."

D. Max Moerman, scholar: "We’re on fire; we may not know it but we’re on fire and we have to put that fire out. We’re burning with desire, we’re burning with craving. Everything about us is out of control."

W.S. Merwin, poet: "The Buddha goes on to talk about the three poisons: greed, and anger, and ignorance, and how the three poisons are what is making the fire, and the way out of doing this is not to deny the three poisons, but to recognize that if you turn them around, you come to their opposites."

Instead of greed, you have generosity; instead of anger, you have compassion; and instead of ignorance, you have wisdom. The Buddha said:

Bodhisattva receives instruction
Bodhisattva receives instruction
Luca Tettoni
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"I can give my teachings in brief. I can teach in detail. It is those who understand that are hard to find."

Merwin: "There are stories of people coming to the Buddha, and saying, "I am leaving your teaching because you have not told me about whether there is a life after death, or whether there is another world. And the Buddha says, 'Did I ever say that I would give you the answers to these things?' 'No, Lord, you didn't.' 'Why do you think that I ever said that I would give you the answer to these things? Because these are not the things that you need to know. The thing that you need to know is how to deal with suffering, because at this very moment, what made you ask that question was suffering.'"

The Buddha was, above all a pragmatist. He did not expect his followers to agree with everything he said. He encouraged them to debate and argue, to challenge him.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "Buddha said my followers should not accept my teaching out of devotion but rather your own experiment. Even Buddha himself in order to get final enlightenment needs hard work. So investigate based on reason but through logical investigation. If something contradicts, in Buddha’s own words, then we have the right to reject that."

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