“Care” is a central concept in Buddhism and making it a social practice means activating the qualities of kindness, joy, equanimity and compassion. This is the basis for creating an ethical community of practice.
Care, “appamada” in Pali, the ancient language of the Canon, is a key concept in the practice. Its function does not end at the individual sphere. On the contrary, it is the basis, the container and the premise for creating a context, a community of practice, where other aspects of the relationship between people can be imagined, activated and transformed into resources. In fact, imagining the Buddhist teaching as a purely personal path can be partly effective, but not only is this the perspective with which it has been conceived and structured. Its collective dimension, enlarged, is as evident as it is necessary in order not to reduce it to a simple search for balance or well-being.
In Buddhism there are, in fact, three elements that constitute the three pillars on which it is founded and from which the whole path of practice starts. They are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Far from being just objects of faith or veneration, they represent a system of thought and action based, in fact, on three points that connect to each other inseparably and to which all the central qualities of teaching refer: the Buddha, represents the concrete experience, embodied, of a man who has completed and realized a path. He is the “guarantee” that this method of research and practice is feasible, works and can be put into action by anyone. The Dharma is the teaching, the path, the method itself, that is, the eight steps or indications to be followed to carry out this research. Finally, the Sangha is the context that makes it possible to implement the method and to which it is addressed. Without the coexistence of all these three elements, the whole system does not hold up and together they represent the framework within which both the individual and the community, society, act and practice the fundamental qualities. It is the description of a scientific approach where one starts from experience, examines problems, criticalities and strengths, understands that there is the possibility of dealing with them and inserting them in a broader scheme that gives meaning, and finally indicates the method of work or care. We are not far from truth if we think, for example, that Western philosophy has long been defined as a scientific search for human happiness. Practice, in this perspective, becomes a discipline to be implemented, verified and confirmed by direct experience. And it is no coincidence that the Sangha, that is, the community formed by those who practice and meditate, is the third of these three founding points, proving the importance of the collective dimension of Buddhist teaching.
“Put into practice”
“Do not believe anything – said Gotama – try and verify yourself”. That it is not only a solicitation to remain concrete and not to get lost in theories, but, above all, a call to individual responsibility in the face of life. Own and of others. Care is the last of the teachings that this formidable man leaves as an inheritance to his community. The last and most significant. Because if this quality contains all the others, making it a practice, transforming it into action means activating them all. In an ideal network where each quality represents a junction and connection point with all the “sisters”, it is connected to them and allows their emergence and activation. If there is no space for just one of the aspects separated from the others, it becomes evident how this profound relationship binds every aspect of existence as well as all human beings. And it calls us all to a deep responsibility to act. In the texts of the Pali Canon, Gotama compares its teaching to a city that, once renewed, allows people to live a prosperous and happy life. So, practice is a way, first and foremost the practice of care, to bring this happiness back into a context where no one can be excluded and left behind.
Mindfulness is the new black!
This social dimension is what is missing today, for example, at Mindfulness, which has an extraordinary role in promoting awareness. But it is too often limited and instrumental only to the perspective of individual well-being. Today everyone talks about it, everyone proposes it as a magic recipe to find serenity, well-being, even happiness. Indeed, happiness seems to be within reach, thanks to this discipline. Even easy to reach. As if it had always been in front of our eyes without us being able to see it. But is it so true? Actually, the point is another one and it comes close to what has been the path often taken by Yoga in the West, ended up being a discipline unrelated to its roots. This has an undoubted positive effect and an indisputable effectiveness: the practice of awareness, which has its basis in the Satipatana Sutta, in the most ancient teachings of Buddhism, has the great merit of having secularized and spread meditation in a way that until a few years ago was inimitable. So much so that the English health system now considers it a complementary therapy to traditional treatments. Given its roots it is natural that it is a technique that works. But its focus is on the solution of a personal problem, specific, more than collective. It is a protocol born with this function. And this is its “limit”, so much so that many teachers of this discipline today feel the need to add the adjective “relational” to complete an aspect that is objectively secondary. But it is also evident that the awareness and the ability to take care are the starting point and the foundation of any other action that aims to achieve happiness and every practice that goes in this direction becomes part of the process.
What does it mean, then, in practice, to imagine an Ethical context that emerges from a practice of care? How to act and where to start? It is not a question of creating an abstract, theoretical path, but of starting from the fundamental idea of ‘care’ as an action capable of activating four fundamental qualities that are human, secular, rather than spiritual models capable of leading us back to a path of integrity, healing and freedom. Kindness, more than any other, is a revolutionary act. Because it changes the perspective. It leads us to shift our gaze from the perspective of interest in ourselves to the gratuitousness of opening ourselves up to the world. It asks nothing if not to be present and say “Yes!” to what is there. It is an embrace, the stretching out of hands and taking care of fragility by witnessing to the reality of who we are, with our limits, desires, expectations and fears. Demonstrate kindness starts with us. From understanding and accepting that, after all, we are doing well like this and that if something we want to change it doesn’t have to be a struggle or a conquest. Metta, kindness means surrendering, laying down one’s arms, allowing oneself for a moment to extinguish the fire of anger. It means taking the side of an action that wants to put an end to conflicts and accept situations for those that are without forcing them, without walking together in one’s own life and that of others to respond to some abstract moral imperative or to an idea of how things should go. It means, in essence, seeing oneself in the experience of others precisely because the centrality of our experience is lacking. We empty ourselves, we let go of our opinions, our divisions, our wanting to be right. We just look at ourselves, with simplicity, with delicacy, with the resources that we have at our disposal, just at that precise moment. Activating the resource of kindness in a path of practice starts right from here, from saying yes, with delicacy.