There are benefits of developing consensus but the Sangha is also provided with the 7 methods of overcoming disputes, the Adhikarana-samathas, in the Vinaya, which function as mechanisms to overcome an obstinate individual who is creating obstruction to harmony by holding on to wrong views, or misconduct, or bad behaviour.
Disputes, dissent and disagreement was obviously a thing at the time of the Buddha and should not be unexpected in a community. But what those differences arise from and how they are conducted and resolved also matter.
In the Sāmagāma Sutta MN 104
we have a discussion about community disharmony that includes the standard pericope about argument and disagreement about Dhamma and Vinaya:
“You do not understand this Dhamma and Discipline. I understand this Dhamma and Discipline. How could you understand this Dhamma and Discipline? Your way is wrong. My way is right. I am consistent. You are inconsistent. What should have been said first you said last. What should have been said last you said first. What you had so carefully thought up has been turned inside out. Your assertion has been shown up. You are refuted. Go and learn better, or disentangle yourself if you can…”
Such disagreement has a social impact, felt throughout the world system, not just in the monastery:
"Such a dispute would be for the harm and unhappiness of many, for the loss, harm, and suffering of gods and humans.”
These disputes arise from unwholesome roots like being irritable, contemptuous, jealous and stingy, being devious and decietful, having wicked motivations and holding wrong views which they refuse to give up. The intentions of people causing disharmony is something that matters a great deal, and needs to be examined by the individual—are they truly motivated by good intentions or merely holding on to a view out of greed hatred and delusion? In the case of things like status, precedence, or superiority, it would seem that this is not a wholesome motivation.
The Buddha then describes the seven kinds of settling disputes, which include:
… removal of litigation by confrontation … removal of litigation on account of memory… removal of litigation on account of past insanity… the effecting of acknowledgement of an offence, the opinion of the majority, the pronouncement of bad character against someone, and covering over with grass…"
The principle of majority is pertinent in this discussion:
“And how is there the opinion of a majority? If those bhikkhus cannot settle that litigation in that dwelling place, they should go to a dwelling place where there is a greater number of bhikkhus. There they should all meet together in concord. Then, having met together, the guideline of the Dhamma should be drawn out. Once the guideline of the Dhamma has been drawn out, that litigation should be settled in a way that accords with it. Such is the opinion of a majority. And so there comes to be the settlement of some litigations here by the opinion of a majority."
The Buddha then describes the Six Principles of Cordiality that “that create love and respect, and conduce to cohesion, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.”
- Bodily acts of loving kindness in private and public
- Verbal acts of loving kindness in private and public
- Mental acts of loving kindness in private and public
- Generosity and sharing
- Shared ethical values (Sila)
- Right View " that is noble and emancipating, and leads the one who practises in accordance with it to the complete destruction of suffering"
Both bhikkhunis and bhikkhus are members of the Sangha and are colleagues in the holy life. If monks practice unkindly actions, speech and thoughts towards bhikkhunis, or refuse to share and so on, merely on the basis of gender, then it seems a pretty poor standard of social harmony in a world where 50% of the population are women.
These six principles are also given in the famous Kosambiya Sutta MN 48.
In a related sutta, the equally famous Cūḷagosiṅga Sutta MN 31, the principle of going along with others to create harmony is similarly expressed in the wise approach of Anuruddha, Kimbila and Nandiya who blend like milk and water by thinking:
'Why don’t I set aside my own ideas and just go along with these venerables’ ideas?’
Why not indeed!
Monks are on the path to work on reducing their ego and sense of self. It would be a shame if hanging on to a view that being male is something special gets left out of this process, and even worse if it becomes a reason for an inflated sense of superiority. For too long the burden of overcoming gender bias has fallen on the shoulders of women, who are told to get over their attachment to self and practice humility by not seeking equal status whilst men cling to their own status, refusing to acknowledge their conceit and having no intention of doing what they expect others to do.
Personally I am very happy to take my alms food in order of Rains behind a Bhikkhuni and have done so on many occasions. It’s easy and didn’t hurt a bit.