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The Buddha as an Exemplary Leader

Some people have the idea that the Buddha was a tough task master and strict with rules (Vinaya). But did you know that the Vinaya was introduced only 20 years after his Buddhahood? Which means that from the age of 35 (age of Enlightenment) until about 55, there existed only one of the current three baskets (Ti-pitaka, i.e. sutta, vinaya and abhidhamma). So what does this tell us about Buddha's leadership? Here we summarize these qualities:

Initial Trust in Disciples' Conduct

Initially, the monastic community's conduct was exemplary, and there was no immediate need for formal rules. This shows the Buddha's leadership in trusting his disciples' inherent understanding and mindfulness, fostering a sense of responsibility and self-discipline among them.

Adaptive Leadership

As the Sangha grew, the need for formal rules became apparent to maintain order and discipline. The Buddha's decision to introduce the Vinaya at this point stemmed from the misconduct of certain monks in the Ganges Valley. An event recorded in the Kīṭāgiri Sutta (MN 70) involved monks flaunting the Buddha’s regulations regarding the proper times for meals. Their behaviour escalated to such a frenzied state that the Buddha had to send his leading disciples, Sāriputta and Moggallāna, to banish these monks from their residence near Kīṭāgiri. This event, among others, highlighted the need for a formal set of rules to govern monk behaviour, leading to the establishment of the Vinaya Piṭaka.

Well-Timed Implementation

The Buddha knew the proper time to introduce these rules, which is a mark of wise and strategic leadership. He waited until it was absolutely necessary, ensuring that the rules were accepted and integrated smoothly within the community.

Objectives Behind Vinaya

The introduction of the Vinaya was aimed at achieving ten specific objectives, such as ensuring the well-being and convenience of the Sangha, restraining evil-minded persons, and supporting the spiritual growth of the monks. This strategic approach in rule-setting highlights his foresight and concern for the community's long-term welfare.

Flexibility in Rules

The Buddha's willingness to amend the Vinaya rules in response to new situations shows his flexibility and understanding that leadership involves continual adaptation and responsiveness to the community's needs. An example of this flexibility was his response to the case of the rule regarding eating after noon. Initially, the Buddha did not impose any specific time for meals. However, as the number of monks grew, some of them began to go on alms rounds at inappropriate times, which caused inconvenience to the lay followers. The Buddha then established a rule that monks should not eat after noon. This change was made to ensure that the monks conducted their alms rounds at a suitable time, which was convenient for the lay community and also helped the monks to maintain discipline in their daily schedule.

Preservation and Enhancement of the Sangha's Reputation

By establishing the Vinaya, the Buddha ensured that the behaviour of the Sangha was conducive to spiritual development and that it enhanced the Sangha's reputation. This not only helped in attracting new members but also in maintaining the faith of the existing followers.

Safeguarding the Dhamma

The rules were also meant to ensure the stability and continuance of the Dhamma, further demonstrating his visionary leadership in preserving the teachings for future generations.

In summary, the Buddha's introduction of the Vinaya 20 years after achieving Buddhahood exemplifies his exemplary leadership through his strategic foresight, adaptability, and deep concern for the welfare of both the monastic community and the broader lay community. This approach not only maintained discipline within the Sangha but also ensured the longevity and integrity of the Buddhist teachings.


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