Caring for One AnotherThe Buddha taking care of a sick monk

Caring for One Another

Discussion date: Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

In the Still Water Mission Statement we identify Mindfulness, Compassion, and Community as our Core Values. We define community as “To live and grow being supported by and supporting others.” Recently, the Still Water Working Group asked whether there is more we can do to support one another, especially during times of grief or illness. This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, Carlos Munoz and I will facilitate a Dharma sharing on this question. We hope to identify areas in which practitioners would like support, and also, ways in which practitioners would like to support others.

In the early Buddhist scriptures there is a story about the Buddha and Ananda finding a monk suffering from dysentery living alone in filth, with no one looking after him. The Buddha and Ananda tended to his needs, and later gathered the community. The Buddha remonstrated them for not caring for the sick monk, and said:

Monks, you have no mother, you have no father, who might tend to you. If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you? Whoever would tend to me, should tend to the sick.

During the time of the Buddha almost everyone lived in large extended families. To leave home as a monastic meant to no longer receive the emotional and practical support the large families offered. Today, 2600 years later, in urban areas like the D.C. area, very few of us live in the same building, or even the same state, as our extended family members. Although we are not monastic, the question often arises: Who will offer emotional and practical support?

The sutra quote above is from Thanissaro Bhikku’s translation, available at,

A retelling of the story by Thich Nhat Hanh from Old Path White Cloud is below.

You are invited to join us on Thursday evening. And if this subject is important to you, please send your reflections and comments to

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

The Monk with Dysentery
By Thich Nhat Hanh from Old Path White Cloud

One day the Buddha and Ananda visited a small monastery located just outside the city. They arrived when most of the bhikkhus were out begging. As they strolled around the monastery grounds, they suddenly heard a pitiful groan coming from one of the huts. The Buddha entered the hut and found an emaciated bhikkhu curled up in one corner. A terrible stench filled the air. The Buddha knelt beside him and asked, “Brother, are you ill?”

The bhikkhu answered, “Lord, I have dysentery.”

“Isn’t anyone looking after you?”

“Lord, the other brothers have gone out begging. There is no one here but me. When I first fell ill, several of the brothers did try to care for me, but when I saw I was of no use to anyone, I told them not to bother with me anymore.”

The Buddha told Ananda, “Go fetch some water. We will bathe our brother.”

Ananda brought a bucket of water and helped the Buddha bathe the sick bhikkhu. They changed his robe and lifted him back onto his bed. The Buddha and Ananda then scrubbed the floor and washed the bhikkhu’s soiled robes. They were hanging the robes out to dry when the other bhikkhus returned. Venerable Ananda asked them to boil some water and prepare medicine for their brother.

The community invited the Buddha and Ananda to eat with them. After the meal, the Buddha asked them, “From what illness is the bhikkhu in that hut suffering?”

“Lord Buddha, he has dysentery.” “Has anyone been caring for him?” “Lord Buddha, at first we tried to look after him but then he asked us not to.”

“Bhikkhus, when we leave our homes to follow the Way, we leave parents and family behind. If we don’t look after each other when we are sick, who will? We must care for one another. Whether the ill person is a teacher, a student, or a friend, we must tend to him until he has regained his health. Bhikkhus, if I were sick, would you tend to my needs?”

“Yes, certainly, Lord Buddha.”

“Then you must tend to the needs of any bhikkhu who falls ill. Caring for any bhikkhu is the same as caring for the Buddha.”

The bhikkhus joined their palms and bowed.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Nov 29, 2018