Sangha (Pali: saṅgha; Sanskrit: saṃgha; Chinese: 僧伽; pinyin: Sēngjiā; Wylie: dge 'dun) is a word in Pali and Sanskrit meaning "association", "assembly," "company" or "community" and most commonly refers in Buddhism to the monastic community of bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkhunis (nuns). These communities are traditionally referred to as the bhikkhu-sangha or bhikkhuni-sangha. As a separate category, those who have attained any of the four stages of enlightenment, whether or not they are members of the monastic community, are referred to as the āryasaṅgha "noble Sangha".
- Qualities of the Sangha
- Monastic tradition
- Japanese vinaya
- The Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing
- Attitudes regarding food and work
- Women's role in the Sangha
According to the Theravada school, the term "sangha" does not refer to the community of sāvakas (lay followers) nor the community of Buddhists as a whole.
In a glossary of Buddhist terms, Richard Robinson et al. define Sangha as:
Sangha. Community. This word has two levels of meaning: (1) on the ideal (arya) level, it denotes all of the Buddha’s followers, lay or ordained, who have at least attained the level of srotāpanna; (2) on the conventional (saṃvṛti) level, it denotes the orders of the Bhikṣus and Bhikṣunis.
Modern lay practitioners may use the word "Sangha" as a collective term for all Buddhists, but the Theravada Pāli Canon uses the word pariṣā (Sanskrit pariṣad) for the larger Buddhist community — the monks, nuns, lay men, and lay women who have taken the Three Refuges — reserving "Sangha" for a more restricted use.
The two meanings overlap but are not necessarily identical. Some members of the ideal Sangha are not ordained; some monastics have yet to acquire the Dharma-eye.
Unlike the present Sangha, the original Sangha viewed itself as following the mission laid down by the Master, viz, to go forth "…on tour for the blessing of the manyfolk, for the happiness of the manyfolk out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, the blessing, the happiness of deva and men".
Qualities of the Sangha
The Sangha is the third of the Three Jewels in Buddhism. Due to the temptations and vicissitudes of life in the world, monastic life is considered to provide the safest and most suitable environment for advancing toward enlightenment and liberation.
In Buddhism, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha each are described as having certain characteristics. These characteristics are chanted either on a daily basis and/or on Uposatha days, depending on the school of Buddhism. In Theravada tradition they are a part of daily chanting:
The Sangha: The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples (sāvakas) is:
- practicing the good way
- practicing the upright way
- practicing the knowledgeable or logical way
- practicing the proper way
That is, the four pairs of persons, the eight types of individuals - This Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is:
- worthy of gifts
- worthy of hospitalities
- worthy of offerings
- worthy of reverential salutation
- the unsurpassed field of merit for the world.
The Sangha was originally established by Gautama Buddha in the fifth century BCE in order to provide a means for those who wish to practice full-time in a direct and highly disciplined way, free from the restrictions and responsibilities of the household life. The Sangha also fulfils the function of preserving the Buddha’s original teachings and of providing spiritual support for the Buddhist lay-community. The Sangha has historically assumed responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the doctrine as well as the translation and propagation of the teachings of the Buddha.
The key feature of Buddhist monasticism is the adherence to the vinaya which contains an elaborate set of rules of conduct including complete chastity, eating only before noon, and not indulging in malicious or salacious talk. Between midday and the next day, a strict life of scripture study, chanting, meditation, and occasional cleaning forms most of the duties for members of the Sangha. Transgression of rules carries penalties ranging from confession to permanent expulsion from the Sangha.
Saichō, the founder of the Japanese school of Tendai, decided to reduce the number of rules down to about 60 based on the Bodhisattva Precepts. In the Kamakura, many Japanese schools that originated in or were influenced by the Tendai such as Zen, Pure Land Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism abolished traditional ordination in favor of this new model of the vinaya.
The Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing
The Order of Interbeing, established in 1964 and associated with the Plum Village movement, has fourteen precepts observed by all monastics. They were written by Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Monks and nuns generally own a minimum of possessions due to their samaya as renunciants, including three robes, an alms bowl, a cloth belt, a needle and thread, a razor for shaving the head, and a water filter. In practice, they often have a few additional personal possessions.
Traditionally, Buddhist monks, nuns, and novices eschew ordinary clothes and wear robes. Originally the robes were sewn together from rags and stained with earth or other available dyes. The color of modern robes varies from community to community: saffron is characteristic for Theravada groups; blue, grey or brown for Mahayana Sangha members in Vietnam, maroon in Tibetan Buddhism, grey in Korea, and black in Japan.
Attitudes regarding food and work
A Buddhist monk is a bhikkhu in Pali, Sanskrit bhikṣu while a nun is a bhikkhuni, Sanskrit bhikṣuṇī. These words literally mean "beggar" or "one who lives by alms". and it was traditional in early Buddhism for the Sangha to go on "alms round" for food, walking or standing quietly in populated areas with alms bowls ready to receive food offerings each day. Although in the vinaya laid down by the Buddha the Sangha was not allowed to engage directly in agriculture, this later changed in some Mahayana schools when Buddhism moved to East Asia, so that in the East Asian cultural sphere, the monastic community traditionally has engaged in agriculture. An emphasis on working for food is attributed to additional training guidelines laid down by a Chan Buddhist master, Baizhang Huaihai, notably the phrase, "A day without work is a day without food" (Chinese: 一日不做一日不食).
The idea that all Buddhists, especially Sangha members, practice vegetarianism is a Western misperception.
In the Pali Canon the Buddha rejected a suggestion by Devadatta to impose vegetarianism on the Sangha. According to the Pali Texts, the Buddha ate meat as long as the animal was not killed specifically for him. The Buddha in the Pali Canon allowed Sangha members to eat whatever food is donated to them by laypeople, except that they may not eat meat if they know or suspect the animal was killed specifically for them. Consequently, the Theravada tradition does not practice strict vegetarianism, although an individual may do so as his or her personal choice .
On this question Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions vary depending on their interpretation of their scriptures. In some Mahayana sutras, meat eating is strongly discouraged and it is stated that the Buddha did not eat meat. In particular, East Asian Sangha members take on the Bodhisattva Precepts originating in the Brahmajala Sutra, which has a vow of vegetarianism as part of the Triple Platform Ordination, where they receive the three sets of vows: śrāmaṇera/śrāmaṇerī (novitiate), monastic, and then Bodhisattva Precepts, whereas the Tibetan lineages transmit a tradition of Bodhisattva Precepts from Asanga's Yogacarabhumi-sastra, which does not include a vow of vegetarianism. In some areas such as China, Korea and Vietnam the Sangha practices strict vegetarianism, while in other areas such as Japan or Tibet, they do not.
According to Mahayana sutras, Gautama Buddha always maintained that lay persons were capable of great wisdom and of reaching enlightenment. In some areas there has been a misconception that Theravada regards enlightenment to be an impossible goal for those outside the Sangha, but in Theravada suttas it is clearly recorded that the Buddha's uncle, a lay follower, reached enlightenment by hearing the Buddha's discourse, and there are many other such instances described in the Pāli Canon. Accordingly, emphasis on lay persons, as well as Sangha members, practicing the Buddhist path of morality, meditation, and wisdom is present in all major Buddhist schools.
Women's role in the Sangha
Although always maintaining that women were just as capable of attaining enlightenment as men, the canonical texts depict the Buddha as being reluctant to permit women to join the Sangha. After several entreaties from his aunt and foster-mother, Mahapajapati Gotami, who wished to become ordained, and from his cousin and aide Ananda, who supported her cause, the Buddha relented and ordained Maha Pajapati and several others as nuns. This was one of the few issues about which the Buddha is recorded to have changed his mind. The Buddha later established the condition that each new ordination would be sanctioned by at least five bhikkhunis.
There have been several theories regarding the Buddha's reluctance to ordain women, including the possibility that it was due to fears that a community of women would not be safe in the society of his day. According to the scriptures the reason the Buddha himself gave was that the admission of women would weaken the Sangha and shorten its lifetime, and he laid down strict rules subordinating nuns to monks (The Eight Garudhammas).
Before the modern era, the Bhikkhuni Sangha spread to most Buddhist countries including Burma (also known as Myanmar), with the notable exceptions being Tibet and Thailand. However, in Sri Lanka, it died out in the 11th century during a civil war and was not revived. Consequently, as Theravada Buddhism spread to Thailand, the Theravada Sangha consisted only of monks.
In recent decades, there has been a serious attempt to revive the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha with the assistance of Mahayana bhikkhunis from the Chinese lineage. These were introduced from Sri Lanka in 433 C. E., following the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, and subsequently spread to Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan. This has resulted in a small but thriving community of bhikkhunis in Sri Lanka, who in turn ordained the first Theravada bhikkhuni in the modern history of Thailand, Ven. Dhammananda. However, the validity of these ordinations is strongly disputed by some of the conservative Theravada establishment.
Meanwhile, a similar process has produced the first fully ordained bhikkhunis in Tibetan Buddhism, where only the novice ordination for bhikkhunis existed. In the west, where feminism has been a strong influence, there have been many remarkable Buddhist nuns: three notable examples are Pema Chodron, Ayya Khema and Tenzin Palmo.
The first bhikkhuni ordination in Australia in the Theravada tradition was held in Perth on October 22, 2009 at Bodhinyana Monastery. Venerable Ajahn Vayama together with Venerables Nirodha, Seri and Hasapañña were ordained as bhikkhunis by a dual sangha act of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis in full accordance with the Pali vinaya.