The Sangha

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Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha



You have learned about two of the triple gems, the most precious things in the world for one who is seeking the way to liberation — Buddha,  the teacher, and Dhamma, the teachings. In this lesson you will learn about the Sangha — the community of those who have realized the teaching and embody it in their lives.

Sangha refers to those who are joined together, a community. Although "Sangha" is often used these days to refer to the entire Buddhist community or to the members of a particular Buddhist community, sangha properly applies to two kinds of communities within the larger Buddhist society:

  • The Noble Sangha (Ariyan Sangha) — the community of the Buddha’s true disciples
  • The conventional sangha – fully ordained monks and nuns.

Ariyan sangha

The Ariyan Sangha is the community of noble persons, those who have reached the supramundane paths and fruits. They all share a penetration through direct experience of the innermost essence of  the Dhamma. These persons have followed the Buddha’s path to the height of wisdom and seen for themselves the ultimate truth, the truth of the unconditioned.

The person who becomes an ariyan disciple gains absolute confidence in the Triple Gem — in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. He has been spiritually reborn, born with a noble  birth.

Those who become ariyans have entered the definite path to final liberation. They have stepped beyond the ranks of the multitude caught up in craving  and ignorance revolving in birth and death. They can never fall back to the level of a worldling because they have realized the truth by direct experience. They are now bound to reach full enlightenment and final liberation.

The Ariyan sangha is the jewel of the sangha. 

The highest of the noble disciples is the arahant. He is the one who has reached enlightenment and cut off all craving and extinguished all defilements. He lives out his day in the bliss of liberation until the break up of the body. With the break up of the body, he attains the final goal, the Nibbana element without residue.

The conventional sangha

The monastic order is called the conventional sangha because admission to the order depends entirely on the convention of ordination, which can be given to any properly qualified candidate. It does not require any special spiritual attainment but simply a person who wishes to enter the order and is free from any of the conditions that obstruct ordination.

The monastic life requires purified conduct but household life stimulates many desires that run contrary to pure conduct. The homeless life is a life of meditation calling for constant mindfulness, clear awareness and contemplation. All this needs time, a calm environment, freedom from external pressures and responsibility. The Buddha founded in sangha in order to provide such conditions.

The bhikkhu, the Buddhist monk, is not a priest. He does not function as an intermediary between the laity and any divine power, not even between the lay person and the Buddha. The main task of a bhikkhu is to cultivate himself along the path laid down by the Buddha, the path of moral discipline, concentration, and wisdom.

The monastic sangha is regarded as extremely precious and worthy of deep reverence and respect for two basic reasons: The monks continue to follow the holy life laid down by the Buddha in its fullness. And the monks transmit the teaching from generation to generation, out of concern for the welfare of others.

The Buddha established the sangha in order to provide ideal conditions for reaching the ariyan state, for attaining Nibbana.

The distinctive marks of the bhikkhu

My life is different from that of worldly people.

The distinctive marks of the bhikkhu in all Buddhist countries are the shaven head and the saffron robes. The reason the bhikkhu adopts this appearance is rooted in the very nature of his calling.

The Buddhist monk seeks to realize the truth of anatta, of selflessness. This means the relinquishing of one’s claims to stand out as a special individual, to be a "somebody". The aim of the bhikkhu is to eliminate the sense of ego of self identification. Our clothes, hairstyle, and beard often become subtle ways by which we assert our sense of identity or express our self image. Bhikkhus give up their personal identity and blend into a larger body the sangha.

The robe and the shaven head is also the theme for their daily reflection, "My life is different from that of worldly people." Unlike the common people, he leads a life of restraints self-control, and inner cultivation. The robe also serves to make others aware of the Buddha’s teaching. His conduct has the effect of impressing on others the fruits of the Buddha’s teaching.

Another special aspect of the lifestyle of the Buddhist monk is that he lives in dependence on the offerings of others. He does not work for his living, he does not receive payment for his religious services, but he lives entirely in dependence on the support of the laity. Those who have confidence in the Dhamma provide him with the basic requisites, his robes, food, dwelling place, medicines, and whatever other simple material support he might need.

Renunciation and Deliverance

The key act that characterizes the act of becoming a monk is renunciation, going forth from the household life into homelessness. Homelessness is not absolutely essential for this work, true renunciation being an inner act, not a mere outer one. But the homeless life provides the most suitable outer conditions for practicing true renunciation. But anyone who has correctly grasped the drift of the Dhamma will see that the path of renunciation follows from it with complete naturalness.