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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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.