Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Sangha: Significance and Grades

The term Sangha in Pali is a group of monks (Bhikhus) or nuns (Bhikhunis). It literally means a community. In its broadest sense, the term covers both the lay and the monastic communities.
The word Sangha usually has two meanings in proper Buddhist usage.
[1] It refers to the community of ordained disciples i.e. monks and nuns. or 
[2] It refers to the community of disciples, "noble ones" (ariya sangha).
They may be ones (whether ordained or not) who have gained any of the stages of Enlightenment.
According to Itivuttaka, “Among whatever communities or groups there may be, the Sangha of the Buddha's disciples is considered supreme.” The Sangha is the third part of the Triple Gem (Tri-ratana). Every Buddhist takes refuge in the Sangha. When Buddhists recite "Sangham saranam gachch├ómi" they are referring to the Ariya Sangha. The Buddhist Sangha is the community of Noble Ones. They had led an ideal example of life and also attained extraordinary insight into the true nature of things. But the Sangha also generally implies the Buddha's disciples of the fourfold assembly. These are monks (Bhikhus), nuns (Bhikhunis), lay men disciples (Upasakas) and lay women disciples (Upasikas).
In Buddhism the first monk and sangha is Kondanna. Kondanna was once a leader of ascetic group known as Pancavaggi. On hearing Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, Kondanna became enlightened and gained a first glimpse of Nibbana. He asked the Buddha for ordination. Thus he became the first member of the Noble Sangha as the Buddha's first disciple. This happened to the completion of the Triple Gem in Buddhism viz the Buddha (the teacher), the Dhamma (the teaching) and the Sangha (the community). The Buddha added to Kondanna the name of Annata Kondanna. Annata means one who has understood.
In fact, there are two kinds of Sangha such as the Bhikkhu Sangha (the community of monks) and the Savaka Sangha (the community of Noble disciples). The former is also known as the Sammuti Sangha (Conventional Sangha). The latter is also called the Ariya Sangha (Noble Sangha). For instance, when Kondanna was ordained a Bhikkhu, he became the first member of the Conventional Sangha. When he attained awakening, he became the first member of Noble Sangha.
The four types of persons who form the Noble Sangha are as follows:

[1] the Sotapanna (Stream-Enterers), 
[2] the Sakatagami (Once Returners), 
[3] the Anagami (Non-Returners) and 
[4] the Arahanta (Worthy Ones), who attained the goal of nibbana.
These noble disciples form the Sangha of the Triple Gem. Nine attributes of the Noble Sangha are said to be 1. of good conduct, 2. of upright conduct, 3. of wise conduct, 4. of seemly conduct; 5. the Sangha is worthy of offerings, 6. worthy of hospitality, 7. worthy of gifts, 8. worthy of reverence, 9. the Sangha is the incomparable field of merit in the world.
A Bhikkhu, the Buddhist monk cultivates himself along the path of moral discipline, concentration, and wisdom in accordance with the Buddha's teachings.
Posted by Nyan U

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