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Summary Article: Sangha
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In Buddhism, the monastic orders, one of the Three Treasures, or Three Refuges, of Buddhism (the other two are Buddha and the teaching, or dharma). The term Sangha is sometimes used more generally by Mahāyāna Buddhists to include all followers, including the Buddhist laity.

Buddhists believe that living in an organized community with common spiritual aims facilitates working towards enlightenment, and becoming ordained enables a Buddhist to devote his or her life to this purpose.

Foundation of the monasteries When the Sangha was first formed by the Buddha, the monks would wander from village to village until the three months of rains from July until October. During the rains, they would live together in one place, and these gradually became monasteries known as viharas. The development of monastic establishments led both to stronger communities and greater differences between each community (see Buddhism, schools of). The rainy season still marks a change in practice for many monks; Theravāda Buddhists hold a three-month retreat known as Vassa.

Monastic life Monks and nuns are expected to follow the Ten Moral Precepts, a practice that includes celibacy, the refusal of gifts of money, and abstention from alcohol. They have no personal possessions apart from a robe, a belt, a bowl for food, a walking stick, a razor, a needle, a net for straining water, and a string of prayer beads, although they do have other simple necessities according to their needs. They are dependent on the goodwill and foresight of lay followers for food, clothes, and other daily essentials, and are not allowed to beg. The laity and the Sangha are, however, equally dependent on each other. The monks give lessons and advice on the dharma (religious teachings), and perform ceremonies on behalf of the laity. In Tibet, young boys are likely to live in the monastery and receive their education there, without becoming monks.

The monasteries in which the Sangha live vary in size according to the region and school of Buddhism followed. Monks and nuns not attached to a monastery may live in caves or small, simple huts in the forest, or may travel from village to village. Adult monks will be involved in conducting daily worship and ceremonies in the shrine room and at people's homes. They will also teach the dharma to younger monks, novices, and the lay community. A significant proportion of each day is spent in meditation and study.

The Sangha are usually fed by the laity and do not eat after midday. In larger monasteries, monks are sometimes involved in producing religious artefacts such as painting thankas (wall hangings) or carving buddhas. Some monasteries publish books on the dharma. Monasteries vary as to which activities are regarded as most important: meditation, helping the laity, or producing artefacts or religious texts.

Buddhist schoolsTheravāda Buddhists believe that ordination and a life of meditation is the ideal step towards enlightenment. Theravāda monks usually wear yellow robes, and follow the Ten Moral Precepts. They are governed by the rules for monastic life laid down in the Vinaya-Pitaka.

Many schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism place less importance on monastic life. Ordained Buddhists follow a greater variety of practice and dress, and may have more involvement with the outside world. Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhist monks wear red robes. Mahāyāna belief is complex, involving many Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and this has given rise to long and involved forms of worship and ritual ceremony.


Buddhism: The Spread of a Religion

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

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