Thomas Borchert

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online April 2012 | | DOI:

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The Sangha is the Buddhist community; it is the men, women and children who follow the teachings of the Buddha. The term, which in Sanskrit and Pāli means “collection” or “assemblage,” a group of people living together for a certain purpose, has come to have two different referents. First, and most commonly, “Sangha” refers to those who have “left home” and “gone into homelessness,” that is, monks and nuns. Under this meaning, the Sangha is the “Third Jewel” in which a follower of the Buddha might take refuge, along with the Buddha and the Dharma. When scholars and practitioners refer to the Sangha, they are likely to be referring specifically to this community. However, the Sangha can have a more expansive referent as well. Pāli texts refer to the “fourfold” Sangha, which included bhikkhus (monks), bhikkhunīs (nuns), upāsaka (laymen) and upāsikā (laywomen). In other words, the term refers to the men, women, and children who follow the teachings of the Buddha. There are two aspects worth highlighting when thinking about what counts as the Sangha. First, if we consider the Sangha to be Buddhists in this second more expansive sense, there can still be real difficulties in deciding who count as lay Buddhists, because Buddhists have often also been involved in other religious systems (such as Daoism in China or Shinto in Japan). Second, while monks and nuns, and perhaps laymen and laywomen, are the basic form of the Sangha, positions within the Sangha are not limited to these groups. Some other examples include novices (monastics who have taken the “lower” ordination, in which they agree to follow ten precepts); lay postulants (laity who have agreed to be formal followers of a specific teacher or to take on one or more of the panca sila, the five precepts); and in contemporary Southeast Asia, where the bhikkhunī order died out long ago, some women have become eight- or ten-precept renunciants, living in monastic settings, wearing white, and shaving their heads.

Article.  12819 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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