6. “The eight persons extolled by virtuous men constitute four pairs. They are the disciples of the Buddha and are worthy of offerings. Gifts given to them yield rich results. This precious jewel is the Sangha. By this (asseveration of the) truth may there be happiness.Ratana sutta
Noblest of Buddha’s disciples are those who had succeeded in actualising what Buddha taught. This means anyone who followed the Buddha dharma and succeeded in attaining freedom from Samsara are worthy of offerings.
According to Theravada system, the attainments or realisations are classified into 4 levels. Each level has 2 attainments. Attaining the path and attaining the fruit
The lowest level attainment is call stream-entry; Therefore, we have attainment of the stream-entry path and attainment of the stream-entry fruit
Then once-returners path and once-returner fruit
Then non-returners path and non-returner fruit
Finally, arahant path and its fruit
Therefore, there are 8 types of persons that forms the Sangha. In this explanation, there is no distinction between monastic and household communities. Only enlightened beings.
In this verse, the standard is set pretty high. The Truth asserted is powerful because it calls upon disciples with attainment
What kind of rich result do we get when we offer gifts to the Sangha?
Since they are free from defilements, our gift will be put to better use by the Sangha. For a start, their existence will already have a positive impact on Society. A simple analogy is giving things to a good doctor who treat his patient for free (no personal greed). In order to help him help more people, we donate hospital bed, medicine necessities etc. By helping to heal more people, we create a healthier environment. That healthier environment that we help to build will also benefit and enrich us. What goes around comes around.
The Sangha heals the mental afflictions. In this manner, they are worthy of our gifts. Our gift to the Sangha will bring tremendous benefits to ourselves and others.
So who exactly are these Sangha? The Sangha are very low profile people who are more interested in upholding the practice and doing it well. They do not go around wearing a badge with their attainments emblemed. To seek them out, we really need to associate with practitioners and observe them ourselves.
7. “With a steadfast mind, and applying themselves well in the dispensation of the Buddha Gotama, free from (defilements), they have attained to that which should be attained (arahantship), encountering the Deathless. They enjoy the Peace of Nibbana freely obtained. This precious jewel is the Sangha. By this (asseveration of the) truth may there be happiness.Ratana Sutta
The next verse describes with certainty the goal of Buddha’s disciples. It is not complicated. If we are aiming for enlightenment, then we are beginners on the Buddha path. By being steadfast in our practice, we slowly free ourselves from defilements. Being consistent, we will succeed one day. Then we will also become part of the Sangha.
Although this verse refers to the enlightened disciples, it also serves to point us in the right directions. We have to be steadfast, we have to apply ourselves to Buddha dharma and practice. We have to free ourselves from defilements and we have to encounter the deathlessness.
May all be well and happy.