For a beginner in Buddhism, we learn about the 3 precious Gems of Buddhism. In modern language, that means the 3 most precious things, or the 3 cornerstones. Our conversion to Buddhism depends on our refuge or reliance upon the 3 precious objects (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) to navigate our daily life.
What exactly is Sangha?
There is 2 ways to look at it. The spiritual hocus pocus way and the modern realist way.
The spiritual approach to Triple Gems acknowledges a spiritual dimension that is not perceivable by ordinary people. There is this mystical aspect about it and we look upon the Triple Gems as a “Higher” power. A mystical benevolent force that grant us protection from all dangers (known and unknown)
In this instance, Sangha refers to enlightened disciples of Buddha.
It is almost like the gods, saints and immortals in a god-worshipping religion. Except that, in Buddhism, we can also aspire to be enlightened and become part of the Sangha.
In the modern realist approach, one doesn’t believe in any hocus pocus. Everything is explainable by science and logic. The approach towards Buddhism is based on our daily human experience. We want to know the practicality of Buddhism. How can it bring happiness to the world and into my life? In this instance, what is Sangha to you?
To answer that question, we need to know what makes the Sangha.
Is it their country of origin? Is it their cultural practices? Is it their clothing style or hair style? Is it a birth lineage? A rational Buddhist will answer “No” to these questions without any hesitation. The Buddha had also answered similarly in the past.
The Sangha actually represents an ideal. (living man and woman)
- They are people who live their life in accordance to Dharma (teachings of Buddha)
- Their life’s goal is in line with Dharma (To reduce if not eliminate Craving, Hatred and Ignorance)
Different people have different aptitudes and aspiration. Thus, some people can practice or achieve more than others. Therefore, the Sangha consist of different categories of practicing Buddhist.
- Monks and Nuns who observes more than 250 rules of moral conducts
- Male and female novices (at least 10 vows)
- Lay man and lay woman. (at least 5 vows)
From the above, it is obvious that the Sangha is a living testimony of Buddha’s teachings. In another word, they are practitioners of Buddha’s messages. They prove the effect and efficaciousness of Buddha Dharma.
A person cease to be Buddhist when he/she commits a deed that is contrary to Buddha’s teachings or more stringently, harbors an intention that is contrary to Buddhist goal in life. Thus, we are more interested in their conducts or behavior, instead of their monastic robe, ceremonial hats, fans, seats, and etc.
Unlike other religion, where admission into a holy order is ordained by God(s)/Goddess(es) (unseen or imaginary); the Buddhist holy order (Sangha) is founded by sincere men and women who conduct themselves in a holy manner.(Buddhist way of living)
Therefore, one is automatically excluded from the Sangha when he or she does not follow the rules of moral conduct or harbors intentions that is contrary to Buddhist goals (aka. removing craving, hatred and ignorance).
From a realist perspective, our refuge in the Sangha is based on our belief in an ideal. We believe that the Sangha represents the best potential in human beings and how they can live a blameless life. We believe the Sangha creates positive changes in the world.
For example, people who observe the precept of non-killing bring peace and harmony. People who avoid lies brings out the Truth.
Our realist approach to taking refuge in Sangha is a dynamic belief in an ideal. It is faceless, genderless, raceless, casteless and beyond wardrobe styles. Whoever conducts themselves in accordance to the Dharma is part of the Sangha. Naturally, that includes both enlightened and unenlightened disciples.
This approach encourages us to practice due diligence and not be lazy. We learn to differentiate good practitioners from the bad. We only honor those who are worthy of our honor. Their wardrobe doesn’t matter to us. Their positions and prestige doesn’t matter. Their cultural practices and race doesn’t matter. Their extraordinary claims to supernatural ability doesn’t matter. Their numbers of followers doesn’t matter. The size of their property doesn’t matter. (We look beyond outward appearances (form) and learn to focus on the substance)
But more importantly, we acknowledge our contributory role in our refuge. We (as a practicing Buddhist) help make the Sangha a reality. (not imaginary). Our every conduct, speech and thought determine if there is one more or one less Sangha member at any one time.
May all be well and happy.