WHAT IS THE SAMGHA?

    Samgha means a congregation of those who have the same view. According to Buddhism, to be considered the Samgha there must be at least four monks who follow the 227 monastic rules laid down by the Buddha. (In addition to these there are a great many more minor rules). There are two kinds of Samgha; Ariya Samgha and Puthujjana Samgha. A member of the Ariya Samgha has realised one or more of the stages of holiness; the four supramundane paths (magga) and fruitions (phala). The Ariya Samgha came into being on the fifth waning day of July following the Buddha's enlightenment.

    A puthujjana bhikkhu is still possessed of all ten fetters binding to the round of rebirths but he always tries to reach the noble state of an ariya. To be ordained as a bhikkhu he must have his own bowl and three robes; an outer double robe, an under robe and an upper robe. He must be free from such diseases as leprosy, boils, eczema, consumption and epilepsy. He must be a male human being and free from debt. He must be a free man and not a slave. He must have his parents' consent and be fully twenty years of age from conception. To ordain a bhikkhu there must be at least five bhikkhus, or at least ten in the middle country of India (majjhima desa).

THE ATTRIBUTES OF THE SAMGHA

    Supatipanno bhagavato savakasamgho, ujupatipanno bhagavato savakasamgho, naya patipanno bhagavato savakasamgho, samicipatipanno bhagavato savakasamgho, yadidam cattari purisayugani, attha purisapuggal, esa bhagavato savakasamgho; ahuneyyo, pahuneyyo dakkhineyyo anjalikaraniyo, anuttaram punnakkhettam lokassati.

    The Buddha's Order of Ariya Samgha has practised well, practised straightly, practised intelligently and completely. It is worthy of offerings, hospitality, gifts and reverence. It is an incomparable field of merit for the world.

1) Practised Well (Supatipanno)

    The task of the Samgha is to put the Buddha's teaching into practice and to preach to others. So a member of the Samgha has to practise the Dhamma well, even if he cannot propagate the Buddha's teaching. If he says, "Do as I say, not as I do," he cannot teach others effectively. A poor man can give nothing to others; if he tries to do so he will only fall into debt. The recipient too, will not be satisfied with a loan. So a member of the Samgha who wants to eradicate the defilements has to practise the Buddha's teachings well.

    An ariya bhikkhu never commits the actions which have been described as an obstacle to the attainment of nibbana. During the life-time of the Buddha the people blamed some bhikkhus who went to a public alms-house every day for their meal. When the Buddha was told of this he made a rule permitting the monks to take only one meal at a public alms-house. Then, when Sariputta was going on a journey, he fell sick at an alms-house. He had eaten a meal there for one day but could not yet set out on his journey. Although some people offered food to him, he did not eat even at the risk of his life, because of his wish to keep the rule laid down by the Buddha. When the Buddha came to know about this he made an amendment to the rule allowing a sick bhikkhu to take meals at an almshouse until he recovers. A noble bhikkhu never breaks the Vinaya rules even for the sake of his own comfort.

    If a puthujjana bhikkhu is endowed with five factors: he believes in the enlightenment of the Buddha, he has good health and digestion, he is not deceitful, he sustains vigorous effort to root out the defilements, and he is endowed with insight into the impermanence of things, he will soon attain Arahant-ship. (1. A. iii. 64) So the puthujjana bhikkhu is also worthy of respect.

2) Practised Correctly (Ujupatipanno)

    Following the middle way without deceit a bhikkhu practises correctly the way leading to higher know ledge. Most people always pursue sensual pleasures because they assume that that is the best way to be happy. But the happiness which is dependent on sensual pleasures is short-lived. As soon as a person obtains the object he desires, he desires something else. He is like a thirsty person who has drunk salty water. In the effort to get pleasures, he has to suffer many hardships and disappointments. So, realising this danger, bhikkhus do not pursue sensual pleasures. Some people, because they know that sensual pleasures produce suffering, try to remove desire for them by practising self-torment. But that way is also wrong. Not only is it connected with sensuality but also it cannot cause knowledge to arise. By practising it a person only doubles his suffering. So bhikkhus avoid the practice of self-torment.

    There are two kinds of dishonesty. An ignoble person is reluctant to admit his faults and hides his wrong-doing by fair means or foul. He