The Meaning of Sangha (


Like the young teenagers who delight in doing things differently from their parents, new Buddhists in non-Asian countries seem to be going through their own proud adolescence by challenging the boundaries of traditional Buddhism.  Fortunately, for both our youngsters and Western Buddhists, the arrogance of youth soon gives way to the mature, long years of understanding and respect for tradition.  It is in order to hasten this growing up of Buddhism in Australia that I write this article on the meaning of ‘Sangha’ as it was meant to be understood by the Lord Buddha.

In the Tipitaka, the recorded Teachings of the Lord Buddha, one finds two main focuses for the meaning of Sangha: the third part of the Threefold Refuge (in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha) and the third factor of the to-be -worshipped Triple Gem (The Buddha, Dhamma and SavakaSangha).  On odd occasions in the Tipitaka, ‘Sangha’ is used to denote a ‘herd’ of animals (Patika Sutta, Digha Nikaya) or “flock” of birds (Jataka Nidana), but groups of lay disciples, both men and women, are always described as ‘parisa’, an assembly.

So what is the meaning of Sangha in the first main context, in the Threefold Refuge?  Certainly, only an exceedingly eccentric Buddhist would take as their third refuge a sangha of birds (only “one gone cuckoo”, as they say!).  In fact, the Tipitaka is precise in what is meant by the third refuge.  In the Canon, on every occasion that an inspired person took the Threefold Refuge as an expression of their faith, it was either in the Buddha, Dhamma and Bhikkhu Sangha, or in the Buddha, Dhamma and Bhikkhuni Sangha.  Thus, in original Buddhism, the meaning of Sangha in the context of the Threefold Refuge is unarguably the Monastic Sangha.

The Sangha as the third factor of the Triple Gem worshipped by Buddhists seems to have a different meaning.  It is called the Savaka Sangha (or Ariya Sangha) and is defined as those attained to any of the Eight Stages of Enlightenment (the 4 usual stages divided into Path and Fruit) who are “worthy of gifts, hospitality, offerings and reverential salutations, and who are the unsurpassed field of merit in the world”.  So, in the original texts, who are the “unsurpassed field of merit and worthy of offerings and salutations”?

In the Dakkhinavibhanga Sutta (Majjhima 142), the Buddha said that, “an offering made to the monastic Sangha is incalculable, immeasurable. And, I say, that in no way does a gift to a person individually ever have a greater fruit than an offering made to the monastic Sangha”.  Consistency proves that the Savaka Sangha, the unsurpassed field of merit in the world, must be a part, a subset of the monastic Sangha — there is no greater fruit than an offering to the monastic Sangha.

Furthermore, in the world of the Tipitaka, offerings and reverential salutations would always be given by the laity to the monastic and never the other way around.  Even the highly attained lay disciple Ugga Gahapati who was a Non-Returner is seen to be giving reverential salutations to ordinary bhikkhus and serving their needs with his own hands (Anguttara Nikaya, Eights, Suttas 21 & 22).  Thus, those “worthy of gifts, hospitality, offerings and reverential salutations”, the Savaka Sangha, are again shown to be a part of the monastic Sangha of both genders.

Continue reading The Meaning of Sangha (

Thom Hartmann interviews Sebastian Junger about his book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging”

For tonight’s Conversations with Great Minds – Thom Hartmann is  joined by award-winning journalist Sebastian Junger. Currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair – Sebastian is also a filmmaker and the co-director of the academy-award nominated film Restrepo – which won the Grand Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival. He’s also the author a number of books – including the bestelling Perfect Storm – which was made into the film starring George Clooney – and his latest – “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” – a fascinating look at the breakdown of community in America – and what it means for returning veterans.

Voyager Probe Badly Damaged After Smashing Into End Of Universe (

PASADENA, CA—Confirming that several components had broken off the craft and that most of its scientific instruments were no longer operational, officials from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that Voyager 1, the pioneering space probe launched in 1977, had been severely damaged Thursday after crashing into the end of the universe. “It appears that, at approximately 8:20 this morning, Voyager struck the edge of the universe head-on at a speed of 38,000 miles per hour, resulting in significant structural damage to the spacecraft,” said Voyager project scientist Ed Stone, noting that the force of the impact with the outer border of the cosmos had bent the probe’s main antenna dish and completely snapped off its low-field magnetometer. “While we’re receiving only intermittent signals from Voyager now, incoming data indicate that, in addition to nearly totaling the craft’s thermoelectric generator, the collision left a significant dent in the end of the universe as well.” JPL scientists added that Voyager 1 now appears to be moving laterally, scraping its left side along the universe’s outer edge, and that it is expected to continue doing so for the next 50 or 60 years until the remaining fragments of the probe eventually come to rest in the bottom-right corner of outer space.

A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg: natant


adjective: Swimming or floating.
From Latin natare (to swim). Ultimately from the Indo-European root sna- (to swim or flow), which also gave us Sanskrit snan (bath). Earliest documented use: 1460.
“Perhaps no other athlete has been under more pressure to perform at these Games than Freeman. Not Marion Jones in her pursuit of five gold medals. Not Ian Thorpe, the 17-year-old swimming prodigy or any of his natant mates.”
Fran Blinebury; 2000 Sydney Olympic Games; Houston Chronicle; Sep 25, 2000.

Martin Buber on being secure


“Oh, you secure and safe ones, you who hide yourselves behind the ramparts of the law, or theology or ethics, so you will not have to look at God’s abyss. Yes, you have secure ground under your feet, while we hang suspended looking out over the endless deeps, but we would not exchange our dizzy insecurity and poverty for your security and abundance. Of God’s will, we know only the eternal; the temporal we must command for our-selves, our selves imprint his wordless bidding even anew on the stuff of reality.”

“Woe to the man so possessed that he thinks he possesses God!”

–Martin Buber (February 8, 1878 – June 13, 1965) was an Austrian-born Israeli Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a form of existentialism centered on the distinction between the I–Thou relationship and the I–It relationship. Wikipedia

Madonna on getting what you want


“A lot of people are afraid to say what they want.  That’s why they don’t get what they want.”

–Madonna Louise Ciccone (born August 16, 1958) is an American singer, songwriter, actress, and businesswoman. She achieved popularity by pushing the boundaries of lyrical content in mainstream popular music and imagery in her music videos, which became a fixture on MTV. Wikipedia

Schopenhauer on who you will be after death


“After your death, you will be what you were before your birth.”

–Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22, 1788 – September 21, 1860) was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation, in which he characterizes the phenomenal world as the product of a blind, insatiable, and malignant metaphysical will. Wikipedia