WHAT IS SANGHA?
In the larger Tendai community we have been exchanging viewpoints on this question. Here is part of what I contributed.
Sam-gha - the translation for the word, sangha, comes from two roots - the second, the ‘gha,’ refers to movement; the first is a widely used prefix, sam-, meaning ‘together’. Think of words like sam-skara (elements acting together), samadhi (coming together of mental faculties) or sam-ut-pada (conditions forming together).
We should also keep in mind that Sanskrit, like its larger of language-family, is fundamentally verb-driven, so however we want to use sangha, we should keep in mind it has to do with com-ing together or act-ing together. It is not so much a noun or entity, but more like a process or activity. We could almost say what we are is “sangha-ing”. Westerners/Europeans construct our experience as nouns or things, setting ourselves up for the errors of permanence-mind.
Returning to basics in another way, sangha is first and foremost one of the tri-ratna, the Three Jewels, along with Buddha and Dharma. It is part of what we take refuge in during jukai. In a narrow sense it refers to certain groups of specialist-monks, although Mahayana has tended to view it more broadly, more like the term maha-sangha or so-dai. This seems to reflect the bodhisattvic perspective which suggests sangha as including all conditioned beings of the six realms, as well as the classes of buddhas and bodhisattvas. For me this is central because our mission (in the religious not corporate) sense is the liberation of all beings, and in that task we are called to align ourselves with the efforts of all buddhas and bodhisattvas. Our practice is always in the form of sangha, never solitary. Furthermore, a corporation or organization metaphor suggests we are somehow motivated by abstract internal corporate values and desires. This is patently not the case, as we, as Buddhists, are motivated by bodhi or bodaishin. We do not generate any vision statement or mission, we align ourselves with the activity of awakening because it is our understanding of who and what we are.
Yours in the Dharma,
om namo amida butsu
Read the this week’s Ask the Religion Experts column here