Buddhist Monachism or Sangha
For the propagation of Buddhism, Buddha created a disciplined mechanism of missionaries, called as Bhikshus and Bhikshunis. He organized the missionaries and his disciples in a specific organization, called as Sangha. Membership of Sangha (Monastery) Any person (male or female) who is above 18 and left his possessions could become a member of Sangha based on equality. Initially women were not permitted in Sangha, but thanks to persistent efforts and convincing by Ananda (disciple) and Gautami (foster mother); the doors were opened for women. Besides, after the permission of the owner, slaves, soldiers and debtors could also become members of Sangha. However, criminals, lepers and contagious patients are not permitted into Sangha. At the outset, one has to take oath (loyalty towards Buddha-Dhamma-Sangha), then shave his head (mundana) and wear a yellow dress. Then, after one month, he could take a diksha called as upasampada. In addition, after upasampada he is taken as a member of Sangha. However, the member is expected to follow the codes of conduct (dasha-shila), consisting of, abstaining from: consuming alcohol, taking untimely food, dance-songs, using perfumes, using mattress for sleep, wearing gold & silver ornaments, indulging in adultery etc.
Rules for Bhikshu (monks) Some codes of conducts expected from monks which to be followed:
• Remain abstain from greed, malpractices, corruptions.
• Residing in forests and then in viharas.
• Possession of only eight things: kopin, kaphani, chati, bhikshapatra, upavastra, kamarbandha, needle, razor
• To live on the alms only and eat for subsistence
• Control of senses
• Mediation after lunch and on first and third prahara of night
• Follow 227 rules, written in Vinaya pitaka Highlights of Sangha The Sangha consisted of dedicated missionaries who aimed at moral upliftment of human being.
• It refuted discriminatory systems like gender, Varnas, castes or any other and followed equality among them.
• Nobody in Sangha possessed any special privileges; every opinion had the same value.
• These Sangha worked as a learning-centre in which, not only the missionaries, but the common people also received learning in Buddhism. These learning centres, in due course time, became renowned universities of Ancient India.
• Due to the modest characters of missionaries, simple codes of conducts, preaching in simple-clear manner and people’s language and favour-financial support by wealthy traders, craftsmen and kings, Buddhism expanded to distant parts of India and abroad.
The organizational base of Sangha was a democratic one. The monks are expected to travel for eight months for the propagation of Buddhism. Then, during the four months of the rainy season, they gathered at one place, called as varshavasa.
During varshavasa, they discuss, share their experiences, give confessions, take prayashcita (expiation). Hence, they were expected to frequently gather, behave unanimously and respect the elders in Sangha. The monks assemble in upasabhas on specific days like eighth, fourteenth, full moon, nomoon days of the month. They submitted their reports, gave confessions and-in a situation of breach-of-rules, followed prayaschita. Due to such a disciplined and chaste character of monks, they received a great respect in the society. It helped the increase in Buddhism in the large population.