Posted in On the Path, Precepts Holders, Vinaya

Sangha Walks – who are we?

Who are we? Every walk of life, metting the ordination qualifications guided by Vinaya rules set by the Buddha. Men and women (not children) of at least 20 years of age by personal aggreement not by coercion apply to be accepted to their respective gender based sangha.

What do we look like? You and some others from other countries around you. All countries all races are represented in the Sangha. It is true that ethnic Buddhists started in India but they travelled to other countries from there training students and ordaining the qualified natives in their host countries. Now we have Buddhists temples everywhere. It’s truely global.

What makes us different from you or laypeople? Our robes, shaven heads and our vows. Our robes are fall colors (not varigated but solid bits of orange, burnt orange, brown, black, gray, blue, yellow, pink, purple. all not shiny, not fancified for the 3 robes are plain except for one allowed robe of rice paddy design. One of our robes must be cut and sew in this rice paddy design. It may be of 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 25 strips as the Buddha didn’t specify limits. Those in East Asian countries like China and Vietnam have ranking systems for the higher number of strips.

Isn’t this sooo cool?!  I love the diversity we have in our Sangha, so many people from some many countries and walks of life and so in harmony when we meet! Lovely!

Sangha are delighted to come together across their traditions to meet and talk among ourselves sharing our views, practices and trainings with each other. Our respect for eacher is only matched by our respect for our vows, the wearing of our robes and the masters we learn from  This is our common bond as a global Sangha community.

We take vows beginning with our novice leading to full ordination after being accepted as a candidate. They are the same vows given by Buddha Sakyamuni and handed down through generations of high ranking elders to us on our ordination day.  They guide us and train us in our daily life. We are not stimied by them nor do we feel they limit us in anyway.  They are freedom giving.

Pratimoksa/pratimokka are the combined training rules given by the Buddha to us. There are different gender sets 250 for bhikshus/bhikkhus and 348 dharmagupta for bhikshunis/bhikkhunis. The bhikshus/bhikkus have one ordination by bhikshu only while the bhikshunis/bhikkhunis have 2-part ordiantion given by bhikshunis then second one by bhikshus to bhikshunis on the same day.  There is no consensus on the Theravada re-establishment of bhikkhuni lineage by the Thai Sangha council (yet, I hope for one soon), except there are recent independent ordinations taking place since 2009 in Western countries. IMO, Just because one country tries to control the rest of Theravada Sangha around the world or maybe the outside groups want to be aligned with them (who knows) it still doesn’t mean the recent ordinations are invalid; infact, historically that is how lineages are established in non-Buddhist countries by both Mahayana and Theravada schools. Hurrah for the emerging leaders in the West! Sadhu Sadhu!

There is no superiority of Theravada over Mahayana or Mahayana over Theravada. It’s simply ridiculous to claim so. Now having written that, I realize many sutras in Mahayana have been interpreted by learned elders to take stance against Theravada, in keeping with their cultural understanding.  That idea of Theravada being less or even greater is not shared by myself and many others these days. What happened thousands of years ago was simply matters of differences in actually practicing Buddha’s teachings. That differed by the hearer and the teacher of the times. Buddha’s immediate disciples had their ideas and their ways they taught their students who had even further developed their own ideas, and so forth.  That is not to say there is no commonality because when you actually read the sutras and the master’s teachings you absolutely see the commonality.

Sangha Councils have wrestled with the artifical and political divisions for centuries. The best we can do now is to uphold our Vinaya training and vows, our diligence in our personal cultivation must not be lax; simply respect to each other no matter what traditions will go a long way in furthuring our communities and open the door to many who would otherwise be offend by petty disagreements over who is number 1 or even who if anyone follows, it’s just not realistic to demand that…those that do are dangling dangerously on political manuerverings which are obstacle producing to themselves and others!

Sangha – we are humans just like you, we suffer, we get sick, we are grouchy (oh, but we let go really fast!), we have advantages of training, vows, and monastic guides who help us keep our moderate deportment and interior peace both inside or outside the monastery.  We study sutras/suttas and their commentaries learning as much as we can so we can tread our Path and teach others to tread theirs when they ask us.  So it doesn’t matter what environment we find ourselves located in we are easily portable once our foundations are firmly set within the Vinaya guidelines and we have stabilized our personal practices.

How we live. We get up do our potty and wash our faces. Sit in meditation or do the morning recitation or sit in meditation and do the morning recitation. We do our morning work duties- housework like scrubbing toilets, sweeping or office work or maybe we teach in our little dharma school, it varies a lot, some are dharma crafters, dharma writers, social butterflies attracting a following, temple adminstrators, abbots, abbesses, crisis counselors, cat or dog caregivers, sutra reciters, mantra reciters, dharma teachers and at the lunch time we come together when we can to do the lunchtime offering then eat for the day; go on with our dharma work, then come together when we can in the evening service and sit or not in meditation and drop off to sleep in sheer exhaustion! No time off, no vacations, no being closed for holidays! 24/7 willingly embraced by many of us!

What a lovely way to spend a life! come and walk the path with us anytiime your free!

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Author:

I am a Bhikshuni ordained in Mahayana Chinese Buddhist tradition. I'm currently translating Vinaya sutras from the Chinese Mahayana Tripitaka.