Reaction to article in Boeddhistisch Dagblad

Some time ago, I placed an article about the value of Sangha in the Boeddhistisch Dagblad, the leading Buddhist newspaper in the Netherlands.

This caused a storm of negative reactions, which made me realize that many people do not understand the role and value of the Sangha. Among the reactions however was one by a certain Ananda, a beautiful, caring, loving, compassionate post; a flower among the weeds of negativity and hatred.

Therefore I decided to place a reaction myself and below is the translation.


When I first stayed in a meditation-centre in the Burmese countryside for a month, I took the temporary Sayalay ordination. It was a beautiful time in which I could meditate and study, away from the busy life at home. Every morning the monks would go on alsmround and I would come along, on bare feet, 5 km over the sand- and gravel-paths. The village that supported the monastery was very poor; people lived in bamboo huts. Every morning they came out laughing in order to give the monks a little bit of food. When they saw me, they were so happy! Some spoke a little English. Sometimes they would come to the monastery just to bring something special for the western nuns, a bit of fruit, a special dish.

I actually felt a little guilty. These people had so little and I was a rich westerner. When I asked them one day why they did this, they laughed: “Because you keep the gate to Nirvana open!”. It made a very deep impression on me but it took me a long time to really understand what they meant.

The Sangha, the monks and nuns, the guardians of the Teachings. It was them who had guarded, practiced and taught the Dhamma since 2500 years in an unbroken line to the Buddha. It was thanks to this Sangha that I, in this time, in the Netherlands, had been able to get to know this Dhamma. These Teachings that had completely changed my life, made it so much richer. In the places in the world where the Sangha died out, so did the Dhamma. I felt an enormous gratitude and respect for all those monks and nuns who, without expecting anything in return, had taken op the task to spread the Dhamma for 2500 years. I wanted to contribute my bit.

Thank you Ananda. I’m grateful for your kindness and understanding.

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Dearest Ayya,

Thank you so much for this, it is very moving. :pray:

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I read their comments. Thanks for taking the time and having the courage to reply, and not just leaving these opinions uncommented.
:sparkling_heart:

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I just made a German translation of your post on the Samita website, and while doing so it gave me goose bumps…
:anjal:

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I think a few people entering the sangha might not fully appreciate the ‘role’ they are undertaking. A few thoughts off the top of my head:
-they are representing to ‘noble’ ie attained -stream enterer to arahanth, sangha- the type a devout lay follower would take refuge in- and what this implies for their conduct, especially in front of lay followers, even if they are not attained! Also that the lay person is worshipping the ‘robe’ and not the person- so not to be surprised.
-they are expected to be the source of the Dhamma- the need to be well versed.
-their existence signals to everyone that the Dhamma is present here- they are the backbone of the longevity of the Buddha’s dispensation. The more flourishing the sangha is, it is a sign the dispensation is healthy.
-their misconduct means, people loose faith and confidence in the Buddha - it reflects badly on the dispensation and many who might have otherwise progressed on the path will loose their opportunity to do so.

with metta

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This brought tears to my eyes.
Just what I needed to read today :slight_smile: :anjal:

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I read the comments to the original article, and boy oh boy… ‘There are hundreds of active meditation centres’, so the Dhamma is safe and doesn’t need any monks or nuns. As if the Dhamma were some kind of a medical service or a sandwich to go. Do these people really believe they are smarter than the Buddha?

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Meditation centres could be all closed in a 100 years, while the dispensation continues, for a 1000.

with metta

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Still, I wonder what exactly those villagers mean when then they say “because you keep the gate to Nirvana open.”

Ananda, the author of the comment, seems to interprets this statement as just another way of saying that the sangha keeps the dhamma alive. But the statement is more specific than that. It speaks of Nibbana.

What is the gate to Nibbana? And why do people think that it is important to keep open? What do they imagine is on the other side of the gate?

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To me, the point is about keeping the Dhamma-Vinaya alive.

The Buddha in EBTs often refers to his teachings as Dhamma-Vinaya / Dhamma-Vinaye.:

‘eso dhammo, eso vinayo, etaṃ satthusāsanan’
‘This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.’”

This is the function of the Sangha, as the the livelihood it keeps alive is shaped after the ideal of right livelihood of the Noble Eightfold Path.

As one goes about tackling the four ennobling tasks the four noble truths/axioms point to, he or she will eventually come to the task of cultivating the path, and embracing the livelihood system kept alive by the Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Sangha is the most promising way of taking upon the task.

Hence, by anyone who is wholeheartedly invested in the livelihood the robes represent should be appreciated for doing his/her part in keeping the system alive.

In my view, once we lose the Sangha the Dhamma-Vinaya will very quickly fade away…

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Hello @DKervick,

I don’t think this has to be taken literaly (i.e. don’t search for a gate ;-).

But as @Mat put it earlier on (his words below, my re-hashing of it next), the sangha is the living body within which noble ones can be found here and now in this very life. The living proof that the buddha’s dhamma is deep and profound, and still accessible.

So by living the dhamma the sangha is keeping us in indirect contact with the buddha. They keep the “door” open.

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Hi all, thanks Bhi. Vimala and sukha and others for your posts.

I certainly agree about the importance of the Saṅgha and with the comment by sukha.

I understand Bh. Sujato and others point out that the EBTs do not speak of the Fourfold Saṅgha, but rather the Fourfold Assembly (or Company). The Pāli word parisā (spelling?) is the word that the Thai people use, pronounced borisat, which is used for the business type of ‘company’.

I understand that the four are: monks, nuns, 8 precept laymen and 8 precept laywomen and it is said that it was not until these four assemblies were well established in the Dhamma (and Vinaya?) that the Buddha allowed his passing away. (ref? Mahāparinibbāna Sutta)

From my study of the Pāli EBTs (P-EBTs), ‘noble Saṅgha’ (ariya-sangha) is used only once in a verse in AN and thus, to me, is late a later addition. It seems to be ‘sāvaka saṅgha’ (the community of disciples), which can be found in any of the 4 assemblies. You can see my study here: https://www.academia.edu/2976866/Sa%E1%B9%85gha_in_the_early_texts-_excerpt_from_thesis

The difference in usage in the P-EBTs seems to be that an assembly (parisā) can be identified physically, but a community (sangha) cannot, which would seem to be communicated in at least the word ‘assembly’. If saṅgha is qualified with one of the four assemblies, then it may be used with the meaning of ‘assembly’, such as ‘bhikkhu-saṅgha’, but I don’t believe that is an original usage.

A community, as I understand it, transcends time and place and thus would seem to be more about Dhamma (akāliko…). The common-unity (comm-unity) in the Dhamma would unite over time and place and one would feel that they had learnt directly from the Buddha even after his passing. Thus one of the qualities of sāvaka-saṅgha is that they would not take another teacher.

Saṅgha for me, is the third of the Triple Gem, all three of which the Buddha taught to develop unshakable faith in, which is taught as a fruit of Stream Entry. I have not found clear instruction to take refuge in the Triple Gem in the P-EBTs from the Buddha, or even any disciple and would find a reference for such, very interesting and to be investigated. Taking refuge is a Buddhist ritual. To me, faith is about our internal/spiritual life, ritual is about external declarations or displays, i.e. religious life. The Brahmins were/are very keen on ritual and the Buddha seems to have taught against it, vis the Sigolavada Sutta, where the Buddha practically converts a ritual to a way of life. I doubt the ritual would have been continued having fulfilled the way of life.

Certainly I believe and have gratitude to any of the sāvaka-saṅgha (community of disciples) found in the four assemblies, which I believe have all contributed in important ways to keep the Dhamma (-Vinaya) alive over the expanse of time since the Buddha’s passing.

Best wishes

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