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What are the steps necessary to unify the Sangha?

sangha
unity
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#1

Is there like a proper step-by-step procedure that one can follow in order to suitably unify the entire Sangha?

Having some clear idea regarding the the steps necessary to do this could help one realistically gauge feasibility and what such a process might entail.

This question is directed very specifically at “division vs. unity,” not “diversity vs. uniformity.”

Whether you think that the Sangha is “not divided/already unified” or “divided/not unified,” can you please support your view with evidence for why you think this is the case?

Even if the Sangha is not divided at this time, what steps can be taken to unify it even further?

Sangha: celibate monastic community
(not Ariya Sangha/Noble Community)
(not entire global Buddhist community)


#2

Well… we could decide on what is the True Dhamma, and build an army based on that. Then we conquer all Sangha members who don’t convert to our way?

Okay, just kidding. Can I ask, what do you mean unify the Sangha?

Of course conversation and collaboration between traditions is quite meaningful, and I am very much in favor of that.

But I also think it’s nice having different Buddhist traditions flourish, because of their differences. There are paths for the devotional, for the studious, for the rigorous, and the mysterious. Each reflects a different hue of the Buddha’s original awakening.


#3

:sweat_smile::joy::rofl:
Thank you addressing and getting the big fat elephant out of the room in the first line of the first comment! :joy:

Yes, of course. Good question.
The Buddha seemed to criticize division and praise unity in the Sangha.
I am thinking the definition of unity as conveyed within the early sources.

Do you have any evidence from the early textual sources to support the claim that this was allowable by the Buddha?
This tolerant embracing of diversity seems to be a hallmark of Hinduism - but did the Buddha allow such a diversity in his Sangha?
If yes, what kind of differences were not allowed and what kind of differences were allowed?
Under what conditions were the differences allowed?
(For example, if one monastic tradition rejects the Vinaya and another accepts it - can these both be considered legitimate paths?)

To play devil’s advocate for harmless/beneficial uniformity based on the Dhamma-Vinaya:
The Buddha had an “invincible” Sangha of say 1,250 Arahants who at times would meditate blissfully in unity to the point where King Ajātasattu became extremely fearful.
Perhaps it could be described as like a clear, still pond.
Could this could be an argument for uniformity?

In today’s world, diversity seems to be indiscriminately promoted - perhaps both the bad and the good.

When applied to Buddhism, could it make all the different Buddhist sects seem like a colorful, diverse circus of sorts - a pick-and-choose-type Buddhism which seems to employ the same strategy that Hinduism used for many years to attract followers?

Real-life example:
I met a monk who introduced himself publicly as a Zen Buddhist monk wearing a robe and drank wine at my undergraduate - he later introduced me to his wife.
I don’t remember how much I knew about Buddhism at that time, but when I asked him how he chose the sect that he did, he said a friend told him to visit a temple, he did, and then it resonated with him so he ordained as a monk. When I asked him if the monastic rules forbid incelibacy, he said, “oh, my tradition doesn’t follow the Vinaya, some others do.” When I asked him if there was any difference between him and the monks from other schools, I think he said “no, they are all very tolerant and accepting and treat me like just another monk, but from a different tradition.”
On the surface it seemed nice and tolerant and accepting…but where does one draw the line?
Who draws the line?
How should the line be drawn?
Should any line ever even be drawn?
Should the diversity flourish to the point where it becomes like Hinduism, which seems to aim to embrace any and all concepts and practices are tolerated and embraced different path suitable for different people which all somehow lead to God. (P.S. Do they really?)

Can this actually be done?
If yes, how?


#5

Buddhism is probably already as diverse and pluralistic as Hinduism, and has adapted to many different cultures. Personally I quite like the variety, since there is plenty of choice. I don’t see any point in trying to draw arbitrary lines.


#6

According to the Early Buddhist Texts, is there evidence to support this diversity, pluralism, and variety?

Are there any lines at all that should be drawn?
Perhaps some non-arbitrary lines?
If yes, what/how/by whom?


#7

Just a quick reply for the moment…

I can’t find it off-hand, but there is wonderful sutta in MN where various monks are discussing the best way to attain liberation – through ascetics? by remembering what was said and done by the wise long ago? etc.

None of them can agree though, so they go to the Buddha, and ask him to say which of their methods is best. Buddha says, “you are all right. Each of you has a different way to do that, that is in alignment with your own disposition and skills. Me, personally, I just sat under a tree and resolved not to move until all defilements were abandoned.”

Another interesting sutta is MN 9. Sariputta breaks down all the different ways a person can attain Right View.

As to your more specific questions, say about Hinduism, I don’t know what the conservative Theravadin/EBT answers are. Personally, I’m fine with other people doing things I don’t agree with or understand, so long as they’re not egregious (war mongering, destroying the planet, etc.)

I like a world that is wild rather than homogeneous, and I am happy to assume that each person is just as justified in their own belief and understandings as I feel in mine. Whether or not that fits in with the “Buddhist” conceptions of right and wrong view… I try not to lie in bed worrying about it… :slight_smile:


#8

The fact that life is so wondrous and mysterious – evidenced by all the different ideas and explanations people discover for why we are here and what to do about that – is much more interesting to me than being right.

How does that sit in relation to my own practice and dedication to awakening? It’s an interesting tension.

I heard Ajahn Pasanno talking last month, translating a Pali word as “it is always other than one conceives it.” That sounds about right to me – but what do I know!


#9

Do you think the Buddha would tell all the various sects, schools, and tradition that are there today that they are all living in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya in the right way the same way he explicitly told all the monks that they were all right?

Also, you make a good point regarding diversity.

It prompted me to edit the question to clarify that the question is regarding “division and unity” not “diversity and uniformity.”

For example, you seemed to rightly state and support your point that a diversity to methods are possible within the scope of the Dhamma-Vinaya - all can be in accordance with it, yet different.

I agree with this point 100%.

My question is aimed at healing and unifying schisms in the Sangha.

The Sangha does not seem to be as unified as it was during the lifetime of the Buddha.

I’m sure there are several reasons for it.

But I am concerned about them become excuses to let things be the way they are.

I am curious what steps can be realistically take to unify the Sangha.


#10

I have no idea, I never met the Buddha!

But from what I can see, within Theravada there is a continual effort to frame teachings as what the Buddha really taught. Even innovations are couched within this rhetoric – like modern lay teachers who claim that the Buddha taught a psychology, not a religion.

Theravada is a conservative tradition focused on orthodoxy, and “back to the root” is a trend. The current focus on EBTs is another attempt at return, no?

Which isn’t to say the returns are all good or bad. Some folks do it more honestly, with more intellectual rigor than others.

In terms of healing schisms – can you say what are you concerns? Buddhism is geographically quite disparate and spread across numerous languages – surely de-centralization is inevitable…

However, if I were to suggest what needs healing – it was would Buddhist nationalist and/or puritan rhetoric that is used to justify violence, as in the Sri Lankan civil war and Burma’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.

I also think Buddhist patriarchy is a major problem, and I would like to see more widespread support for the Bhikkhuni revival.

I am also concerned about the commercialization of Dhamma, and the role of mindfulness as a tool of capitalism.

In the States, I would like to see more bridge-building between the white-majority lay scene and Asian American monastic communities. As well as a wider recognition that the monastic lineages and their Asian/Asian American supporters are invaluable carriers of the Dhamma, not something to write out of history.

But is that the kind of stuff you’re talking about? In the case of Buddhist violence and patriarchy, a lot of that is fueled by rigid orthodox thinking and fears – I’m not sure that massive attempts at unity are the solution, since “unity” is too often code-speak for maintaining the status quo, whatever the cost.


#11

Make sense.
Is there a difference between framing it that way and merely claiming it, than actually teaching what the Buddha taught?

Yes, it definitely seems so!
Few questions:

  1. If the Sangha never left what the Buddha taught, what would be the need to return? Shouldn’t the Sangha have been staying with that the Buddha taught from the day one, since Kondonna attain Nibbana?

  2. If one doesn’t attempt to return to what the Buddha actually taught - then it begs the question, what is one turning to for guidance? What the Buddha’s disciples taught? Isn’t the Sangha supposed to trust the Buddha’s judgment as opposed to individual monastic teachers within the Sangha and building schools around such teachers instead of around the Buddha.

  3. Is the sectarian attempt of the conservative tradition Theravada sect to frame their teachings “as what the Buddha really taught” equivalent to Early Buddhist evidence-based methodology used to attempt to figure it out?
    Are they merely different in name and label as you seem to be suggesting, or is their something fundamentally different between the Theravada sect and the focus on the EBTs?

Is there any attempt to “return to what the Buddha’s actually taught” ever bad at all?
You seemed to criticize “framing it that way” - but are you are suggesting that the actual return to the “what the Buddha’s actually taught” - whatever that may be - can ever be bad even a little bit?

Agreed. It seems one can say the same for the various sects and schools as well.

Yes.
Just to clarify, this post is not criticizing “diversity,” it is criticizing “division.”
The Buddha criticized the action of dividing the Sangha and praised the action of unifying the Sangha.
My concern is the decrease the former and increase the latter.
It doesn’t seem to be a one-time action of dividing or unifying, but a constant process to unifying and ensuring unity. Even those who divide the Sangha often don’t do so spontaneously, but plot and scheme to do so.

My concern and interest is trying to learn how to decrease division and increase unification of the Sangha both based on Dhamma-Vinaya (whatever that may actually be, as the common foundation) as well as in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya (i.e. taking the proper steps to work towards this end.

Even if the Sangha was or is relatively unified, my concern would still remain in terms of trying to prevent the conditions for future potential divisions and to ensure even further and deeper unity within the Sangha. Hence my question in this post.

Does this make sense?

This might increase diversity, but does this necessarily entail division?
Is there a way for this to happen without sacrificing unity based on the Dhamma-Vinaya, despite language, cultural, etc. differences?
I don’t think external diversity is considered problematic - the Buddha’s goal wasn’t to make everyone in the world more culturally Indian.
My concern comes when this external diversity becomes a guise and excuse for making significant changes to the Dhamma-Vinaya itself - did the Buddha authorize and allow such changes? If yes, then there is no problem. We can all or certain people are allowed to make changes as they wish - the Buddha would have permitted and allowed for that.

But if the Buddha didn’t allow for this - then condemning the “criticism against diversity” would be a red herring - that criticism was never made in the first place - the criticism was against division within the Sangha.


No, none of these are the kinds of things that I am talking about.
I agree that each of these are problematic in their own right.
However, these are all off-topic, so perhaps create a separate post for these or express these concerns in the existing thread devoted to these topics?

Interesting concern :thinking:
Perhaps this underlying assumption might have been what caused a bit a resistance in your mind to the idea of attempting unity?

Is this assumption fully valid?
Is there any way to attempt unity without code-speaking “for maintaining the status quo, whatever the cost”?

My question wasn’t code-speak at all lol, just in case you were wondering.

The Buddha criticized division and praise unity within the Sangha that is based on the Dhamma-Vinaya - not the “agree-to-disagree” apparent unity that seems to be the norm today.

I am simply trying to learn and become aware of what the steps would be to facilitate unity within and unite the Sangha in a proper way that is in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya because that seems to be better than at least sitting aside and not trying at all!

The Buddha said that dividing the Sangha (causing a schism) is a very harmful action.
So I simply reasoned that perhaps uniting the Sangha (healing schisms) sees to be a very beneficial action. That’s all.

If this is code-speak, then the EBT’s seem to be way to crack this code. I don’t think code-speakers usually tell others how to crack the code though, right? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of speaking in code in the first place? :joy:


#12

What about this line laid down by the Buddha?

“And even, monks, as the great ocean is stable and does not overflow its margins, even so, monks, whatever rule of training has been laid down by me for disciples, my disciples will not transgress it even for life’s sake. And that, monks, my disciples will not transgress even for life’s sake a rule of training laid down by me for disciples, this, monks, is the second strange and wonderful thing…"

Is this discourse referring only to monastics who do egregious actions?

“And even, monks, as the great ocean does not associate with a dead body, a corpse, but whatever dead body, corpse there may be in the great ocean, that it just quickly forces ashore and pushes on to the dry land, even so, monks, whatever individual is of bad moral habit, of depraved character, of impure and suspicious behaviour, of concealed actions, not a (true) recluse (although) pretending to be a (true) recluse, not a farer of the Brahma-faring (although) pretending to be a farer of the Brahma-faring, rotten within, filled with desire, filthy by nature—the Order does not live in communion with him, but having assembled quickly, suspends him; and although he is sitting in the midst of an Order of monks, yet he is far from the Order and the Order is far from him … this, monks, is the third strange and wonderful thing …
Pi Tv Kd 19: Suspending the Observance (Uposathaṭṭhāpana) (English) - Khandhaka - SuttaCentral


#13

No. What works in practice is to identify common areas of interest and support each other in the Dhamma.

For example, one major difference between many (not all!) Theravadin monastics and most (not all!) Mahayana traditions is the practice of alms-round. Clearly this is a part of the heritage of early Buddhism, and all traditions acknowledge this. Yet the practice has fallen away in many places.

Yesterday, Ven Suddhāso, Somā, and myself met with a monk from the Vietnamese Thich Nhat Hahn tradition, Brother Man. He joined us for alms-round in Union Square, after which we shared a lovely if slightly odd meal together in the park, and enjoyed making a meaningful Dhamma connection.

This is how the Sangha is unified: genuine practitioners sharing a life of Dhamma together.


#14

How can this be done?
Perhaps on a larger-scale?


#15

For clarity I wonder if you could say what you mean by Sangha? Is it those who are enlightened to some degree (ariya) or those who are celebate monastics (bhikkhu/ni) or the whole community (as the term is used in many Mahayana traditions)?

Maybe something centered around the first 4 percepts if it is ‘whole community’ Sangha you are looking at.


#16

Good question. Thank you for asking!

No, because I am unable to discern even one of them lol let alone all of them. :sweat_smile:

Yes.

No.


#17

I am saying that nearly everyone claims a “return to the Buddha.” This includes secular scientists who claim the Buddha didn’t actually teach reincarnation. It also includes Dhammakaya – a huge tradition in Thailand that many consider corrupt – who claim to offer secret teachings that came from the Buddha but were never written done in the suttas.

Sorry but I actually don’t understand what you mean by unity. Without giving any specific examples of schisms and division, it’s really hard to know what you’re talking about…

But if your vision for Sangha unity doesn’t include Bhikkhunis or an end to Sangha-supported violence, I’m not particularly interested. Sorry.


#18

I visited a Hindu temple recently, and was struck by both the similarities and differences. It was much the same feeling I’ve had when comparing the various Buddhist schools I’ve been involved with over the years.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that you need to accept and acknowledge the differences in order to really appreciate the similarities, the common ground, the connection.
I think that in a Dharmic context, diversity is something to be celebrated, and not something to be feared, or “corrected”.

Edit: I’m using “Dharmic” here in the wider sense, to include Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism.


#19

Again, small steps. Start with unifying your own mind (it may take a while!).
One of my Buddhist teachers used to talk about “bringing the mind home”, possibly that’s relevant.


#20

Well, there are definitely practical areas. In non-traditional Buddhist countries, for example, visas are always a problem for monastics. This is a space where the government pretty much sees us all as the same, so it makes sense to work together. The Australian Sangha Association has done this for years.

I think it’s critical to not be too ambitious, overly philosophical, or top-down in approach. Real harmony comes from forging friendships and practical relationships over a lifetime, not just pontificating at a conference or signing off on some points of agreement.