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22 Vows Acknowledgement  | Buddhism  DedicationDr Ambedkar Movie  |  Education




The Sangha is the third of the "Three Gems". When Buddhists take their refuge in the Sangha they say: "Sangham Saranam Gacchami", which means: "I go for refuge to the Sangha." The world Sangha literally means "congregation" or "community". The word Sangha is generally used for the order of monks. When the word Sangha denotes the third Gem it has a different meaning. The Sangha which is the third Gem are the ariyan saints. "Ariyan saint" is the name which denotes all those who have attained one of the four stages of enlightenment, no matter whether they are monks, nuns (Bikkhuni), unmarried lay followers or married lay followers.

Our life is a continuous series of consciousness succeeding one another, and thus the process of accumulation is continued from one citta to the next citta, going on from birth to death, and from one life to the next life.

One may wonder how a citta can contain all accumulations of the past. This is possible, because consciousness is mentality. Matter which is limited, such as a room, can only contain as much as its space allows. A citta is different from matter; it is unlimited in what it can contain. Such defilements are rooted so deeply, they can only be eradicated in different stages of enlightenment. First the latent tendency of the conception of self has to be eradicated. We can eradicate the belief in a self in understanding what it is we take for self, in developing insight (vipassana). What we call "my body" is only physical phenomena which arises and falls away and which we cannot control. We understand from the Samyutta Nikaya (Khandhavagaa, Middle Fifty, "the Five") that the Lord Buddha said to his five disciples in the deer park of Baranasi:

"Body, monks, is not the self. If body, monks, were the self, then the body would not be involved in sickness, and one could say of the body:

'Thus let my body be, thus let not my body be.'" The same is said about mentality. The wrong view of self we have accumulated all through our many lives can only be eliminated very gradually.

The wisdom will be keener at each stage of insight (vipassana). When one has experienced the goal (Nirvana) for the first time the wrong view of self is eradicated completely and there is no more doubt about realities. The first stage of enlightenment is the stage of the "streamwinner", in Pali "satopanna".

The sotapanna is sure to attain the last stage of enlightenment, which is the stage of the arahant. The sotapanna has not eradicated all defilements yet, there still is greed (lobha), hatred (dosa) and delusion (moha). He realizes that he still has unwholesome consciousness; he knows that there still are conditions for them, but he does not take them for the self. The sotapanna still has defilements, but he will never break the five precepts, it has become his nature to observe them. He cannot commit a deed which can cause rebirth in one of the woeful planes. Those who are not ariyan saints cannot be sure that they will not be reborn in a woeful plane of existence, even if they have done many good deeds in this life. Only ariyan saints can be sure that they will not be reborn in a woeful plane.

The sotapanna has an unshakable confidence in the "Three Gems": in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. He has no doubts about the Path the Lord Buddha taught, he cannot delude himself about the right practice of insight meditation (vipassana).  If we have not attained enlightenment we can be deluded about the right practice. Instead of developing wisdom we cling to a self, we want to induce awareness, and we cling to results we are hoping for. The sotapanna, however, is firmly established on the Path to the last stage of enlightenment. The fact that the sotapanna has experienced Nirvana does not mean that he cannot continue all his daily activities. The sotapanna can live with husband or wife and have a fami ly life until he has attained the third stage of ariyan sainthood, the stage of the "non-returner" or "anagami". The arahant does not even have anymore longing to live in a house. The sotapanna does not take any mind (nama) or matter (rupa) for self, but there still is attachment, aversion and ignorance; he still has conceit. Therefore he has to continue the development of vipassana.

The ariyan saint of the second stage, the sakadagami (once-returner), has not eradicated all attachment and aversion, but they have become attenuated. He still has ignorance, which is only completely eradicated by the arahant. The ariyan saint of the third stage, the anagami (non-returner), has eradicated aversion and he has eradicated attachment to the things experienced through the five senses, but he still clings to life and he still has conceit. Ariyan saints who are not arahants yet can still have conceit, although they have no wrong view of self. They may be inclined to compare themselves with others. When somebody thinks himself better, equal or less than someone else, it is conceit even if it is true. Why should we compare ourselves to others?  The arahant has eradicated all defilements and latent tendencies. He will not be reborn when his life is terminated.

How can we find out who is an Nobel (Ariyan) Saint?

There is no way to know who is an ariyan saint, unless we have become enlightened ourselves. It cannot be known from someone's outward appearance whether he is an ariyan saint or not. People who are very amiable and peaceful are not necessarily ariyan saints. However, we can take our refuge in the ariyan Sangha even if we do not personally know ariyan saints. We can think of their virtues, no matter whether they are in this plane of existence or in other planes. The ariyan saints prove that there is a way to the end of defilements. We should know what is the condition for the end of defilements: the cultivation of wisdom. The monks, nuns, men and women layfollowers who are ariyan saints in the Buddha's time proved that what the Lord Buddha taught can be realized in daily life. The Lord Buddha did not teach abstract ideas, he taught reality. Shouldn't those who want to realize the truth now walk the same Path they walked, even if they still have a long way to go?

The ariyan saints have understood very clearly that people cannot seek deliverance from defilements outside themselves. Defilements can only be eradicated where they arise: within ourselves. If we want to eradicate defilement we should follow the "Middle Way". In order to follow the Middle Way we do not have to change our daily life. We can be aware of mental and physical phenomena during our activities. We will experience that this may be more difficult than the practices of an ascetic. It is harder to overcome clinging to a self when we are seeing, hearing or thinking, than to endure bodily hardship. The development of wisdom is a life task. We need much courage and perseverance in order to continue to be aware of the realities in daily life.

When we take our refuge in the Nobel (ariyan) Sangha we express our confidence in the Buddha's Path, through which we may realize what the Sangha has realized.

When we take our refuge in the Sangha we also pay respect to the monks no matter whether they are ariyan saints or not, because the monks try to realize in their life what the Lord Buddha taught and they try to help other people as well to realize the truth. Thus the monks remind us of the "Three Gems".

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