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Good Fellowship

What crowned fellowship can be

Milarepa, Milaraspa
Sitting in meditation in mountain caves for years may not suit all. The Milarepa story is here: [Link]

Good fellowship - being with someone with some amount of affection - should be rewarding for those involved.

Fellowship is marked by mutual interests, ideals, quite friendly activities, and individuals of a company with a congenial atmosphere. Pleasant comradeship may also draw in trust and charity. A fellowship may be formed as a club, brotherhood, sisterhood, order, and much else. In it, there may be intimacy, sociability, fraternisation, and even like-mindedness. A sense of belonging together may be present in some too.

It is good to be sound and stout for fellowship to blossom and perhaps bear fruits along the way. It is good to know the main characteristics of true friends too.

Buddhist fellowship and things to learn from it

In Buddhism the term samgha (Sanskrit: samgha, Pali: Sangha) can be translated as "association" or "assembly," "company" or "community" with common goal, vision or purpose. It can be used in several senses. In the West it may refer to any sort of Buddhist community.

The samgha should be marked by the Triple Gem, which is also known as the Three Treasures and the Three Refuges. They are Buddha, dharma (dhamma), and samgha. Loosely applied, Buddha is to be revered there. The Dharma is eternal Truth and Buddha's teachings - something to listen to, think of, practice, and realise. A Buddhist samgha is of followers.

Traditionally, samgha in Buddhism most commonly means the monastic samgha of ordained Buddhist monks or nuns. Samgha can also mean the assembly of beings of some realization, as in the "noble Samgha". A Buddhists samgha is to be conducive to advancing toward enlightenment, and may be in charge of maintaining, translating, advancing, and spreading the teachings of Buddha. The samgha preserves Buddha’s teachings and helps the lay community back.

Further, a Buddhist samgha is described as having certain intrinsic marks. The samgha is practising the good, upright way; the knowledgeable, logical, proper way. Such a samgha is worthy of gifts, hospitality, offerings, reverential salutation, and is a field of merit for the world.

The samgha of monks (bhikshus, bhikkhus) and the samgha of nuns (bhikshunis, bhikkunis) were originally established by Gautama Buddha in the 5th century BCE for those who wish to practise the Dharma in a rigorously disciplined way, submitting to elaborate rules of conduct, including utter chastity and eating only before noon. Transgression of rules carries penalties, even expulsion. These rules are spelled out in the Vinaya texts, which are on-line.

Monks and nuns may own very few possessions, which include a razor for shaving the head, and a water filter. Buddhist monastics eschew ordinary clothes and wear robes. The colour of modern robes varies from community to community (saffron is characteristic for southeast Asian Theravada and Mahayana groups, maroon in Tibet, grey in Korea, black in Japan etc.) Further, in China and the surrounding countries monks often engage in agriculture.

In Pali texts it is seen that Buddha specifically rejected a suggestion by a senior monk to impose vegetarianism on the samgha. It is recorded that Buddha himself ate meat, and also died from a meal of pork [Mahaparinibbanasuttanta) The Buddha allowed samgha members to eat whatever food is donated to them by laypeople, except that they may not eat meat if they know or suspect the animal was killed specifically for them. The Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions accept both Theravada and Mahayana scriptures, so Mahayanic practice will vary depending on interpretations of the sutras.

In Japanese Buddhism, which is Mahayanic, the founder of the Tendai sects decided to reduce the number of rules for a samgha to about 60 (Enkai). In the Kamakura Era, many Buddhist sects (Zen, Pure Land and Nichiren) which came from the Tendai sect, did away with the ancient monastic rules. As a result, Japanese Zen, Pure Land and Nichiren Buddhism are led by priests rather than by monks.

Proper inter-connectedness between the lay community and the society of monks and nuns has sustained Buddhism to this day.

The lay community is responsible for the production of goods and services in society, and for the production and raising of children. According to Mahayana sutras, the Buddha always maintained that lay persons were capable of great wisdom in the Buddha-dharma and of reaching enlightenment. And in Theravada sutras it is clearly recorded that Buddha's uncle - a lay follower - reached enlightenment by hearing the Buddha's discourse.

Canonical texts always maintain that women are just as capable of attaining enlightenment as men, and yet Buddha as being reluctant to permit women to join the Samgha The reason he gave was that the admission of women would weaken the samgha and shorten its lifetime. But he changed his mind in the matter, and ordained several woman relatives and others as nuns, subjected to strict rules that subordinated nuns to monks. This is one of the few issues that Buddha changed his mind about, according to the Buddhist text.

The bhikkhuni Samgha has spread to most Buddhist countries


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