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Milarepa, Milaraspa
Sitting in meditation in caves for years may not suit all. [The Milarepa story]

Good Company

What decent company can be

To be in good company is not difficult if you yourself is good company. Good company will hardly hurt you, or if it does, not hurt you all too bad and worse than that. Anyway, if you cannot stand your own company, a common counsel is to seek people and be much with them. It is also said that it is good to seek better company. However, by just that one shows one is not very much considerate to them, if at all.

After nodding pensively to that, ask yourself if keeping a dog is meant for humans, and consider the gives-and-takes of good company, that is, of reciprocality. Is there a chance you will be "going down" by absorbing dog ways as "the leader of the pack", or the dog's sort of underling, "walking the dog" and picking up in a plastic bag what comes out of the "friend" with a collar around its neck, much like former slaves.

In the exchanges, could it be that the collared dog becomes more human-like, and the other way round, that the master or owner becomes less fit for delicate and good-natured humans in time? If so, how can it be proved? Research is much needed, good, comparative and statistical research that matters.

Good enough company is not impolite, enervating. A political party may feel like "good company" to some, a dog to others. Beware with forethought.

And this goes to say: Good company makes a difference. And being with someone with some amount of affection may be rewarding for those involved. [Buddha about good friends, with a side glance]

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.

A fellowship could blossom and in time bear fruit.

Buddhist fellowship and things to learn from it

In Buddhism the Sanskrit term samgha (Pali: sangha) can be translated as "association" or "group," "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 (Pali: 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 Sangha". 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.

Dogen on It

What Eihei Dogen (1200-51) stands for, is that some forms of fellowship may be good for all involved, if regulated so that most of those involved spend much time in their own company, in meditation, and otherwise do as told. (1996, 15 etc.)


Buddhist samgha, sangha, good company, Rewarding Fellowship of Buddhism, Literature  

Leighton, Taigen Daniel, ed. 1996. Dogen's Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of the Eihei Shingi. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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