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By Frank Simons

A fundamental expression of Buddhist faith is the “triple refuge”: I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. This lecture looks at factors that shaped the early Buddhist Sangha (community). As Buddha wandered, he gathered a large and diverse community of followers, monks, nuns, and lay supporters. The role of the ideal lay person is one of generosity, which makes possible the monastic life of monks and nuns, giving lay people the opportunity to live the ideal of renunciation in their distinctive way.

Video Presentation
Buddhism, “Part 7,
The Buddhist Monastic Community”
Thu, Jan 28, 5:30pm
Meditation Center
Callejón Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted

The monastic community began as a group of wanderers, but they evolved into a settled pattern of life, at least during a portion of the year. They took refuge where they could be supported by a stable group of lay followers, into settled monasteries. This pattern of monasticism has become the basic structure of Buddhist society and the bearer of Buddhist values.

After the Buddha’s death, the community had to deal with the question of authority. A council was established by senior monks. Ananda recited the teachings, the Sutta-pitaka. Upali recited the rules and regulations, the Vinaya-pitaka. These were supplemented by a systematic reflection on the teaching, the Abhidhamma. Together these constitute the Tripitaka, the Buddhist scriptures, which were not written down for several centuries after the Buddha’s death.

The contents are quite simple and pragmatic, with a down-to-earth style in presenting the religious truth.

The Buddha’s teaching is also expressed in simple, easily memorized verses, as in the Dhammapada or “The Words of the Teachings.” They are pithy and convey the simplicity of the teaching. “Not to do any evil, to cultivate good, to purify one’s mind, this is the teaching of the Buddha.”

The Second Buddhist Council led to the beginnings of Buddhist sectarianism. As the teaching spread, monks adapted to new situations. It became impossible to enforce unanimity in doctrine or discipline. There was a split into “The Doctrine of the Elders,” the predecessor to the Theravada tradition that now dominates the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia; and the “Great Community,” the predecessor to the Mahayana tradition that dominates in North and East Asia. Eventually there were 18 different schools.

What are the distinctive features of Buddhist social organization? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this social system?

The course of 24 lectures is presented by Professor Malcolm David Eckel, professor of Religion and Director of the Core Curriculum at Boston University, who holds graduate degrees from Oxford and Harvard. An expert on Buddhism, comparative religion, and Asian faiths, Eckel has written insightful books on Buddhist philosophy, including Buddhism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video. Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


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