The Worldwide Sangha

When Venerable Ananda told the Buddha that Devadatta would split the Sangha (devadatto saṅghaṃ bhindissatī’ti) (Vin.2.198) did he mean that Devadatta would split the Sangha in Rajagaha? Or that he would split the worldwide Sangha? When the Buddha said the Sangha, if it wanted, could abolish the lesser and minor rules (Vin.2.288) did he mean the Sangha in Kusinara could abolish the lesser and minor rules? Or that the worldwide Sangha could do so? When the monks at the First Council agreed that the Sangha would not abolish the lesser and minor rules, did they mean the monks in Rajagaha would not abolish the lesser and minor rules? Or that the worldwide Sangha would not do so? When the monks had completed the First Council in Rajagaha, they told Venerable Purana that he should submit himself to the decisions of the Council (upehi taṃ saṃgītinti). Was it just Venerable Purana who should submit to them, or all the monks in the world? (Venerable Purana solved the dilemma by refusing to submit).

Sanghakamma is performed within simas, therefore it is unassociated with other simas. But that sanghakamma affects the world; because, although simas don’t move, monks do. Therefore, for instance, if a monk is suspended, the Sanghas in surrounding residences must be informed about him. He is suspended from all of them. Therefore, because decisions in any one sima affect the world, should decisions not be taken internationally? This would mean imagining a worldwide sima consisting of an international samānasaṃvāsaka group of monks i.e. monks who could legitimately perform uposathakamma together. Of course, it would be impossible, in practice, to take international decisions without excluding a number of samānasaṃvāsaka monks.

A simpler alternative would be to have a ‘bubbles-and-string’ sima which encloses and connects certain monastic residences only. Even though this is a dukkata offence to make such a sima (Vin.1.111) it would certainly be more possible for all the monks to gather for sanghakamma. The drawback with a bubbles-and-string sima is that individual residences lose their independence, and also that committees predominate over individuals.

The Buddha avoided this problem by getting monks to take decisions locally. A sima, he said, is not meant to be the whole earth (sabbā puthavī) (Vin.1.105). Although the concept of a worldwide Sangha is raised in Vinaya, as we have seen, in practice it never really developed. Like the monks of the First Council: after their unsuccessful exchange with Venerable Purana, their idea of getting monks internationally to submit to the decisions of a central Council were never raised again.

It seems that if there is a problem within a sima, it should be solved within that sima, not from outside it. This was how the Buddha dealt with the troublesome monks of Kitagiri (Vin.3.183), and how the monks of the Second Council dealt with the problem at Vesali (Vin.2.303).

Happiness for monks probably lies in the original model of simas containing ‘resident monks’ (āvāsike bhikkhū) and ‘visiting monks’ (āgantukā bhikkhū). This set-up allows monks to live in simas that suit their characters. It allows them to come together and unite by way of elements, which, the suttas say, they have always done, and always will do (dhātusova sattā saṃsandanti samenti) (S.2.155).     |     © 2008, Bhante Varado     |     Install the Gentium font