This episode, the 7th in my sequential Buddhist History series, covers the first 200 years or so of Buddhism, beginning with the traditional account of events immediately after the Buddha’s passing. Then I describe how the ordained Sangha met to compile and codify his teachings and their code of discipline, and eventually began dividing into different sects and schools. This is a fascinating story that reflects what really mattered to early Buddhists.
This episode finishes up my story of Shakyamuni Buddha’s life. It continues with the development of the early Sangha, including the ordination of women and the establishment of a code of discipline for monastics. It also covers teachings given by the Buddha not already mentioned in earlier episodes, and some of the more dramatic and colorful stories about the Buddha and the early Buddhist community.
In traditional Zen practice, we have a lot of what we call “forms.” Forms are the established ways we enact our practice with our bodies… they include the ways we move in the meditation hall, sit in the meditation posture, place our shoes outside the door, chant and offer incense, show respect for one another, eat communal meals, and enact our rituals and ceremonies. Why do we have so many forms instead of just going with the flow and letting people do things the way they want to?
This is the first episode of two on the Buddha’s 45-year teaching career and the establishment of the Buddhist community. I’ll talk about the Buddha’s first sermons, the enlightenment of the first disciples, the first lay students of the Buddha and how lay practice figures into early Buddhism, and the initial formation of the ordained Sangha and how they practiced on a daily basis.
Is it really necessary to participate in a Sangha, or Buddhist community? What are the benefits, joys, and challenges of doing so? You may be surprised by some of the aspects of Sangha practice I talk about in this episode (it’s not all about enjoying the pleasant company of enlightened people!).
For over 2,500 years, in every form of Buddhism, you formally become a Buddhist by stating, “I take in the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.” What are the Three Treasures, and what does it mean to take refuge in them?