The Buddhist Sangha is a community of persons physically and morally fit to discharge their duties. Sangha plays an important role in the spreading of Buddhism in India and abroad. The Upasakas or lay worshippers also make a significant contribution to the development of Buddhism as they led a family life and financed the Buddhist Sangha. The monasteries establish at various place, not only provide accommodation to the wandering monks but also proves to be the academic centers for producing learned monks.

Unlike Jainism, Buddhism was a missionary religion. During his lifetime, Gautama Buddha himself along with his disciple monks preached the beliefs of Buddhism from one place to another. After the death of Gautama Buddha, his disciple continues the preaching of Buddhism. They travel not only throughout India but also went abroad for spreading the message of Buddha.

The disciples of Buddha can be divided into two parts: (i) Monks (Bhikshus), and (ii) lay worshippers (Upasaka). The monks were organized into the Sangha and their number increases with the spread of Buddhism. In the beginning, only the male monks can join the Buddhist Sangha. But later on, Gautama Buddha allows nuns to enter the Buddhist Sangha. The minimum age of making admission to Buddhist Sangha was fifteen years. But the entrant should not be suffering from any contagious disease. Robbers and criminals and persons in the royal service cannot join the Sangha. However, an individual belonging to any caste or creed can join the Buddhist Sangha.

Admission into Buddhist Sangha

The ceremony of taking admission into the Buddhist Sangha was very simple. First Gautama Buddha himself admits the people to Sangha. But later on, he entrusts the job of admission to the faithful disciples. If an individual wishes to join the Buddhist Sangha, an individual has to shave their head. Also, they need to put on a yellow robe and take the following oath before the President of the local Sangha.

I take refuge in the Buddha,

I take refuge in the Dharma.

Also, I take refuge in the Sangha.

Alter affirming his fidelity to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, the individual has to repeat the ten commandments of Lord Buddha. The ten commandments are: he will refrain from stealing, killing, adultery, speaking untruth,  taking liquor, evening meals, witnessing dancing, music, use of scents and perfumes, use of comfortable beds and the acceptance was made for admitting him into Sangha.

Democratic Setup of the Sangha :

The working and setup of the Sangha are based on democracy style. Buddha did not nominate anyone as his successor. The monks have the liberty to select their chief. Even office bearers were selected for various assignments like distribution of food and dress, provision of beds and making other arrangements in the monasteries. In case of dispute, they decide the dispute based on a majority of the vote.

The monks used to sit in an assembly by seniority. A quorum at least 10 monks were fixed form assembly. But in border countries, they reduce to five. The newcomers and women had no right to vote nor did they constitute the quorum. In case of a difference of opinion on any dispute, they apply a system of voting by wooden sticks (shakhas).  Sometimes, the subcommittees decide the disputes for the final decision.

Gautama Buddha was not at all in favor of entry of women into Buddhist Sangha, but Anand one of the favorite disciples of Lord Buddha stressed many times the inclusion of women in the Buddhist. Thus, Sangha and the Buddha accepts it reluctantly. But, a special code of conduct was laid down for the nuns and in case they break the code; they were also liable to punishment. However, the existence of nuns in the Buddhist Sangha became the chief reason for its decline.

The fortnightly meeting of the Buddhist Sangha used to take place. Every monk has to attend it. In case of sickness, the monk has to send his/her representatives to the meeting. They read the rules governing the life of the monk in this assembly and if anyone does not act accordingly, he is liable to punishment. In case of a serious offense, a monk will be sent out of the Sangha.


Thus, the existence of the Buddhist Sangha, based on the democratic set up thousands of years ago, is a matter of great pride for India. The Sangha was not a propagating center of Buddhism but later on, it came to a hub of education and culture.

The only defect in the organization of the Sangha was that it had no central coordinating authority for all the scattered sanghas and it creates several problems. As a result, the general council was called again and again to decide the religious disputes.

Source: Mohammed Rafi Komol & O. Jnanendra Singh

An Extreme Useful Guide to History of Ancient India, Book

Note: There are some changes in the Length and Text of the Article.

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