Saṃgha: Saṃgha and Society in South and Southeast Asia

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The Sanskrit word sagha (Pali, sangha ) denotes the Buddhist monastic order, although in its early usage (c. 500 bce) in North India the word referred to the gatherings of the tribal republics of the time. The sagha 's relationship to society can best be prefaced with a consideration of its historical origins. Because the sagha 's significance is inseparable from that of Buddhist thought and philosophy, this will include a consideration of the social origins of that philosophy as well.

The details of ancient Indian history are controversial, but the major outlines are generally accepted. Accordingly, this article can focus on the material and social background immediately preceding the rise of Buddhism in the region of its birth, the area known as the Middle Country (madhyadeśa ), in northeastern India. The eastward-moving Aryans, who entered India around 1500 bce, seem to have established themselves in the region by the sixth century bce, the time of the Buddha's birth. The demographic picture, however, is far from simple, for the area also seems to have been populated by people who were of Tibetan and Burmese extraction. This period was one of extensive development of settled agriculture, a change from the nomadic type of existence ascribed to the predominant Aryans. Along with other developments such as crafts and industry, this economic progress led to surpluses, the rise of cities, and changes in political organization from ancient tribal republics to monarchies. Six great cities figure prominently in the Buddhist texts: Sāvatthī (Śrāvastī), Sāketa, Kosambi (Kauśāmbī), Kāsī (modern Vārāasī), Rājagaha (Rājagha), and Champa (Campā). Smaller cities such as Kapilavastu, Mithilā, Vesālī (Vaiśālī), and Gayā are also mentioned frequently. The cities seem to have had high population densities and to have developed a complex division of labor.

The replacement of the collective rule of the tribal republics by a monarchial form of rule reflected the centralization of power in one person, the rise of cities, and the division of labor, which emphasized the worth of the individual specialist. These factors are understood by some scholars to be indicative of a fundamental change in the evaluation of the individual within society. From a status of submergence in the group the individual gradually achieved a relative independence somewhat analogous to that of the individual in the modern West. Furthermore, many hold that the rise of the individual during this period, with the complementary need to competitively foster that individuality, set in motion potentially anomic forces that tended to minimize traditional social values of mutuality in favor of an egoistic construction of the self.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Buddhism, a tradition that is conspicuous for its early association with urbanism, should conceive of the problem of existence as one caused by an exaggerated notion of the ego or "self." The visible, tangible misery caused by excessive individualism in the realm of politics or economics (or wherever competitiveness and the display of egoism are dominant) is easily translated into the sphere of the transcendental as the idea that the malaise of the individual being is the exaggeration of the ego or the individual self. According to this analysis, the source of tranquillity must be sought in a devaluation of that self. This step is accomplished by the philosophical formulation that the self is an illusion. It is not that those who adopt this view attempt to reduce Buddhist philosophy, in particular its central doctrine of anātman (Pali, anatta, "no-self"), to a sociological phenomenon; rather, what is suggested is merely a correspondence.

If humanity's suffering stems fromits exaggerated perception of an ego and from clinging to its desires, then suffering can be alleviated only by the denial of that ego and its desires. Just as the ego grew out of all proportion within the social context, the same social mechanism can be used to vitiate it, to realize that there is no immutable soul, but only process created by the perceiving aggregates. This realization must ultimately be a personal one, but it is facilitated by social organization. That facilitating social organization is the sagha, a unique idea in Indian religious thought. Groups of wandering ascetics existed before and after the founding of the Buddhist sagha, but none was so organized and institutionally complex. Unlike previous groups, the sagha was structured around a sophisticated code of discipline and monastic etiquette, the Vinaya. Although the pursuit of mental cultivation by withdrawal to the forest or cave persisted, it appears that this "rhinoceros [i.e., solitary] ideal" was a survival from pre-Buddhist practice. Religious quest within a well-organized social group, the sagha, was a specifically Buddhist innovation. Although the ideals of the sagha were spiritual, its nonegoistic, socialistic, and republican features made it a model for a secular society at peace with itself, just as the uncompromising commitment of the renouncer was a virtue to be emulated by the individual layperson.

The Economic Life of the Sagha

Although some Western interpreters have maintained that Buddhism is concerned with the salvation of the individual renouncer, from its inception the tradition also clearly had a ministerial component. The Buddha's instruction to the seekers who heard his message was to carry it far and wide "for the good of the many, the comfort of the many." Yet alongside this purely missionary function grew functions of a pedagogic and parish nature arising out of the sagha 's scholastic bent and the instructional needs of the laity. Thus in the sagha two divisions grew, the "bearing of contemplation" (vipassanā dhura ), or meditative development of one's own spirituality, and the "bearing of the books" (gantha dhura ), the scholastic and parish functions. Eventually, the latter would gain in valuation, indicating the close relation the sagha was expected to maintain with society. At the same time, society took on the obligation to support and maintain the sagha. This arrangement, however, can be considered a consequence, albeit an early and a necessary one, of the rise of Buddhism within a social context.

There was a more basic reason why the economic life of the sagha could not exist apart from the munificence of the laity. An individual member of the sagha, the śramaa (f., śramaā ), or renouncer, renounced what belonged to him or her in order to tread the path of purity and spiritual release. Providing such renouncers with their needs was an excellent opportunity for those who must remain within the bounds of household life to gain stores of merit (puñña ) that would bear them fruit in the form of good fortune and good future births. The poverty of the sagha thus perfectly suited a laity in search of opportunities to perform good deeds (puñña kamma; Skt., puya karman ), for it was held that no deed was so good in its potential for generating merit as the support of the sagha. The sagha 's economic dependence on the laity for subsistence is, therefore, no mere necessity, but, as more than one scholar has observed, an outward token of the renouncer's abandonment of personal resources to depend on those of the community that he serves. Thus, early in the development of Buddhism, the renouncer's needs were confined to the catu paccaya ("four requisites"), namely food, clothing, shelter, and medication. An individual monk ideally owns nothing privately but the aha parikkhāra ("eightfold items"), robes, begging bowl, and other basic personal accoutrements.

During the historical development of Buddhism, especially in the Buddhist kingdoms of Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma, the economic life of the sagha went through radical transformations. Extensive monastic properties grew, paradoxically arising from the sacred poverty of the sagha. Similarly, it was the fundamentally nonhierarchical nature of the sagha, among other reasons, that led to its being closely allied with the political order. In Sri Lanka, Buddhism was established as the state religion from its very inception: According to tradition, the king was the first Buddhist. Thus it was incumbent upon the king to endow the sagha generously, as did successive kings of all Buddhist polities, to bring under the purview of the sagha vast properties in the form of land. The king's act was exemplary and was followed by his patrimonial bureaucracy, down to the petty chiefs. Thus, paralleling the political hierarchy grew a hierarchy of monasteries owning vast stretches of property. The ideal of monastic poverty, however, was never abandoned, even though individual monks may have had access to considerable economic resources. This ideal was maintained in two ways. First, although land grants were made to the monasteries, their administration was separated from them and entrusted to lay officials. Second, lands granted to the monasteries, especially by the king, could in theory be taken away, although in fact this hardly ever occurred. However, in Sri Lanka sectarian schisms occasionally prompted monarchs to transfer properties of one monastic sect to another. The policy of making large-scale land grants contributed enormously to the longevity of the sagha and to its ability to survive economic adversity. In those agricultural societies that depended on the vagaries of rainfall for the cultivation of crops, especially the staple rice, prosperity could not be taken for granted, and often war and famine made it difficult for the laity to continue unbroken their pious donations. Indeed, the Sinhala term for famine, durbhika, literally means the "absence of shares [i.e., food given as alms]." Thus the wealth of the monasteries can be considered to have played no small role in the viability of the sagha in the Buddhist polities of South and Southeast Asia.

The king's munificence toward the sagha served a politically legitimizing function. In addition, the land grants had a more direct political use, arising from the king's choice of their location. The king in Sri Lanka, for example, sometimes donated areas of property located in a province too distant for his immediate control (and hence potentially rebellious) and placed it under the control of a loyal subordinate. The tract of land thus demarcated, often extensive in size, essentially constituted a pocket of royal authority that acted as a counterforce to the threat posed by the provincial ruler.

A related point of great interest is the argument that monastic properties gave rise to monastic social structures. This intriguing theory has an important kernel of truth, especially when viewed in the context of the absence of hierarchical organization in the sagha. It can plausibly be argued that certain monastic social structures are indeed a function of the management of properties. The weakness of the theory lies in its very limited explanatory potential. Monastic properties, although in theory granted to an idealized sagha unbounded by time and space, are in fact granted to actual worldly institutions. It is in the context of particular space- and time-bound social structures that such properties must be understood. Even here it is doubtful whether the holding of property preceded evolution of the social structure, for the simple reason that it was an existing institution that received the property, an institution whose sociological structure could, of course, be modified by virtue of the new acquisition. At the broadest levels, and in the long run, it is difficult to maintain the materialist view that social structures are the product of property relations, although certain dynamic interrelations between the two are undeniable.

Sagha and Political Authority

One of the striking contrasts presented by early Buddhism is that whereas the sagha was ordered according to the political principles of the ancient tribal republics of India, its preferred political ally was clearly the monarchy. This may be explained by several factors. As has been indicated, Buddhism has been viewed as a reaction to a spirit of individualism that it perceived as the cause of social and individual suffering. Because the rise of the monarchical principle epitomizes that same individualism, it would seem appropriate for the sagha to organize itself on nonindividualist, nonmonarchical, nonhierarchical lines. However, Buddhism, always realistic in spirit, seems to have accepted the likelihood that the propagation of its message would be better facilitated by good relations with the monarchy. It must not be supposed, however, that this was a one-way process. The benefits were mutual. As Buddhism was from its very inception a movement that appealed most to urban strata, the task of controlling the powerful urban centers and sub-centers was rendered easier for the political authority, the monarch, once he espoused the religious ideology of the socially and economically dominant urban strata.

The affinity of Buddhism and its sagha to kingship is expressed in diverse ways, including myths and symbols of Buddhist kingship. Buddhist literature and lore have elevated the Buddha's father, the Sakyan ruler of a small kingdom, to the status of a monarch of imperial stature. The close relations between the Buddha and the kings of the Middle Country such as Kośala and Bimbisāra are no doubt characterized by some literary embellishment, but the historicity of the Buddha's affinity with contemporary monarchs of the region cannot be doubted. The most elaborate correlations between Buddhism and kingship are perhaps those in the symbolic sphere, in particular the identity between the Buddha and the cakravartin ("wheel turner"), the universal monarch. The auspicious bodily marks of the Buddha and the cakravartin are considered in Buddhist lore to be the same. The cakravartin turns the wheel of political conquest while the Buddha turns the wheel of the Dharma, the philosophy of Buddhism as well as its moral law of righteousness. The obsequies of the Buddha are considered in Buddhist literature to be those appropriate to a cakravartin.

The absence of hierarchy in the sagha has already been noted. Although this does not by any means make the sagha a democracy in the modern political sensedistinctions of senior and junior, teacher and pupil, ordained and novice are definitely observedthe sagha had no effective encompassing organization with laws, edicts, and codes smoothly flowing down a hierarchy of sagha officials. Because the sagha had no effective coercive authority within the bounds of its own organization, it had to look elsewhere for the sustenance and objectification of its moral and political integrity and for the adjudication of its conflicts. The preeminent repository of these functions was the king. Thus the sagha was politically as well as economically dependent on the king. This dependence most often took the form of "purification of the order" (śāsana viśodhana; Pali, śāsana visodhana ), that is, by the staging of periodic purges of the sagha to free it from monks who violated the code of discipline. In addition, the purifications signified public reaffirmation of the sagha 's purity, on which depended its high esteem in society. The general public welcomed the purges because they guaranteed a virtuous and exemplary sagha, donations to which surpassed, in popular belief, all other acts of merit. The purifications were thus generally beneficial to all parties. Hence it is possible that these were regularly staged in Buddhist polities, as the historical record illustrates, whether or not an objective purificatory need existed. Apart from purifications, the king's organizational role in relation to the sagha was also manifest in the codification of doctrine and other acts that would enhance the sagha 's collective integrity. Historically, then, the king was indispensable to the sagha. Today, in Buddhist societies bereft of monarchy, this role is performed by the state.

Often, the integration of the sagha was historically effected by a hierarchy, imposed on it by the king, a hierarchy that duplicated the hierarchy of his secular patrimonial bureaucracy. The effectiveness of such imposed hierarchy, however, depended on the king's firm exercise of authority. At such times, the sagha may be considered to have had a more-than-usual political integration. In fact, it is more accurate to say that at all other times the sagha was merely a collection of politically disparate and inarticulate local communities. A king, however, was only able to integrate the sagha if he were an able ruler who integrated the secular polity itself, which in these systems was in a chronic state of tension between centripetality and centrifugality. Thus the king's integration of the sagha by the imposition of a hierarchy was no more than an extension of the integration of his secular power. Paradoxically, when the sagha was most politically integrated, and therefore most powerful, it was most dominated and regulated by the secular authority. At the same time, the king, while dominating the sagha, dared not alienate the monastic order lest it strike at the source of his legitimacy. Acceptance by the sagha was politically crucial for the king. It was part of the general cultural ideology of the Buddhist polity that the religion was the true sovereign over the land. Thus in Sri Lanka, kingship was described as being conferred by the sagha in order to maintain the religion. Kings periodically enacted symbolic abdication in favor of the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), and the sagha "in keeping with custom" restored the kingship to the king, accepting in return a token of its overlordship, such as a land grant made on the occasion by the king.

One of the fundamental dilemmas of the association between kingship and the sagha is their respective ideal representation of two divergent realms, the temporal and the spiritual. The tension between the two spheres becomes reality when, as is the case with the Buddhist polity, righteousness is declared the foundation of the state. Statecraft necessitates not only the maintenance of internal law and order ultimately backed by coercive means but also the suppression of external enemies by bloodshed, not to mention more covert Machiavellian (or, the Indian context, Kautilyan) acts by means of which the state's ends are maintained. Such practices are far from "righteous."

Two resolutions of this dilemma are discernible in the history of Buddhist polities. First, the ruler's reign is divided into two periods, an unrighteous period followed by a righteous period, with the implication that the sins of the former are washed away by the pure waters of the latter. The empirical prototype of such a king, and indeed of all Buddhist kingship, is Aśoka (268231 bce), who, as Caāśoka ("Aśoka the cruel"), ruthlessly expands the empire bequeathed him by his Mauryan ancestors; his reign climaxed in the bloody conquest of Kalinga. Later, as Dharmāśoka ("Aśoka the righteous"), he proclaims the end of conquest by the sword and the dawn of the reign of dharma alone. The emperor's inner transformation thus serves as the resolution of the might-versus-right conflict.

The second resolution of the king's dilemma, like the first, is initiated by the personal remorse of the conqueror, although the process takes a less ethicized form. Apprehensive of the moral retribution that may befall him in future lives, the conqueror grows afraid of the demerit of bloody conquest overtaking the merit column of his moral balance sheet. The resolution of this conflict involves a diminution of the universal perspective, for it takes the form of personal reassurance granted the conqueror that the bloodshed he caused was for the purpose of protecting from alien threat the dharma and maintaining its dominance. Thus in the Sri Lankan chronicle Mahāvasa, the hero Duhagāmaī is assured by the sagha that of the thousands massacred during the conquests, the number of human beings killed amounts to a mere one and a half (the rest being heathen whose extinction has little consequence for the king's moral state). This second resolution, in which elements less than universalist are apparent, can be further evaluated as ethically inferior in its relative valuation of human life (believers are truly human, heathens fit for slaughter).

This tension between the ideals of the sagha and those of the king are meaningfully characterized precisely because the two are in relation. Had they been fully and completely separate from each other, as in the case of a hypothetical fully secular king and an equally hypothetical forest-dwelling ascetic having no relations with the society of people, there would be no occasion for this dilemma to arise. However, in the actual world, the spiritual and the temporal, though ideally separate, are in fact coexistent. In the case of the Buddhist polity this "dialectical tension," as Stanley J. Tambiah has called it, is generated by the location of the sagha in society even while the sagha is not of the society. Such tension is based not so much on any social relationship between king and sagha or on the king's role as conqueror and converter of the heathen as on the indistinguishability of the spiritual and the temporal in the office of the sovereign as conceived in the Buddhist notion of kingship. Furthermore, this indistinguishability forces on the king the paradoxical obligation to deal with schisms in the sagha. This obligation involves the use of force against members of the sagha who are deemed offenders against orthodox purity. But such a judgment can by no means be objectively assured. Not infrequently in the history of the Buddhist polities "purges" of the sagha constitute a "unification" of the church, the meaning as well as durability of which may be dubious. Yet at least at the time of its accomplishment the act itself would appear to represent a victory both for the king and the section of the sagha he supported, and, in its "unified" sense, for the sagha as a whole. In principle, the king, now armed with the force of a purified and unified sagha, gains important political and religious prestige through his action, although such action presupposes considerable political power in the first place.

The relationship between kingship, that is, political authority, and the sagha has been so close in Buddhist polities that it is sometimes said that the existence of the sagha presupposes Buddhist kingship. The functional complementarity of the two parties centers around the sagha 's dependence on the king for economic and organizational sustenance and the king's need of the sagha to legitimize his authority. Sagha- society relations are, however, broader than sagha -king relations, for the whole of society includes a third crucial party that makes up the whole, the mass of the lay population. Thus, it has been observed that the Buddhist polity consists of a triadic relation between sagha, king, and people. In time, such a polity could develop a strong identity fortified further by a common language and a real or imagined common ethnicity. Such an entity could grow to possess considerable integrative potential submerged in its chronic tension between centripetality and centrifugality. This potential could manifest itself with vigor at times of crisis, such as the external threat of some alien religion, language, and/or ethnic group. At such times, an ordinarily dormant and structurally vague sagha might awaken, assume formidable solidarity, and inspire the people to heightened states of patriotic fervor. Characteristically, it would return to its structural somnolence at the abatement of the crisis. The Buddhist polity is thus capable of producing two remarkable phenomena: (1) a unification of the sagha from within, inconceivable during normal times, when unification is achieved only by state imposition, and (2) a sense of political unity and identity, rare in the traditional world, which becomes historically ubiquitous only with the rise of the modern nation-state. Clearly, this crisis-triggered phenomenon represents neither a true unification of the sagha nor political centralization.

Sagha Sects and Sectarianism

It is sometimes observed that there are no doctrinally differentiated sects in Buddhism. Yet Theravāda and Mahāyāna can both be considered sects in this sense. So can the numerous schools that developed within Theravāda in the early period of Buddhism. But throughout most of the history of Buddhist kingdoms, sects in this sense did not survive. As the schisms, purifications, and unifications show, however, differences of opinion and their corresponding social manifestations as sects (nikāya ) were an integral part of the history of Buddhist kingdoms.

It is possible to posit two kinds of sects as ideal types. First are those sects that have as their basis some doctrinal difference. Ideology here determines the social categorization. Second are sagha sects derived from or influenced by secular social organization. The term ideal type is used because empirically neither type is found in pristine form. The ideologically determined sects have social factors contributing to their genesis; the socially determined ones often have ideological differences (however hairsplitting they may be), or at least cover the social origins of their differences in ideological apparel.

Present in both modern times and antiquity are sects that express the tension in the sagha between eremitical and cenobitic ideals, forest dwelling and village dwelling, "bearing of contemplation" and "bearing of the books." Although Buddhist liberation is an act of personal endeavor, it has been noted above that from its inception Buddhism conceived of the greater facility with which this end can be reached within a community framework; hence the vast importance in Buddhism of the sagha as the "third jewel." At the same time, the pre-Buddhist orthodox means of salvation by resorting to solitary confinement in forest or cave, the rhinoceros ideal, continued to be followed by some, if only a minority. Perhaps because the very solitariness of the search suggested greater purity and commitment, free from any obligations either to fellow members of the sagha community or to the laity, the solitary ideal was always held in high esteem. Sects or breakaway groups in the history of the sagha that were founded on doctrinal differences exemplify the ascetic/monastic tension and have invariably proclaimed their departure from the fold of orthodoxy as a movement toward greater purity and a renunciation of the comforts and social involvement of monasticism. Undoubtedly, such proclamations are idealizations; the true picture is more complex and allied with less lofty causal variables. Nevertheless, in terms of the renouncing group's own conceptualizations, movements toward asceticism can be viewed as purifications generated within the sagha itself, as opposed to those imposed upon it by the political authority.

In the history of the sagha such rebel movements, often inspired by and centered upon charismatic leadership, have in time succumbed to the very monastic organizational structures (and their secular economic, political, and adulatory accompaniments) that they denounced to begin with. Eventually, they have been lured back to the fold of worldly monasticism within which they may either rejoin the original parent group, remain within it as a distinct subgroup, or form a new sect altogether. Whichever of these forms the newly returned group assumes, its organizational form will normally be identical with that of the established sects. This "routinization of charisma" is neatly expressed in microcosmic form in the rite of ordination, in which the neophyte takes extreme vows of asceticism and, at the end of the ceremony, emerges with a higher status in the monastic establishment. Just as the rite of ordination is no more than a reaffirmation of high and pure ascetic ideals, so ascetic movements are periodic reminders of the true path of renunciation.

When confronted with cases in which elements of the secular social order have played a decisive role in the formation of Buddhist sects (as was true of the role of the Sinhala caste structure in the formation of certain nineteenth- and twentieth-century sects), some sociological observers have seen no more in these movements than the intrusion of society into the sagha. While this view is not wholly without merit, to assert it unequivocally is to reduce to social form phenomena that are ideologically autonomous and irreducible to social or other causal factors. To have recourse to this deterministic view is also to ignore the role of symbolic classification in the generation of sects. The evidence from Sri Lanka in particular suggests that certain sectarian divisions followed successive binary differentiations.

Sects, Saints, and Millennial Buddhism

The forest dwellers, a group that either came into being as a result of the self-purifying tendency within the sagha or arose anew from the laity (a less likely possibility), symbolically represent physical distance from the established secular order. They also typify a politically peripheral status in their habitation of the traditional sanctuary of the politically rebellious, namely the untamed forest. Hence, their appeal to the established political center can be vast. Furthermore, forest dwelling is synonymous with virtue and purity, and in the Buddhist polities of East Asia in particular, forest dwellers are often attributed great miraculous powers. As Tambiah's study of Thai Buddhism illustrates, the forest saints not only exemplify true asceticism as described in the classic text on the subject, the Visuddhimagga, but are also sometimes considered by the laity to have actually reached liberation by achieving "the winning of the stream" in the voyage to nirvāa (Pali, nibbāna ). The politically central personalitieskings, prime ministers, generalsare thus forced by both spiritual and temporal interests to recognize and pay homage to them, a task that temporarily forces them out of their central fortresses to make uneasy journeys to the physical and political periphery where saints coexist with rebels. In general the saints are not interested in politics; their concern is spiritual commitment and the spiritual welfare of their immediate disciples and votaries. Nor is it possible for the political center to devote its sole energy to the veneration of the saints. In Thailand a happy medium is struck in medallions and amulets blessed with the saint's miraculous powers. In these cultic metal objects, which are made available to those who inhabit and control the political center, spiritual and temporal interests are welded together in much the same way as they are in the saint of the forest, whose path of purification also leads to the cosmic mountain symbolic of world conquest.

Today as in the past, a group surrounding such a forest saint is a potential threat to the political center, a threat to which the latter typically reacts in either of two ways. First, as already observed, it can make peaceful and devoted overtures and invoke the power of the miraculous objects blessed by the saint. Second, if the group surrounding the saint turns hostile, the center may resort to military action, against which the rebels, armed more with millennial expectations than military hardware, are no match. The forest saint's implicit premise that the established sagha and polity are corrupt may become the rallying point of rebellion, although this need not necessarily be so. In the established realm, sagha and political authority are separate but bound in reciprocity and mutuality, whereas in millenarianism, one possible rallying point of which is the forest-dwelling exemplar, the roles of renouncer and ruler tend to fuse together. This brings back full cycle, however fragile and illusory, the ideal unification of world renunciation and world conquest.

See Also

Aśoka; Buddhism, overview article, and article on Buddhism in Southeast Asia; Buddhism, Schools of, article on Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism; Cakravartin; Duhagāmaī; Kingship; Monasticism, article on Buddhist Monasticism; Priesthood, article on Buddhist Priesthood.


A concise yet lucid source of the social and ideological background of Buddhism and the incipient sagha is Trevor O. Ling's The Buddha (London, 1973). Further details on this early period and developments up to about 1200 ce, with more focus on the sagha than on the wider society, are found in Sukumar Dutt's two works, Early Buddhist Monachism, 2d ed. (Bombay, 1960), and Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture (London, 1962). E. Michael Mendelson's Sangha and State in Burma: A Study of Monastic Sectarianism and Leadership, edited by John P. Ferguson (Ithaca, N.Y., 1975), discusses several aspects of sagha relations with society, including the tension between the sagha and the political order. Kitsiri Malalgoda's Buddhism in Sinhalese Society, 17501900 (Berkeley, Calif., 1976) discusses the response of the sagha to colonial domination in nineteenth-century Sri Lanka and relates sectarianism to caste competition generated by the dynamism of the period. The economic basis of monastic social structures is argued with forceful subtlety by R. A. L. H. Gunawardhana in his Robe and Plough: Monasticism and Economic Interest in Early Medieval Sri Lanka (Tucson, 1979), a work notable for its painstaking scholarship. The sagha 's preeminent position in society and polity in ancient Sri Lanka is described in Walpola Rahula's History of Buddhism in Ceylon (Colombo, 1956). The towering achievement in the study of sagha- society relations remains Stanley J. Tambiah's trilogy based on Thai material. Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in North-East Thailand (Cambridge, 1970), World Conqueror and World Renouncer (New York, 1976), and The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets (Cambridge, 1984). The first work illustrates the transformation of the sagha in the process of meeting village-level society. The second is a grand view of the relations between sagha and polity. As Tambiah demonstrates, while in the decentralized kingdoms of Sukhōthai, Ayutthayā, and early Bangkok the sagha 's relations with the polity were loosely articulated, in the centralized Thai polity dating from the mid-nineteenth century the sagha became a systematized order actively participating in and regulated by the polity. This work also traces the path of achievement available to monks, from the rural monastery to the metropolis. The third of the trilogy examines the polity's relations with the nonestablished sagha, the forest-dwelling saints. The high esteem in which the political center holds this peripheral order, and the issue of millennialism lurking in its shadow, are discussed with authority and insight. All three works display vast learning and contain excellent bibliographies. Among the modern masters of social thought, Max Weber alone dealt with Buddhism in The Religion of India, translated and edited by Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale (1958; reprint, New York, 1967), where he characteristically constructs an ideal type of the early sagha as separate from society yet in time transforming itself to accommodate lay religious needs. Although many of Weber's views are disputed, most forcefully by Tambiah, whose sociological imagination and expository style are reminiscent of Weber's own, there is still a great deal of potency and suggestiveness in his observations. Bardwell Smith has edited two volumes, Religion and Legitimation of Power in Thailand, Laos and Burma and Religion and Legitimation of Power in Sri Lanka (both Chambersburg, Pa., 1978), that contain several useful articles on the subject.

The Mahāyāna monastic orders of Japan and Tibet are vastly different from the Theravāda sagha s of Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma, which constitute data for the analysis presented in this article. For Tibet, there is little scholarly focus from a social science point of view, the bulk of the work being textual and religio-philosophical. Authoritative though brief discussions on Tibetan monasticism ("Lamaism") are found in Giuseppe Tucci's The Religions of Tibet (Berkeley, Calif., 1980) and Rolf A. Stein's Tibetan Civilization (Stanford, Calif., 1972). Daigon and Alicia Matsunaga's Foundations of Japanese Buddhism, 2 vols. (Los Angeles and Tokyo, 1978), deals with, among other things, the development of scholastic Buddhism as a magical agent of the Ritsuryo government, and the generalization of Buddhism from an aristocratic religion to one embracing all strata, and suggests the cyclically regenerative and reinterpretive nature of Japanese Buddhism. For a historically based discussion of the relationship of church and state in early Chinese Buddhism, see Erik Zürcher's The Buddhist Conquest of China, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1972).

H. L. Seneviratne (1987)