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Saṅgha or saṃgha (Skt./Pāli, ‘gathering, community’). Religious communities in India, e.g. the Jains, but most often used of Buddhists. In general, it means ‘those who follow the teachings of the Buddha’, i.e. the four groups of Buddhists (Skt., pariṣad; Pāli, parisā), monks and nuns (bhikṣus, bhikṣunīs), laymen and laywomen (upāsaka, upāsikā); but again, the reference is usually more precise, to the community of monks and nuns alone, or to those of advanced spiritual attainment as distinguished from beginners (Skt., aryasaṃgha or savaka-saṃgha, ‘holy community’), or to the entire Buddhist community at a particular place. To take refuge in the saṅgha is one of the Three Jewels (trīratna) of Buddhism.

The rules governing the life and organization of the saṅgha (in the restricted sense) are found in Vinayapiṭaka. The saṅgha is basically mendicant, and it has no hierarchical organization (apart from a senior monk, Skt., sthavira; Pāli, thera). The development of Mahāyāna did not diminish the importance of the saṅgha, even though routes to enlightenment/salvation were opened up outside the saṅgha. The vinaya traditions persisted, and only in Japan did the organization of schools diminish the importance of the monastic saṅgha. In 1966, the World Buddhist Saṅgha Council was established.

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