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The Sangha at Sarnath
Ruins of the Sangha near Sarnath
David Grubin Productions
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In time, a devoted gathering of monks formed around the Buddha at Sarnath near the Ganges. Broken stones and fallen pillars mark what remains of what grew to be a vibrant monastic community—the Sangha.

Jane Hirshfield, poet: "It took the Buddha many, many years to find his way. But he didn’t want it to be so hard for people, and so he established a community who could live together and help one another."

In an ceremony evoking the beginning of the Buddha’s own spiritual journey, fledgling monks of all ages say goodbye to their families and homes and join the sangha:

Young monks get their heads shaved
Young monks get their heads shaved before entering the Sangha
David Grubin Productions
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"I go to the refuge of the Buddha; I go to the refuge of the Dharma; And I go to the refuge of the Sangha."

Venerable Metteyya Sakyaputta, monk: "The Sangha is an embodiment of Buddha’s experience and wisdom. What happens to people that practice this thing? Are they truly happy or not, are they joyful or not? So I think Buddha wanted us to lead a perfect example of his life teaching; a teaching that walks, a teaching that can talk, a teaching that can laugh. So I would say Sangha is just like a living example of the Buddha’s teaching. The first Sangha was a radical institution, open to people of every caste and, remarkable for the times in which the Buddha lived, to both men and women. The Buddha was part of a culture deeply suspicious of women. The attitude towards women at the time was very critical, and many things were impossible for them. So that was a very revolutionary thing to do that in that time of India."

By ordaining women as nuns, the Buddha gave women the chance to escape the drudgery of daily life. Life was so hard for most women that entering the Sangha was a liberation as we know from their ecstatic, heart-rending poems.

Nuns meditating
Nuns meditating
David Grubin Productions
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"So freed! So freed!
So thoroughly freed am I —
from my pestle,
my shameless husband
and his sun-shade making,
my moldy old pot
with its water-snake smell.

Aversion ad passion
I cut with a chop.
Having come to the foot of a tree,
I meditate, absorbed in the bliss:

What bliss!"

Continue to "Meditation"

Major funding provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by: the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Shinnyo-en Foundation, the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Bumper Foundation, and viewers like you.