This paper focuses on the lives of Monks and Nuns, the formation of Sangha and the acceptance of women in the order.
Monks were defined as men who belonged to a certain brotherhood. They were committed towards behaving in a certain way according to their order. They spent their lives in monasteries where they prayed and meditated as they took care of other people. A monastery was a place where religious and medical services were offered concurrently. The monasteries also functioned like schools since basic reading and writing skills were taught.
The Lives of Monks and Nuns
A big proportion of the lives of Monks and Nuns was spent in prayer and meditation and carrying out activities such as teaching, preparing medicine, writing or sewing. They were generally busy, organized and orderly people. They had a timetable that outlined the order of their prayers, the first one being the Opus Dei. The first prayer began in the wee hours of the morning while the last one was conducted at mid night. The timetable was first introduced by Italian Saint Benedict before it gained popularity among all the Monks and Nuns in other parts of Europe. All their activities including preparation of the timetable were conducted at the monastery (Gombrich and Heinz 1991,40). Among the works of Monks and Nuns was the Cloister which took place in the monastery. The Monks were good at writing neatly and drawing, and as a result, they used their hands to publish their books.
The initial letter of each paragraph was neatly decorated to make it attractive. At times, they used gold to produce fancy writings. People who converted into Buddhism were required to make three vows. The first vow was the vow of poverty which implied that one had to abandon all personal possessions.
The second one was the vow of chastity which required individuals to stay single while the third one, the vow of obedience, called for one to show obedience to the monastery and the church. However, after sometime, some Monks and Nuns did not adhere to some of the vows they had made. This led to the diminishing of the Benedict law and accumulation of wealth by some monarchies. A section of Monks and Nuns introduced a new order known as Cistercian which was initially respected by all. A Cistercian belonged to a monastery that was situated away from the towns (Gombrich and Heinz 1991,53).
Different Cistercian monasteries were designed for various purposes. For instance, those who experienced problems in memorizing their Latin studies went to special monasteries reserved for that purpose. The monasteries were usually very poor but they accepted those who wanted to join them. Members of the Cistercian were referred to as lay brothers and assisted in the monastery estates by doing some work in the church. Church going was mandatory for most people and they were compelled to pay taxes for developing the churches. Monks and Nuns were characterized by specific habits which included particular types of clothes and uniforms. Some wore hairy shirts that made them scratch themselves and remind themselves of how Jesus suffered. Their eating place was known as a refectory and while eating, silence was maintained apart from the priest who was allowed to read the bible.
A lot of fancy food was incorporated in their menu when some monasteries gained a lot of wealth (Gombrich and Heinz 1991, 45). Despite the fact that Monks and Nuns had made vows of poverty, some of them became very wealthy. They became members of monasteries with the intention of getting preferential treatment. For instance, some of them owned large pieces of land. Majority of the monasteries were turned into learning centers and sheltered travelers, the sick and poor people. A period of economic anarchy came about when the Carolingian Empire took power causing a fall in the economic system. People found it difficult to survive as the monasteries were burned down.
Monks and Nuns were rendered homeless and the most important thing for them was to save their lives and their belongings. Monks and Nuns carried out different functions during the middle age period. They taught basic reading and writing skills, provided shelter, made clothes, prepared medicine and helped others whenever their help was needed. At first, their commitment to God was evident as they vowed to remain obedient, chaste and poor. However, the power and wealth associated with orders drew some monks and Nuns in order to get money and power. Most of the monasteries were retained as crucial centers for caring and providing education (Gethin 1998,120).
Formation of Sangha
The question of why human beings suffered was one of the questions that troubled Buddha for a long period of time. He spent six years meditating to get an answer to the problem but after the period, he felt that he had not found what he was looking for.
He remembered an experience he had during his youth as he quietly rested under the shade of an apple tree. His mind was in an awesome state of peace and calm. According to Buddhist tradition, this state was referred to as the first meditation. He reflected and it dawned on him that he could only find what he was looking for if he allowed himself to be in such a peaceful state of mind. This required him to nourish his body in order to gain strength because his companions thought that he had given up the quest and left him alone. It was during this time that a young woman known as Sujata offered him milk-rice. He was nourished and resumed his position under a Bodhi tree to continue with his quest.
Buddha resolved hat he was not to give up his quest until he got an answer to his problem. Before he received the milk-rice from Sujata, he was near death and his quest could not continue. However, this gave him strength to continue with his quest until he achieved enlightenment (Gombrich and Heinz 1991,53) The development of Sangha started after the enlightenment of Buddha.
While enjoying the shade of the Bodhi Tree, two merchants by the names Bhalluka and Tapussa paid him a visit, eight weeks after his enlightenment. They offered him rice cake mixed with molasses and ghee in a bowl that had been provided by the four guardians of the directions. After Bhalluka and Tapussa offered their gifts to Buddha, they were given relics of Buddha’s hair. They immediately assumed the two fold refuge in Dharma and Buddha. The two merchants were regarded as the first laymen disciples.
They went to their native city with the relics and deposited them in a splendid Chaitya that had been constructed for that purpose. They continued to visit the Buddha at Rajagriha until Tapassu changed his name. Bhallika became a member of the Sangha and was converted into an Arhat. These two merchants together with the five ascetics with whom Buddha practiced with formed the Sangha. The Buddha decided to visit Uddaka Ramaputta and Alara Kalama who had taught him, to narrate to them his findings but they had already passed on (Strong 2008,100).
After Buddha discovered that his former teachers had died, he went to Deer Park which was close to Varanasi. At the park, his union with the five colleagues with whom they had journeyed together towards enlightenment was revived. He gave them his first sermon setting the Wheel of Dharma in motion.
They joined hands and together, the first Sangha was formed. Their coming together completed the Triple Gem which was comprised of the Dharma, Buddha and Sangha. After a short duration of time, the five individuals turned into Arahants. Yasa later brought fifty four friends all of whom joined the Buddhist religion. Within the first 2 months after Dharma Chakra had begun, there was a total of sixty Arahants. Kasyapa brothers were later converted, together with their disciples making the total number of Sangha members more than one thousand. The size of Sangha continued growing as the members increased from seven to thousands of Monks. Arahants were released to go to different regions to spread the Buddhist religion among the commons (Stevens 1998 34).
Buddha welcomed individuals to join Sangha with rules being developed after the formulation of the Sangha code of conduct. The Sanghas had a set of ten rules which they were supposed to follow. Members wishing to join Sangha were required to shave their hair and beards, wear a yellow robe placed on one shoulder and pay homage at the feet of the Monks. This was turned into an induction ceremony for everybody who wanted to join Sangha. Many monasteries were established for the Sangha with the most famous one being built on the park of Prince Jeta.
Its name later changed to Jeta Grove Monastery (Stevens 34).
Acceptance of Women in the Order
The role of women among the Monks and the Nuns was looked at in various dimensions. For instance, a comparison was made between the position given to women in secular and religious realms before Buddhism and after its introduction.
It was also important to consider if the Buddhist teachings introduced a radical change or not. This revealed whether the Buddhist teachings gave women positions that differed from the ones given to men as it happened in other religions. In ancient India, women were considered to be family burdens because men had the responsibility of taking care of them. Besides, they did not have the ability to conduct religious rites for the dead parents hence they were considered less useful. As a result, the birth of a female child was regarded as a great misfortune to the family.
The prayers of many parents were that they gave birth to sons to carry on the family name and conduct religious rites to appease them in their death (Strong 2008, 175). However, this changed with the introduction of Buddhism since women were accepted in the new order of Monks and Nuns. In this order, women were not considered inferior to men. While the physical and biological differences between men and women were acknowledged in this order, both men and women were considered to be equally useful. The Monks and Nuns emphasized that a woman had an important role to play in a family as a good mother and wife. This in turn brought success to the family.
Wives and Husbands in the family took equal responsibility and performed their tasks with equal commitment. The husband was advised to perceive the wife as a companion, friend and a partner. The wife was expected to take the place of the husband whenever the husband was not at home to discharge his duties. As a matter of fact, wives were expected to familiarize themselves with the trades their husbands were involved in order to manage the affairs of their husbands in their absence. This indicated that women in the Buddhist religion were accepted and treated equally with men (Strong 2001, 176).
The Monks and the Nuns constituted an important component of Buddhism. This paper has focused on their lives and the unique roles they played within the order. The formation of Sangha was also a critical aspect of the Buddhist religion that provided important information on Buddhism. Acceptance of women in the order was portrayed through non-restriction of educational opportunities and religious freedom for women. It was accepted that women had the capacity to realize the truth just as men did. This was why women were accepted in the order although there were initial feelings that their acceptance was bound to cause problems.
The capability of women that led to their acceptance within the order was recorded in Buddhist texts.
Gethin, Rupet. The Foundations of Buddhism. New York: Oxford University Press , 1998.Print Gombrich, Richard and Bechert Heinz. The World of Buddhism: Buddhist Monks and Nuns in Society and Culture : With 297 Illustrations, 82 in Colour, 215 Photographs, Drawings and Maps.
London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.Print Stevens, John. The marathon monks of Mount Hiei. London: Shambala, 1988.
Print Strong, John. Buddha: A Short Biography. London: Oneworld, 2001.Print Strong,John. The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations. Belmont: CA:Thomson/Wadsworth, 2008.Print