Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “explanation of the word samgha” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Part 4 - Explanation of the word Saṃgha

What does saṃgha mean? In the language of the Ts’in, saṃgha means assembly. The gathering together of many bhikṣus in one place is called saṃgha. In the same way, a group of large trees is called a forest (vana). Taken separately, the trees do not make up a forest, but if they are cut down one by one, there is no longer a forest. In the same way, taken separately, the bhikṣus do not make up a saṃgha, but if they are removed one by one, there is no longer a saṃgha. The bhikṣus must be gathered together to constitute a saṃgha.[1]

There are four types of saṃgha: 1) the assembly having shame (hrīmat), 2) the shameless saṃgha (āhrīkya), 3) the assembly of dumb sheep (eḍamūka),[2] 4) the true saṃgha (bhūta).[3]

1. What is the saṃgha having shame? This assembly observes the precepts (śīla) without transgressing them; its [actions of] body and speech (kāyavakkarman) are pure (viśuddha); it knows how to distinguish the beautiful from the ugly but has not attained the Path.

2. What is the shameless saṃgha? This assembly violates the precepts; its [actions of] body and speech are impure; there is no evil that it does not commit.

3. What is the assembly of dumb sheep? This assembly does not violate the precepts but its faculties are dull (mṛdvindriya) and it lacks wisdom (prajñā). It is unable to discern the beautiful and the ugly, the light and the heavy, that which is sinful (āpatti) and that which is not sinful (anāpatti). If there is some business in the saṃgha where two people are arguing, it is not capable of cutting through the question and remains silent without saying a word like a white sheep that cannot make a sound until it is butchered.

4. What is the true assembly? The true assembly is that of the śaikṣas and the aśaikṣas who reside in the four fruits (phala) and practice the four paths leading to them.

Footnotes and references:


According to Buddhaghosa and the Pāli commentators, the saṃgha assumes a commonality of views and precepts; cf. Sumaṅgala, I, p. 230: diṭṭhisīlasaṃghātena saṃghāto ti saṃgho.


The Chinese translation Ya yang is an imaginative interpretation of the Sanskrit eḍamūkha ‘deaf-mute’, where the word eḍa ‘deaf’ has been combined with eḍa ‘sheep’. Cf. Hôbôgirin, Ayo, p. 45.


The Ti tsang che louen king, T 411, k. 3, p. 740c, also distinguishes four types of saṃgha:

1) s. in the true sense (paramārthasaṃgha). 2) s. in the ordinary sense (saṃvṛtisaṃgha), 3) s. of mute sheep (eḍamūkasaṃgha), 4) shameless s. (Wou ts’an khei = āhrīkyasaṃgha). The definitions that it gives correspond to those of the Mppś. – The same division of the saṃgha, increased by one point, is repeated by Saṃghabhadra in his Chouen tcheng li louen T 1562, k. 38, p. 557c:

1) āhrīkyasaṃgha, 2) eḍamūkhasaṃgha, 3) s. of partisans (P’ong tand seng = pakṣisaṃgha), 4) saṃvṛtisaṃgha, 5) paramārthasaṃgha. – Similar division in a commentary on the Sarvāstivādin Vinaya, T 1440,k. 2, p. 513b: 1) eḍamūkasaṃgha, 2) āhrīkyasaṃgha, 3) bhinnasaṃgha, 4) viśuddasaṃgha, 5) paramārthasaṃgha.