Zen Talk

Zen Talk – Sangha

Zen Talk – Sangha

What is the Sangha

Generally, the Sangha generally means the community of Buddhist monks, nuns, novices, and laity. More specifically, it means the immediate local community that you are currently joining with.

In good standing

To be part of a Sangha, you have to be in ‘Good Standings’ of the Sangha, meaning:

  • Not speaking heresies or committing heretical actions, and
  • Agreeing to the rules, orders and moralistic code of principles of the Sangha, and
  • Yourself claiming to be a member of the Sangha

Mostly, being a member of a Sangha often requires vows and oaths to a moralistic code of principles. Each Sangha has its own list of rules and codes of conduct that greatly vary from culture and region.

The Ten Precepts

Most Western Zen initiates who join a Sangha take the Ten(10) Moralistic Precepts:

  1. Do not take life
  2. Do not steal
  3. Do not indulge in abusive or inappropriate sexuality
  4. Do not lie
  5. Do not abuse intoxicants
  6. Do not criticize others
  7. Do not boast of your attainments and belittle others
  8. Do not be mean in giving Dharma (teaching) or wealth
  9. Do not harbour anger
  10. Do not defame the three treasures* 

*Buddha, Dharma and Sangha

Did the Buddha teach us to follow rules?

The short answer is no. There is no set of ethics or rules that will bring a person to enlightenment (knowing the soul), purification of the soul, and liberation of the soul.

The Buddha taught and promoted Natural Law that is a principle of human conduct that is univeraly discoverable thru reason.

So, where did the precepts come from?

The ten precepts, known as Samanera, that is most common for the laity, come from the Buddhist monasteries of South Asia. The Samanera precepts that the Western Zen Centers use is the same as children take when entering a Monastery for education.In short, the precepts and rules are only for monastic life, to allow for an environment of spiritual soul exploration, purification and liberation.

How southern Asians view the rules

I had a chance to befriend a famous westerner who became a Theravada monk, and he told me that the people only follow ‘Temple rules’ while in the temple and when wearing the robes. 

Southern Asians when not in the temple or in service to the temples (such as education or contracted time) can do as they please.

You also see the same in Japanese culture, where monks who are not in robes or on the temples premises, will engage in quite a few behaviors that seemingly are against the precepts!

So, it is then reasonable to conclude that Precepts and other rules that may be applied to a person are only valid when they are on the premises of the temple or engaged in temple activities, on or off the temple.

Following orders and order followers

Following Orders means doing what you are told to do, without judging for yourself whether or not the action you are being ordered to carry out is Right or Wrong.

Those who follow orders (and enforce them on others), believe that they are ‘Doing Right’ and that this doing makes a better world.

Now, if you go back and look at the Ten Precepts, one can begin to see how those precepts can be interpreted in many different ways to mean many different things. 

As with any set of rules, they can be twisted and corrupted by evil-doers! Creating destructive cults and mind-controlling others.

“You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her soul.” – Mahatma Gandhi

I highly recommend you watch the video by Mark Passio on Order Followers

Rules for thee, but not for me

The next question to ask is:

  • For who exactly do the rules apply to, and
  • Who exactly can enforce them (if they are enforced at all)

So, ethical guidelines (The Rules) are always set forth to create a society that is always guided by a set of rulers and always with the intent to reshape the land to that of the vision of the rulers, their utopia.

This ‘land’ may be as small as a Zen temple or as large as a country, the entire planet and beyond!’But what happens when the rules do not apply to the law makers themselves? And, what of rules forced on those who don’t agree with the rules or the vision of utopia that the rulers hold?

Tyranny and Corruption

Rules, that we call Laws here in the USA and Policies in Europe, can easily become unjust! When they do, that is tyranny!  When tyranny occurs, the corrupt (those that benefit from the tyranny) will say and do anything to justify their behavior, and even go as far as blaming the victims of their bad behavior in saying such like, “They brought this situation on to themselves, now we have no choice but to deal with the situation by any means possible”.  When it gets like that, then all manors of horrors are unleashed!

One could never think that like a code of morality can ever go wrong; until it is interpreted to oppress you!


The common misconception is that without rules, then there be chaos! 

As we saw in 2020, rules don’t prevent chaos, for that can arise anywhere for numerous reasons.  Furthermore, we also saw that the rules simply don’t apply to everyone either.

What anarchy really means is ‘No rulers’ or to abide by True Natural Law

People through all times have made mutual agreements of trade, behaviors and civics all based on reason, their locality and goals, without any external impositions of a ruler.

Natural Law vs. Man’s Law (Positive Law)


When you join a Sangha, you are joining a monastic school and agreeing to abide by their Code of Ethics and rules. 

It is your responsibility to determine if the Code and rules are reasonable and based on rational thinking, and to ask questions to gain understanding and insight.

All Zen Centers are essentially religious schools, and when you take The Precepts, you are then an official student of that school, binded by their codes of conduct and rules and, when you leave the school, you are no longer bound. Buddhism is not a set of Moralistic laws and rules, and the Buddha never taught to just follow a code of ethics and laws, though Buddhism in general teaches and supports Natural Law.


Non-aligned Zen Teacher currently living in Las Vegas, Nevada USA Youtube Channel Website