The fundamental core of all Buddhist practices are the Three Jewels – the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha Shakyamuni taught the Dharma, which is the path to rid ourselves of suffering and achieve Enlightenment, and the Sangha are those who preserve, practise and teach such methods. Therefore, sponsoring the institutions of the Sangha, namely monasteries and Dharma centres, is not only a generous way to serve others, but a compassionate one too as the sponsor provides the Sangha the means to preserve and spread the Dharma for the benefit of future generations.
In traditional Buddhist countries, it is not uncommon for the public to provide such sponsorship. Whether poor or rich, most individuals will sponsor and contribute according to their circumstances. This fact illustrates the relationship between the lay community and the Sangha, the former supporting the latter as they are the source of spiritual education and welfare.
This relationship started with the beginning of Buddhism. During the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, the lay community would offer alms to the ordained Sangha as embodiments of the Three Jewels. Making such offerings generated an immense amount of merit for those communities. It was this joyous act of generosity that solidified the bond between the Sangha and the lay communities.
This relationship has endured the test of time and in Tibet manifested as lay communities supporting larger monastic centres of study and practice. Since that time, Tibetan Buddhism has spread beyond the borders of Tibet and there are both monasteries and Dharma centres in all corners of the world. In order to ensure the preservation of the ancient and beneficial lineages of practice contained within the Dharma, it is imperative that this mutually symbiotic relationship continues unhindered.
It is a result of this relationship that the Dharma can be of benefit to many, relieving them of their suffering and bringing them happiness. Just as a bird requires two wings to fly, these Dharma institutions are based on two crucial foundations: the preservation of the Dharma and all that it entails; and material resources. Whilst the ordained Sangha and lay teachers can preserve their Dharma practices, their material resources to do so can decline. That is why supporting such institutions is necessary in our day and age, to allow the Dharma to be of benefit.
In essence, the Sangha provide a bridge between the confusion of daily life and Enlightenment – they provide a support system for the study and practise of the teachings of the Buddha. When the ordained Sangha and lay teachers uphold their practices and lineages, they themselves hold the power to remove the sufferings of beings. Therefore, monasteries and Dharma centres are where the teachings are kept alive, and where the presence of the Buddhas can be felt. As His Eminence the 25th Tsem Rinpoche has said,
Supporting the Sangha is supporting the continuance of the holy Dharma. If all Sangha disappeared due to no support, then you will see the Dharma decline in its complete form. H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche, Why We Make Offerings
This support can come in many different forms, from the giving of food, robes, buildings, land and monetary offerings to volunteering one’s services. Once the material resources of these institutions are taken care of, the Sangha and lay teachers can concentrate on their true purpose – study, practise, and preservation of the Dharma – not only for our benefit but for that of the future generations of our world as well.
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