In praise of the Sangha
On the Uposatha day of the fifteenth, the Blessed One was dwelling at Savatthi in the Eastern Park in a monastery called the Mansion of Migara’s Mother addressing an assembly of Sangha monks. The Blessed One said that it was rare that the Sangha of monks he was addressing were “free from prattle, free from chatter, it is pure, established in the essence.” What it meant was the minds of the Sangha of monks were calm, serene, peaceful and free from defilements as they were enlightened beings. Such is the rare occasion that the Blessed One showered praises on the Sangha of monks that they are “worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of reverential salutation, an unsurpassed field of merit for the world.” The Blessed One added that a small gift to these enlightened Sangha of monks will generate a lot of wholesome karmic results such that “a small gift given to it becomes great and a great gift still greater.”
In many religions, one has to be borne in Heaven to experience divine bliss. But Buddha said it was possible to experience divine bliss without going to Heaven to a Brahmin who posed him the question of how to go to Heaven. He encouraged the Brahmin to mediate the four immeasurables – loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), appreciative joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). Buddha said the assembly of the Sangha of monks surrounding him have all experienced divine bliss and each of them have attained one of the four states of devas, Brahma, the imperturbable and the noble ones.
Jhanas are deep mental states that result from focusing the mind upon a single object with such a degree of concentration that thought is slowed down and eventually stopped. Jhanas is divided into two groups of four meditative states in each group. The first group consists of four formless jhanas (arupajhana) while the second group is made up of four non-formless jhanas (rupajhana).
“And how has a monk attained the status of a deva?”
Having eliminated the the five hindrances (pańcanivarana) of sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry and doubt, the monk enters the first jhana and develops the four mental states of applied thought (vitakka), sustained thought (vicara), rapture (piti) and one-pointedness of mind (ekaggata). Monks in the first jhana experience divine bliss. As the monks progress to the second, third and fourth jhanas, they experience more refined and more sublime bliss. In this sense, there is “neither pain nor pleasure and there is purification of mindfulness by equanimity” and the monks enjoy divine bliss here and now. It is in such a way that a monk has attained the status of a deva.
“And how has a monk attained the status of a Brahma?”
A Brahma is a superb divine being, higher than a divine being, experience more refined bliss, live longer, has more sublime happiness, is more powerful than a deva and experience more divine bliss. The mind of a Brahma is full of loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), appreciative joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). Monks who cultivate metta, karuna, mudita and upekkha will experience the bliss of a Brahma here and now. It is in such a way that a monk has attained the status of a Brahma.
“And how has a monk attained the imperturbable?”
Monks who have developed the four types of jhana will experience infinite space, consciousness, nothingness and neither perception nor non-perception (formless jhanas). Those who develop the four jhanic states experience the mental state of formless realm and attain the imperturbable (unshakeable supreme). These monks experience the bliss of the highest beings (formless beings). It is in such a way that a monk has attained the imperturbable.
Thus the deva, Brahma and the imperturbable are divine beings, superb divine beings and superb divine beings (formless). They still have defilements but have been suppressed. The fourth is the noble ones.
“And how has a monk attained the status of a noble one?”
Here, a monk understands as it really is: “This is suffering. This is the origin of suffering. This is the cessation of suffering. This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.” It is such a way that a monk has attained the status of a noble one, an enlightened being.
[Refer Anguttara Nikaya (IV, 190) to read the full text of the sutta]
Uposatha day is for "the cleansing of the defiled mind," resulting in inner calm and joy. On this day, both lay and ordained members of the sangha intensify their practice, deepen their knowledge and express communal commitment through millennia-old acts of lay-monastic reciprocity. On these days, the lay followers make a conscious effort to keep the Five Precepts or (as the tradition suggests) the Eight Precepts. It is a day for practicing the Buddha's teachings and meditation.