“Supatipanno bhagavato savakasangho
They are the Bleesed One’s disciples who have practiced well
Ujupatipanno bhagavato savakasangho
They are the Blessed One’s disciples who have practiced directly
Nayapatipanno bhagavato savakasangho
They are the Blessed One’s disciples who have practiced insightfully
Samicipatipanno bhagavato savakasangho
They are the Blessed One’s disciples who have practiced with integrity
Yadidam cattari purisayugani attha purisapuggala
That is the four pairs and eight kinds of noble beings
Esa bhagavato savakasangho
These are the Blessed One’s disciples
Ahuneyyo pahuniyyo dakkhineyyo anjali-karaniyo
Such ones are worthy of gifts, hospitality, offerings, and respect
Anuttaram punnakkhettam lokatassa ti
They give occasion for incomparable goodness to arise in the world.”
The third refuge that is part of the Three Refuges (Tisarana) is the Sangha. The Sangha can be understood in two ways, according to Buddhist tradition; firstly, there is the Bhikkhu-Sangha or ‘Order of Monks’, the saffron-robed monastics that are seen all over the Theravada Buddhist world, and then there is the Ariya-Sangha, the ‘Order of Noble Beings’. The Noble Beings are numbered eight, and are grouped into four pairs, according to their level of realization. The more awakened to the Dharma they are, the more revered they are by Buddhists. The four pairs are those that have become a sotapanna (‘stream-enterer’), sakadakami (‘once-returner’), anagami (‘non-returner’), or arahant (‘worthy one’). A ‘steam-enterer’ has begun the Buddhist Way in earnest and has let go of certain impediments to practice, including the view of being a self, whilst an arahant is fully enlightened, pretty much as the Buddha himself. It is these awakened ones that Buddhist revere when recollecting the nine attributes of the Sangha (Sanghaguna). Let’s look at those nine attributes, one by one.
Supatipanno bhagavato savakasangho: Sangha members that have achieved one of the levels of awakening are said to have practiced well because this is a requirement of enlightenment. By practicing well is meant that they’ve behaved in mindful ways, aware of their actions and avoided modes of behavior contrary to the Buddha Dharma.
Ujupatipanno bhabavato savakasangho: They have practiced directly with their focus not only on this moment, but with the ultimate aim of enlightenment in mind. The Ariya-Sangha do not get waylaid and avoid worldly distractions that lead them astray form the Path.
Nayapatipanno bhagavato savakasangho: They have practiced with wisdom, gaining insight into then way things are, inclining towards that which opens the door of enlightenment wide open. This is a contemplative way that cultivates knowledge of Dharma through experience, rather than through much learning.
Samicipatipanno bhagavato savakasangho: They have had integrity in their practice, not being immoral or corrupt, but keeping to the high standards of the Dharma-Vinaya (Doctrine and Discipline) established by the Buddha.
Ahuneyyo: These disciples are worthy of gifts, not only the basic requisites of a monastic, food, clothing, medicine, and shelter, but also anything else that recognizes their achievements and value to the world.
Pahuneyyo: They are worthy of hospitality also, in that we can welcome them into our homes and communities, paying them due respect and listening to the wisdom that they have developed through their dedicated living in the light of the Dharma.
Dakkineyyo: They are also worthy of offerings, such as the paying of respect by verbal praise, or the traditional offering of flowers, food, fruit juice, or lights as in done throughout Buddhist lands across Asia and beyond.
Anjalikaraniyo: They are worthy of respect and the display of salutations recognizing their achievements. This can be done through chanting about them as in this chant itself, or in bowing to them three times, and talking in respectful tones.
Anuttaram punnakkhettam lokassa: Through their excellent lives the Noble Beings give rise to incomparable goodness and virtue to arise in the world, not to mention the manifestation of the wisdom of the Dharma.
As can be seen from the above, the Noble Beings are awarded the same kind of reverence that the Lord Buddha is himself. This is not surprising when it is considered that as arahants they have realized the same truths that he did, the only difference between them that the Buddha was the first in our era to do so. He founded the Way to Awakening and the Noble Ones follow him to the journey’s end. That we all one day become such Noble Ones for ourselves and completely transcend this world off suffering!