As the last of the 'Three Jewels' - 'Konchog Sum' (Tib.) - 'Triratna' (Skt.) - 'The Three Sources of Refuge', the term SANGHA refers to the Arya-Sangha, the community of realized Bodhisattvas.
Among practitioners who have taken the bodhisattva vows, this term refers most specifically to Bodhisattvas from the first to the ninth level who have attained the fourth path to enlightenment gom-lam (Tib.) The Path of Meditation. Having successfully completed the third path, tong-lam (Tib.) - the path of seeing, they have achieved the realization of the sixteen aspects of emptiness and subsequent basic clarity.
When Lord Shakyamuni Buddha answered the request of Indra and Brahma to turn Chökyi Khorlo (Tib.) - the wheel of Dharma, He proceeded to the Deer Park in Sarnath and delivered the teachings on the four Noble Truths. Upon hearing these teachings, his first disciples achieved the realization of the 1st Bhumi. Hence, they constituted the first members of the Arya Sangha.
According to the teachings of Gampopa, realization of the first Bhumi generate clear vision and clear audience as well as the capacity to emanate a hundred sambhogakaya at any time to fulfil the needs of beings. This capacity is enhanced exponentially as the practitioner achieves the subsequent levels leading him from the path of meditation to the fifth path of 'No-more learning', this fifth and final stage corresponds to the level of an Arhat, a Pratyekabuddha or a Bodhisattva of the 10th level depending on the Vehicle practiced.
Achieving the state of an Arya-Bodhisattva, means that all gross conflicting emotions have been eradicated. It is then necessary to eliminate the subtil conflicting emotion by dealing with digpa (Tib.) - wrong doings and nyön-drib (Tib.)- the various forms of obscuration create by conflicting emotions.
Ones this has been achieved, an Arya Bodhisattva proceeds to eradicated shey-drib (Tib.)- cognitional obscuration or the obscuration caused by ignorance. This is done through the development of higher insight acquired exclusively by the practice of meditation. During the process of eliminated cognitional obscuration, one becomes well acquainted with the workings of the mind, thus developing emptiness, clarity and non-conceptual compassion.
Accessing such self-control can be achieved through practices of both the Sutrayana, involved with the mastery of sem-jung one's various mental events ; as well as through the practices of Vajrayana such as tsa-lung, leading to the control of subtle energy and the realization of the four superior joys. Both lead to the development of clarity-emptiness.
Among his disciples, the eight Mahasattvas-Bodhisattvas were the closest sons of the Buddha. The term 'mahasattva' states that the person concerned is not merely a bodhisattva but is one of the great beings who has passed beyond the sixth bhumi of a bodhisattva. The sixth bhumi of a bodhisattva is the bhumi on which a bodhisattva realizes emptiness in its fullness. Once he has done that he moves through the remaining bhumis of a bodhisattva prior to becoming a Buddha.
The eight Mahasattvas are:
- 'Jampal’(Tib.) - ‘Mañjushri’(Skt.) The bodhisattva Mañjushri is a tenth bhumi bodhisattva. He is regarded as the embodiment of the speech of the Buddhas and as such, the knowing/intelligence aspect of the Buddhas;
- 'Chenrezig’(Tib.) - ‘Avalokiteshvara’(Skt.) The Sanskrit means ‘The Lord who looks at the worlds’. It indicates that he watches over all the worlds with compassionate concern. Avalokiteshvara is considered the embodiment of the love and compassion of all the Buddhas;
- 'Chagna Dorje’(Tib.) - ‘Vajrapani’(Skt.) Vajrapani is considered to be the embodiment of the power and capability of the Buddha, That is symbolized by the vajra that he holds. The Buddha did not teach the tantra much but said that it was appropriate that Vajrapani, with the quality just mentioned, should do so. Vajrapani first taught the tantras in the human realm to a group of six, highly accomplished humans and non-humans on the peak of Mt. Malaya, in the twenty-eighth year after the Buddha's parinirvana;
- 'Sa-yi Nyingpo’(Tib.) - ‘Ksithigharbha’(Skt.);
- ‘Dribpa Namparsel’(Tib.) - ‘Sarva Nirvarana-Virhkambin’ - ‘Eliminator of all obscurations’;
- ‘Namkhai Nyingpo’(Tib.) – ‘Akashagarbha’;
- ‘Jampa’(Tib.) - ‘Maitreya’(Skt.) - ‘The One of Loving Kindness’;
- ‘Kuntu Zangpo’(Tib.) - ‘Samantabhadra’(Skt.) Samantabhadra was known for his pure conduct - ‘kuntu zangpo'i chödpa’, which exemplifies the activity of the Mahayana and the vast motivation that goes with it.