Although the Buddha's teachings are often called Buddhism in the West, the term he used was Dhamma-Vinaya. This term points out that Awakening comes through the inseparable combination of a Way (Dhamma) and a way of life (Vinaya) to enter that Way. Dhamma and Vinaya form an integrated means of freeing the heart from suffering and conflict both in the daily round and in the solitude of meditation.
Vinaya is a code and training for those who have ‘Gone Forth’ from home and family as Buddhist monks and nuns, and covers regulations and advice around daily life. It is the thread that binds the Sangha into a co-operative unity.
Vinaya centres around four principles: harmlessness in word and deed; mendicancy – depending on the voluntary support of the laity for all ones material needs; celibacy – the restraint that can check and channel sexual energy for transcendent aims; and community – guidelines on living in ways that are co-operative and warm-hearted but free of attachment. The Sangha of ‘monks’ (bhikkhus) and ‘nuns’ (bhikkhunis, siladharas) is therefore structured by this code of discipline so that their aims remain one-pointed and their behaviour sets an example of virtue, simplicity of needs and spiritual friendship.
Dependent on the generosity of the laity to provide the basic requisites of life (food, robes, shelter and medicines), the Sangha is given the opportunity to live simply and with few worldly obligations. For lay disciples, the relationship with the Sangha provides occasions for generosity and a joyful and direct participation in the spiritual life. For their part, monks and nuns must train themselves to be worthy of the voluntary support of the laity. This close, yet unentangled, relationship gives people an opportunity to open up and share with each other. It also helps to re-establish values that easily get lost in the confusion of a world often driven by gains and mistrust. So the monastic and lay communities support, balance and nourish one another in a beautiful way that encourages living ethically, in moderation and with good will towards ones fellow human beings - all valuable pointers in today's world.