1. The meaning of pamukha;
2. Examples and actual conditions of the Saṃgha led by the Buddha in the Pali scriptures;
3. Examples and actual conditions of the Saṃgha led by the disciples in the Pali scriptures;
Sangha, Sangha leader, the Buddha's disciples, the Buddha's group, cātuddisa-sangha, sammukhībhūta-sangha, ordination by invitation, Sāriputta, Moggallāna, Devadatta
A longstanding question for me has been the question whether or not an organization existed that pulled together the individual saṃghas centred on Sakyamuni scattered around India and all the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. Such an over-arching organization is implicit in the saṃgha that Devadatta sought to fracture and the saṃgha about whose state Ānanda was concerned after the Buddha's death. It had to have been able to delegate authority to the individual saṃghas, and both admit members by ordination and expel them for grave offences. My concern arises because there is no sure evidence in the early scriptural sources that such a saṃgha actually existed.
Nevertheless, academic circles in Japan have long supposed the existence of such an organization, terming it "saṃgha of the four directions" (cātuddisa-saṃgha). Japanese scholars consider this term to mean a universal order (saṃgha) that conceptually links all ordained practitioners. In another article, though, I have demonstrated that this refers to the saṃgha that incorporates all "incoming monks" (āgantukā bhikkhū), those who come now from the "four directions" and those who have the potentiality of coming in the future, and which functions as an order that performs ceremonies (karman) in the present. In other words, it too is one type of what Japanese scholars have termed sammukhībhūta-saṃgha, the "present" order. Moreover, as I explained in the article, at the very least cātuddisa-saṃgha and sammukhībhūta-saṃgha exist in the Pali scriptures only as technical terms; the words cātuddisa and saṃgha, or sammukhībhūta and saṃgha, are related but they are always used independently. In short, since the concept of "saṃgha of the four directions" (cātuddisa-saṃgha) does not even exist as a concept there, it is impossible that it should mean an organization that unifies individual saṃghas and all bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. My present study is based on the hypothesis of the possibility that Buddhapamukha bhikkhusaṃgha (the Saṃgha led by the Buddha), an expression appearing in the early scriptural sources, might better fit the bill.
I first show that the word pamukha (fore) is not used simply as a prefix meaning "foremost" but that it incorporates the meaning of "guide" and "lead". I then investigate examples of how the terms "Saṃgha led by the Buddha" and "Saṃghas led by the disciples" are used. My conclusion is as follows: "Saṃgha led by the Buddha" is a special form of "Saṃghas led by the disciples". It corresponds to the "large company" described in the opening sentence of many sutras, such as "Once the Exalted One made a long journey from Rajagāha to Nalanda with a large company of bhikkhus numbering five hundred" (DN 1, Brahmajāla-sutta). It was the group made up of bhikkhus who had become disciples through invitation, and is clearly not a Saṃgha overarching all bhikkhus and all individual saṃghas in the land. In this connection, the term "Saṃghas led by the disciples" signifies these individual saṃghas scattered throughout India that were headed by the Buddhas's disciples, such as Sāriputta, Moggallāna, Mahā-Kassapa, Ānanda and Purāna.
The above study has also shown that the "Saṃghas led by the disciples" were not necessarily operated democratically and impartially, but were organizations of which an essential element was the leadership skill of the saṃghatthera (senior, or elder, bhikkhu) or saṃghin (samgha head).