“Sangha” is a word used in more than one religion, including Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. It literally means “assembly” or “community.” But where did it come from? Sangha is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a predominantly South Asian language, also considered the sacred language of Hinduism, and arose from the ashes of several other dying languages toward the end of the Bronze Age.
Sanskrit is also linked to the ancient texts of Buddhism and Jainism, guaranteeing its relevance for ages to come. One might consider this analogy to fully understand its impact on the region’s culture and religions: Sanskrit is to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism as Latin is to Christianity.
Sangha in Jainism simply refers to the “community” of those practicing dharma to achieve spiritual liberation at the end of life.
According to Champat Rai Jain, “The continuity of the sangha (community of the faithful) will be maintained right up to its very end. There will be at least one saint, one nun, one householder, and one pious female follower of the Lord Jinendra in the world. When only three moments will be left in the running kala, raja (kingship), agni (fire) and dharma (religion) will be destroyed, one after the other, in the order mentioned!”
He continues, “The last king, who will be called Kalki, will snatch away the food from the hand of the last Saint, and will be destroyed by the devas for his extreme impiety. The Saint and the Nun will perform sallekhana death, along with the householder and the pious lay lady. Fire will disappear instantly, and dharma will cease to exist in the next moment!”
In other words, Sangha will only terminate when the religion itself comes to its end.
Sometimes “Sangha” also refers to Digambara lineages. (Digambara is one of the two primary sects of Jainism). The concept of Sangha was first conceived in the 5th century by Madurai.