Mahāli asks the Buddha about the object of the holy life [in the Buddha Sangha]
“Then, Lord, is it for the sake of realizing the practice of contemplation that the Bhikshus live the holy life under the Exalted One Buddha?”
‘No, indeed, Mahāli. It is not for the sake of this that the Bhikshus live the holy life under my guidance. There are other higher and more excellent things, Mahāli, for the realization of which the Bhikshus live the holy life under my guidance.’
“And what, Lord, are those higher and more excellent things…”
‘Herein, in my Dharma-Vinaya, a Bhikshu, by the utter destruction of the Three Fetters (of belief in the reality of bodyhood, doubt in the Master and His Teaching, belief in the value of rites and ceremonies), becomes a Stream-winner, saved from the Downfalls, assured of attaining to the perfect wisdom. That, is one thing higher and more excellent…
Then again, a Bhikshu by the utter destruction of the Three Fetters and by wearing thin (the Fetters) of Lust, Ill-will, and Delusion, becomes a Once-returner, yes, only once more returning to this world he makes an end of woe. That, is a thing higher and more excellent.
Then again, a Bhikshu by the utter destruction of the Five (last) Fetters that bind to rebirth in the lower worlds becomes spontaneously (in the Formless Worlds), thence to pass utterly away, being of a nature never to return. That, is a thing higher and more excellent…
Then, again, a Bhikshu even in this very life, by the destruction of the āsavas, having realized by his own higher powers (higher siddhi) the taintless heart-release, the wisdom-release, having so won it abides therein. This, is a thing yet higher and more excellent, for the sake of realizing which Bhikshus live the holy life under my guidance. Such are these other things…’
“But Lord, is there a path, is there a way leading to the realization of these things?”
‘There is indeed a Path. There is indeed a Way so leading.’
“What is that Path, Lord? What is the Way so leading?”
‘Verily it is this Ariyan Eightfold Path, to wit: Ariyan view, Ariyan aim; Ariyan speech; Ariyan Action; Ariyan Living; Ariyan Effort; Ariyan Mindfulness; Ariyan Contemplation. This is the Path, this is the Way leading to the realization of these things.’
(Some sayings of the Buddha – According to the Pali Canon, translated from the Pali by F.L. Woodward, Oxford University Press, Madras, 1925).