[Note: Below is just a small part of a very interesting and important sutta that is worth the time to read if you can. The sabbath referred to is the uposatha day.]
…Moggallāna the Guardian saw Ānanda coming off in the distance and said to him, “Come, Master Ānanda! Welcome, Master Ānanda! It’s been a long time since you took the opportunity to come here. Please, sir, sit down, this seat is ready.”
Ānanda sat down on the seat spread out, while Moggallāna the Guardian took a low seat and sat to one side. Then he said to Ānanda, “Master Ānanda, is there even a single mendicant who has all the same qualities in each and every way as possessed by Master Gotama, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha?”
“No, brahmin, there is not. For the Blessed One gave rise to the unarisen path, gave birth to the unborn path, and explained the unexplained path. He is the knower of the path, the discoverer of the path, the expert on the path. And now the disciples live following the path; they acquire it later.”
But this conversation between Ānanda and Moggallāna the Guardian was left unfinished.
For just then the brahmin Vassakāra, a minister of Magadha, while supervising the work at Rājagaha, approached Ānanda at Moggallāna the Guardian’s place of work and exchanged greetings with him. When the greetings and polite conversation were over, he sat down to one side and said to Ānanda, “Master Ānanda, what were you sitting talking about just now? What conversation was left unfinished?”
So Ānanda told him of the conversation that they were having when Vassakāra arrived. Vassakāra said:
“Master Ānanda, is there even a single mendicant who was appointed by Master Gotama, saying: ‘This one will be your refuge when I have passed away,’ to whom you now turn?”
“No, there is not.”
“But is there even a single mendicant who has been elected to such a position by the Saṅgha and appointed by several senior mendicants?”
“No, there is not.”
“But since you lack a refuge, Master Ānanda, what’s the reason for your harmony?”
“We don’t lack a refuge, brahmin, we have a refuge. The teaching is our refuge.”
“But Master Ānanda, when asked whether there was even a single mendicant—either appointed by the Buddha, or elected by the Saṅgha and appointed by several senior mendicants—who serves as your refuge after the Buddha passed away, to whom you now turn, you replied, ‘No, there is not.’ But you say that the reason for your harmony is that you have the teaching as a refuge. How should I see the meaning of this statement?”
“The Blessed One, who knows and sees, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha laid down training rules and recited the monastic code for the mendicants. On the day of the sabbath all of us who live in dependence on one village district gather together as one. We invite one who has freshly rehearsed the code to recite it. If anyone remembers an offense or transgression while they’re reciting, we make them act in line with the teachings and in line with the instructions. It’s not the venerables that make us act, it’s the teaching that makes us act.”…
Read the entire translation of Majjhima Nikāya 108 Gopakamoggallānasutta: With Moggallāna the Guardian by Bhikkhu Sujato on SuttaCentral.net. Or read a different translation on SuttaCentral.net or DhammaTalks.org. Or listen on PaliAudio.com or Voice.SuttaCentral.net. Or explore the Pali on DigitalPaliReader.online.