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What is a Sangha?

I know that a sangha is group of Buddha’s followers! But I want to have a more thorough understanding of what a sangha is!

Do you have to be a Buddhist to join a Sangha?

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According to the Wikipedia article about Sangha,

  • It's a Pali word meaning meaning "association", "assembly," "company" or "community"
  • It usually means the monastic community of ordained Buddhist monks or nuns
  • As a separate category, those who have attained any of the four stages of enlightenment (for example Sotāpanna), are referred to as the ariya-sangha or "noble Sangha".
  • The word Sangha sometimes also includes laymen and laywomen who are personally dedicated to the discipline of Dharma-Vinaya
  • Some lay practitioners in the West these days use the word "Sangha" as a collective term for all Buddhists, but the Pali Canon uses the word parisā (Sanskrit, parisad) for the larger Buddhist community — the monks, nuns, lay men, and lay women who have taken the Three Refuges — reserving ‘Sangha’ for a more restricted use.

So according to these conventional (non-inclusive) definitions, only Buddhists (and of those, not all Buddhists) are in the "Sangha".

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Sangha is the word used for a community of fellow practitioners in Buddhism. But a Sangha does not necessarily have to be Buddhist.

It is difficult to make a change alone. In the Sangha there is a powerful collective energy of mindfulness and concentration. It can help us make a breakthrough; it ignites our insight. Our practice together of walking, sitting, breathing, eating, is very important. When we practice with the Sangha, it’s easier than practicing alone. Sometimes something may carry us away.

But thanks to the collective practice, we can regain our solidity. Even if we’re distracted, our Sangha can help us remember to come back to the present moment, to touch what is positive, to touch our own peace, to see how to undo the difficulty.

The Sangha doesn’t need to be Buddhist. Buddhism is made of non-Buddhist elements anyway.

  • In the Sangha there are those who bring happiness to many people.
  • There are those who cook very well, and there are those who take care of the garden beautifully and grow nutritious vegetables.
  • There are those who organize festivities in a very beautiful, creative way.
  • There are those who don’t have these talents, but when they do sitting meditation they are very happy, and when they walk they are also very happy and this brings happiness to others.

Such people are of great benefit to the Sangha.

Everybody contributes their part. You don’t need to be exactly like others. This is true whether you are thinking of your family as your Sangha or of the larger beloved community. Everyone has their own abilities.

You don’t need to be like others; you just need to be yourself. You don’t need to have perfect health or a perfect mind without any worries and anxiety. You can still have some pain in your body or some pain in your mind.

Source website- http://www.wkup.org/

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    Are you answering your own question? – Thien Dec 16 '14 at 13:52
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    I am voting this down because it is a direct quote from "Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society" by Thich Nhat Hanh, which I credited in my answer. You should really state where you are getting something when copying text. I am assuming you pulled this off the Wake Up page at wkup.org. – Thien Dec 16 '14 at 13:53
  • Yes then i found the answer! I will state the source – eirenaios Dec 16 '14 at 14:32
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What is a Sangha? says,

Sangha is the word used for a community of fellow practitioners in Buddhism. But a Sangha does not necessarily have to be Buddhist.

Thich Nhat Hanh, also called Thây, wrote in his recent book Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society the following text (it has been shorted for an abridged version):

It is difficult to make a change alone. In the Sangha there is a powerful collective energy of mindfulness and concentration. It can help us make a breakthrough; it ignites our insight. Our practice together of walking, sitting, breathing, eating, is very important. When we practice with the Sangha, it’s easier than practicing alone. Sometimes something may carry us away.

But thanks to the collective practice, we can regain our solidity. Even if we’re distracted, our Sangha can help us remember to come back to the present moment, to touch what is positive, to touch our own peace, to see how to undo the difficulty.

The Sangha doesn’t need to be Buddhist. Buddhism is made of non-Buddhist elements anyway. When I met Martin Luther King Jr., in 1966, we spoke about Sangha building. We spoke a few times about the beloved community. The beloved community is the Sangha.

In the Sangha there are those who bring happiness to many people. There are those who cook very well, and there are those who take care of the garden beautifully and grow nutritious vegetables. There are those who organize festivities in a very beautiful, creative way. There are those who don’t have these talents, but when they do sitting meditation they are very happy, and when they walk they are also very happy and this brings happiness to others. Such people are of great benefit to the Sangha.

Everybody contributes their part. You don’t need to be exactly like others. This is true whether you are thinking of your family as your Sangha or of the larger beloved community. Everyone has their own abilities.

You don’t need to be like others; you just need to be yourself. You don’t need to have perfect health or a perfect mind without any worries and anxiety. You can still have some pain in your body or some pain in your mind.

But thanks to the practice, you can create more joy, peace, and understanding that nourishes you, nourishes the Sangha, and nourishes the world.

The Sangha is therefore an important support in your practice. Thây considers it so important that he often says, the future Buddha is a Sangha.


The definition above is a quote from "the Wake Up community", which describes itself as including Buddhists and non-Buddhsts:

Wake Up: Young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society

Wake Up is an active global community of young mindfulness practitioners, aged 18-35, inspired by the teachings of Zen Master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. We come together to practice mindfulness (etc.)

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Let me answer this (and illustrate some of the complexities of the question) with a personal story.

I'm not a Buddhist, but feel the core philosophy is a sound way of life. As a result, I looked into my local Buddhist Temple. This temple had 2 groups; the traditional worship group which attended religious services, and the English Dharma Group, which meditated and discussed the Dharma.

I joined the English Dharma Group.

We rarely mixed with the traditional group, and the few times we did, I thoroughly regretted it. I found nothing in what they did that was remotely applicable, useful or of any interest, and never considered them part of my group. They were a traditional religion, while I was practicing a philosophy.

In short, they were not my Sangha even though they were part of the same Buddhist Temple and were Buddhist. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't consider the English Dharma Group to be their Sangha either.

So really, it depends on what you mean by "Sangha", "Buddhist", and "Join" :)

First, is a Sangha simply a collection of practicing Buddhists? Is anyone who joins a Buddhist temple part of a Sangha? Are people outside of a Buddhist temple but who practice on their own a Sangha? Does a Sangha have to meet face to face? Can this forum be considered a Sangha?

Second, what is a Buddhist? Is it someone who has taken the vows? Is it someone who practices Buddhism? Is it someone who shares core values with Buddhism?

Finally, what does it mean to join? Does it mean simply going to the meetings? Does it mean a deeper involvement?

  • Perhaps a practical/modern definition might be, "Where do you go for Refuge? And from (or with) whom do you learn/practice Dharma?" – ChrisW Dec 17 '14 at 17:16
  • @ChrisW that could work, although it focuses on ritual rather than practice. Is a community of dedicated practitioners not a Sangha because they don't offer the Refuge ritual? In fact, at my Buddhist Temple, the Refuge ceremony was part of the traditional service so members of the English Dharma Group had to go there for refuge. Having sat through that Refuge ceremony, I saw nothing remotely Buddhist about it. – R. Barzell Dec 17 '14 at 17:19
  • And is it no longer taking refuge if there's no associated ritual? Fwiw this answer claims that Theravāda and Mahāyāna both include the doctrine of "refuge in the Triple Jewel" but also that "in different countries there are differences [in] practices, rites and rituals, ceremonies, customs and habits [which] should not be confused with the essential teachings of the Buddha". – ChrisW Dec 17 '14 at 18:05
  • @ChrisW what is a ritual-less refuge? If ritual is an outward expression, then this amounts to the same thing as eliminating refuge, as the only acceptable inward expression of refuge (that doesn't amount to holding a vacuous thought) is living a Buddhist life. I'm taking it as a given that beliefs imply acts, and beliefs that are thought only are the equivalent of mental gas. – R. Barzell Dec 17 '14 at 18:31
  • I think that 'taking refuge' is a consequence of View and a reflection of Intent: an "act of consciousness", whose motive is "faith". – ChrisW Dec 17 '14 at 22:25

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