Sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. But that sangha is more than a community, it’s a deep spiritual practice.
According to the book by Tenshin Reb Anderson “Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts”:
"In the narrowest sense, sangha refers to “the community of monks and nuns.” This meaning can be expanded to include all those who study and practice the buddha dharma and can even embrace all those who love the Triple Treasure, even if they don’t study or practice buddha’s teaching. Furthermore, in a very important sense, sangha can be understood as our “field of refuge”: all those beings we turn to for support, encouragement, and teaching in our practice of dharma. This might even include those who are intentionally cruel to us, if we can understand that they are our great teachers. In the widest sense, sangha includes all beings and indicates “the harmonious interdependence of all beings.”
“Through the vision of the interdependence of all life, we receive dharma from all beings. In the conventional sense, to speak ill or even unappreciatively of the sangha, in any sense, violates this precept. Ultimately, we disparage the sangha when we overlook or close off any of these resources of awakening. We are in accord with this precept when we fully develop all these resources, moment by moment.”
The essence of a sangha is awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony and love. When you do not see these in a community, it is not a true sangha, and you should have the courage to say so.
In the Buddhist scriptures it is said that Sangha - four communities: monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen.
By becoming a Buddhism you take refuge in The Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
The expression “take refuge” is translated from the original Pali language word sarana-gamana: Sarana refers to “a shelter, protection, or sanctuary, some place of peace and safety.” Gamana refers to “the act of returning.
The English word refuge seems quite appropriate, because it carries the sense of both “place” and “going back.” It is synonymous with shelter and protection. It is anything to which you may turn for help or relief.
Buddha, dharma, and sangha each have at least three different levels of meaning. Taking refuge in the sangha, taking refuge in the community, is a very strong and important practice. Without being in a sangha, without being supported by a group of friends who are motivated by the same ideal and practice, we cannot go far.
If we do not have a supportive sangha, we may not be getting the kind of support we need for our practice, that we need to nourish our bodhichitta (the strong desire to cultivate love and understanding in ourselves).
The presence of a sangha is a wonderful opportunity to allow the collective energy of the sangha to penetrate into our body and consciousness. We profit a lot from that collective energy. We can entrust ourselves to the sangha because the sangha is practicing, and the collective energy of mindfulness is strong.
Both the ordained and the laity followed the five precepts of basic ethics that are the foundation of religious life (do not kill, do not steal, abstain from sexual misconduct, do not lie, abstain from intoxicants).