The Encompassing Sangha
by Ven. Wayne Hughes (Ren Cheng)
Traditionally the sangha is a group of monastics, usually living and learning within the walls of a monastery, and who spread the dharma to the laity or lay people of their tradition (Theravadan, Mahayana, Zen, or . . . ). This type of theocratic idea has worked, and continues to work well in parts of the world where Buddhism has deep roots developed over time and culture. In Western culture this definition and view is undergoing creative re-description.
Think of the sangha as a group of like-, and open-minded people that support each others Buddhist practice. The teacher, instructor or leader, the monks, the senior students, the lay precept holders, the laity, the regular attendees, the occasional attendees, and the visitors are all a part of the sangha. That does not mean that everyone in the sangha must be Buddhist. Those individuals who might come to just learn meditation but who follow a different faith or path are part of the sangha. Others might come with a respectful curiosity and willingness to learn, yet with no intention of “being” Buddhist.
They are all members of the sangha with different levels of commitment. The sangha should be a meritocracy where that level is determined by each attendees commitment to practice and to study. The teacher, instructor or leader, performing their role of mentor and monitor is responsible for recognizing the level of each sangha member.