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 next Buddha is a Sangha.