Sangha is a sanskrit word which literally means “group.” Early Tibetan translators translated the term as dge’dun. Dge means “virtue” and dun means “motivation” or “attitute.” So Sangha can mean “A gathering with virtuous motivation.” The ultimate Sangha is “the persons, lay or ordained, who have realized emptiness.” The relative Sangha can either be a group of fully-ordained monks and/or nuns, male or female novices, lay practitioners, and those with temporary vows. Practitioners frequently call the group they are studying with their Sangha as these are the friends that are accompanying them on the path to liberation.
According to the Vajrayana teachings, even those living lives of great wealth and luxury can overcome these powerful distractions and attain enlightenment. This is possible with the benefit of the teachings and the guidance of a teacher. Therefore it is not a requirement to take the vows of a monk or nun to achieve transcendence.
Each category of Sangha are considered to be worthy as a focus of devotion and refuge. This is because the Sangha, dedicated as they are to the liberation of all sentient beings and with their commitment to follow the path, help to form a bridge between the confusion of daily life and enlightenment. The Sangha, much like the texts, the teacher, and so on, provide a support to the study and practice of the teachings of the Buddha. When they hold purely the teachings and lineage of their teacher, the Sangha itself holds the power to remove the suffering of beings. Wherever a Sangha can be found, the teachings are alive and the Buddha’s presence can be felt.
This text on this page was written with inspiration of teachings from Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche, Ways of Enlightenment, and Words of My Perfect Teacher. The information found on this site is for your information. True teachings need to be received from an authentic spiritual teacher who has realized their meaning. 11/20/03 – Updated with corrections from Khenpo Tenzin Norgay.