Sangha is a Sanskrit word that in its narrowest sense has as its referent the community of those who follow the Buddha’s teaching. As limited as this application of the term might be, the community of Buddhist followers nonetheless consists of a vast network of sangha within sangha arranged like concentric rings of mutual inclusion. The Chico Zen Sangha, for example, which I founded and teach is a sangha in its own right. But it is as well a sangha within the larger sangha of both Soto and Rinzai Zen, having established formal affiliation with both traditions. But the Zen tradition itself is in turn a sangha within the larger sangha of the whole Buddhist community. Whether it be Tibetan, Theravada, Insight Meditation, Pure Land, or whatever, the community of those who follow the Buddha’s teaching constitutes one vast world-wide sangha.
But it doesn’t end there, for it is taught that Buddha nature pervades the whole universe, a concept descriptive of a virtually limitless sangha comprised of the intimate and intricate interweaving of all beings into one seamless whole. This being so, what is there to exclude? What stone, what drifting feather, what clot of earth or sky, what soiled and drunken soul sleeping in the doorway of the convenience store, what cranky or cheerful clerk at the checkout stand, what mother, father, child, what family rich or poor, hungry or full, what being of any sort, anywhere, at any time, is not sangha?