Lastly, we come to the third refuge or jewel, the Sangha. Sangha is a word with various meanings in different settings. The sense in which I’m using it here incorporates anyone who is sincerely attempting to walk the path laid out by the Buddha, whether ordained or lay, accomplished or brand new to the path; in other words, anyone who has taken refuge in the Buddha and his Dhamma.
From a published talk by Ajahn Sumedho:
[…putting (all) these conditions into the perspective of Dhamma transcends the personal quality. That is why we take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.]
The Sangha, then, is the actual practice of this; it is you and me; it is individual human beings – men and women- who practise the Dhamma, who do good and refrain from doing bad, who have made some determination to take refuge in the Buddha and Dhamma in order to see things clearly – and this also is not personal.
Taking refuge does not mean that we’ve succeeded in transcending personal concerns! It does mean that we try to step back and observe our own reactions, along with other peoples’, and see what we can discover. In this way, there is a bit of air between stimulus and response, between action and reaction on our part; a space where wisdom has a chance to appear. We might see that whoever is causing us problems is creating even bigger problems for herself or himself, or that a particular response will only make things worse, or that a kind word at the right time might defuse a tricky situation. We start to put our own desires into a larger context and avoid using them as our sole criterion for choices and decisions.
The Buddha’s five lay precepts can help us make this shift from a purely personal perspective to something broader. They show us specific ways in which we can live harmoniously; they lead in the direction of unselfishness and understanding.
The five precepts can keep us and others safe (or safer) from harm, in any sort of community, and they can generate compassion towards other beings. They might be called the seeds of a sangha, or a basis for developing wisdom.
More from Ajahn Sumedho:
…So when we reflect on these Three Refuges in this way, we realise more and more that it helps us to get beyond just the personal interpretations and the highly emotional feelings that we have. All the prejudices, biases, obstructions, hindrances, defilements, and all that we can interpret as personal faults or flaws, we begin to see in this perspective of Dhamma. The bad, the evil, is that which arises and ceases, too. We see every condition in terms of ‘right perspective’, or pure knowing, pure awareness. Our active life is a life of mindfulness, doing good, refraining from doing bad, purifying the mind.