A sangha is a collection of sentient beings, awakening people working to emerge from the zombie slumber of the human condition. They seek to exist under a higher level of being, aligned with an authority greater than their own self-absorption. As such, there is no room for indulging in animosity, jealousy, self-justification, or self-proclaimed opinions. I say “indulge” because obviously such feelings and many others arise in close contact with different people. In the worldly life, we can satisfy all these multiple ways to support our particular history or our cherished biography and our supposed societal role. In the context of a true spiritual assembly of practitioners, that is out the window. This is what is meant by sacred space, not as a moralizing or exaggerated idea of our sacred purpose, but as a place of intention towards liberation from unconscious existence.
The problem is that there are two warring factions that enter into any spiritual work, and this is a universal fact. There is the central individual, the awakening consciousness, the nascent “soul”, if you will. It's like a baby at this point. Then there is a whole army of mechanical modes of being. There is your inherent constitutional type, your astrology and your genetic makeup. Then there is the wonderfully sculpted and crafted social self (i.e. figure or mask). And finally there is the body itself, a perfect ticking machine that does not require a conscious inhabitant. Yes, consciousness could invade and possess this marvelous robot, but that is only a possibility, a distant star. This situation is further complicated by the fact that the body has its own habits, but can be co-opted by these programmed emotions and thought patterns, desires and aversions. And the mechanics of the body elicits all sorts of emotions and associated thoughts.
Basically, we try to raise awareness of the mechanical aspects of life. Our body movements, reactions and mannerisms are all highly unconscious. React all the time. Emotions constantly express themselves without our “intervention”. We feel like "I" said something, but it's all a rehearsed and practiced stimulus response. If it came from our conscious selves, it would be different Everytime. Not necessarily the words or even the tone or inflection. It would be to feel different in each case. Consciousness, by its nature, is never repetitive. A conscious moment is unique no matter how many times the same situation or action occurs. It's fresh.
This represents a struggle, the real struggle of spiritual work. It may seem that we are going against the aims and purpose of culture, the sophisticated economic and social structure of life. But it is the automatization of body and personality—biology and biography—that is the enemy of enlightenment. Fortunately, the moments, millions and millions, are not lacking for awakening. It is these small efforts, awakening to presence and not immediately indulging in impulses, sensations, feelings or thoughts, that add up to form “something” within us. It is really tantra or inner alchemy that creates the "philosopher's stone" within. It is gold produced in form as a result of the interaction of consciousness, electromagnetism (photons) and biology. In fact, they are all forms of energy, some slower than others.
This is the minimum requirement of a sangha. If the majority are not working to be awake moment by moment, in body, in speech, in thought, then who is there to continue to awaken those who are not in conscious mode? It may be the teacher who understands these principles and “manages” the group conscience. But students must also take responsibility, because it is an essential part of their training. After all, they have to wake up.
A sangha can be a social club, a philosophical group, a sharing of visions and ideals, doing fascinating practices and seeking the downloading of spiritual force. But unless the light of consciousness awakens in a few moments and for a long time, mechanics wins out. Stopping, just stopping, is a way of watching the machinery creak. This moment of creating a void in the rolling of biological, emotional and mental mechanisms changes the whole alchemy of the experience. It is a fight against all the downward force of creation, of entropy. It is a reversal of the current towards unity – pre-creation so to speak. It can start out as a sangha of one.