Most spiritual training schools stress the importance of a sangha or community. In Buddhism there are the Three Refuges: I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha. To many people, the Buddha and Dharma are somewhat abstract supports, and the physical association with a community gives a support which is immediate. But reliance on the sangha is not without pitfalls.
During a famine in India, a Brahmin went round the homes of the better-off, and asked them to contribute a pot of milk each to relieve the suffering of the poor. Having received their promises, he set up an earthenware tank in the central square, and asked that during the day each household should bring a pot of milk and pour it in through the small opening in the top. He arranged that the tank be kept cool in the traditional way, by keeping it covered with wet cloths, which cool as their water evaporates in the sun.
During the day, women carrying pots were seen coming to the tank and emptying them into it.
In the evening, however, when the Brahmin opened the tank to distribute the milk, there was nothing in it but water. Each household had thought that just one pot of water would not make any noticeable difference in a tankful of milk.
In the same way, there is a danger that individual members of a Sangha may relax personal effort at service, study, devotion and meditation, with the feeling: “Even the utmost I can do won’t make any real difference one way or the other.” The attitude can become a subtle infection, and unless individual members feel a living responsibility for the spirit of the sangha, it can easily become a mere shell of outward observances, or even just a social club.