The Importance of the Three Jewels
There are three jewels in Buddhism. Meaning that there are
three primary components that form the basis of our educational process as students
What is Buddhism? Is it a religion? No, Buddhism is not a religion,
but rather a system of education and a way of life. Originally, Buddhism was based
on the 49 years of teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. Since then, Buddhism has expanded
to include the teachings of other great enlightened teachers, such as Padmasambhava,
Bodhidharma, and others. Buddhism is the study of continuation. Buddhism has taken
many forms, and it has adapted to fit in within the time and culture of each location
where it has taken form.
The main objective of Buddhism is help sentient beings
to understand the truth of the dharma. The dharma is defined as the teachings
of the Buddha.
The highest goal in Buddhism is complete enlightenment, whoever
obtains it will be able to intuitively know and sense every aspect of the true
reality of life and the Universe. Obtaining this wisdom and ability is the ultimate
goal of all the Buddha students.
The Buddha teaches us that the ultimate perfect
wisdom is innate. The Buddha said, "Every being possesses the same wisdom
and virtuous capabilities as Buddhas."
Why don't we have this wisdom now?
It's because of wandering thoughts and attachments. These are the two causes of
why we have lost temporarily our original capabilities. Wandering thoughts and
attachments are not part of our basic nature. Therefore they can be discarded.
told us one time that meditating is like looking at the sky. Your mind is the
sky, but then you get all these noisy birds flying around. The birds are your
thoughts. You have to get rid of the birds. But then, you see a beautiful bird,
and you start looking at the bird. You start playing with it, and then you get
attached to the bird
You need to get rid off all the birds, and just look
at the sky and let the sunshine in.
By removing your wandering thoughts and
attachments, you begin to restore your Buddha nature, thus completely recovering
your innate abilities.
How do we do that? Well, it's hard to do it all by yourself.
That's why we have the three jewels in Buddhism. We need to have something that
we can rely on. In Buddhism a person takes refuge in the three jewels, that's
the first step.
Taking refuge means to find a shelter that we can return to
and rely on. What do we return to or rely on?
In the first step we return and
rely on the Buddha. Buddha is a Sanskrit word that means awareness and understanding.
When we take refuge in the Buddha, we are returning from our diluted state of
mind and relying upon an awakened understanding.
A Buddha is a person who has
awakened from the dream of life, and has come to the understanding of unlimited
awareness. The Buddha has loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings
and teaches them in order to liberate them from suffering.
In Zen, they do
not use the words, Buddha, dharma, and sangha. They don't use them because they
don't want people to have misconceptions about the triple jewels. When you say
Buddha, dharma, and sangha, people think of a statue of the Buddha, a sutra, and
a group of Buddhist monks. However, that's a very basic understanding of the three
jewels. There is a deeper understanding.
When we take refuge or rely on the
Buddha, we are not talking about worshipping some kind of god. The Buddha was
not looking for disciples. He was not interested in forming a religion where people
would vow at his feet. The Buddha was looking for colleagues upon the pathway
to Enlightenment. When we take refuge on the Buddha we are actually taking refuge
or relying on our own self-nature. We have to rely on our own Buddha-nature. The
Buddha Shakyamuni said, "I have shown you the methods that lead to liberation,
but you should know that liberation depends upon you." (From Journey to Enlightenment
- The Life and World of Khyentse Rinpoche, Spiritual Teacher from Tibet).
used to tell us, "Just be yourself. Everything is within you. You have your
So the first step is knowing that someone was able
to reach enlightenment, and then realizing that you have the same potential. Rama
said, "I am what you will become." We all have the potential to be enlightened.
second jewel is the dharma. The dharma has two aspects. One is the teachings of
the Buddha. In traditional Buddhism, the sutras are records of the Buddhist teachings
that describe the truth of the Universe. These teachings are used as a guideline.
If our thinking coincides with them, then our comprehension is correct. The second
aspect of dharma is the Dharma of realization, which is classified into three
kinds of training: the training of discipline, the training of meditation and
the training of wisdom. We are not relying on just the teachings of the Buddha,
but we are also relying on our daily practice. The Buddha Shakyamuni said, "You
should only believe in what you can perceive."
If you see that your daily
practice is working, then you know that your practice is something that you can
The third jewel is the sangha. Sometimes sangha is explained as those
practitioners who have already reached levels of liberation, very high level Lamas
or Monks. But our friends whom we work with at our centers are also very important
for our path. How can we develop without friends on the path? To come together
and practice is something very valuable. We can work together, learn from each
other, and in this way we can train our qualities and learn something about our
selves or non-selves.
Now, sangha also refers to harmony in living. In other
words, sangha is not just a small spiritual community, but society as a whole.
Every person you meet, you should treat as a spiritual partner who is also on
the pathway to Enlightenment. Every person in your life is your sangha, because
you can learn from every person in life. Provided that you are in the right state
In Tantric Buddhism there is an inner level of refuge, we call it
the secret refuge. If you are accepted by a teacher of Buddhism, he will give
you his blessing.
What does blessing
mean? It is the teacher's ability to give us moments of insight -moments where
we can look through all the veils which cover our mind and "see what cannot
be seen." This is possible only because we all have Buddha nature, and because
the teacher is channeling a lot of energy to bring us to a higher level.
teacher does not show us anything new, neither is he presenting us with insight.
It is rather through the coming together of our own openness and the teacher's
blessing that we can grasp the true nature of our mind. The teacher opens the
door and then we can be amazed.
Actually, the teacher promises a lot when he
takes us on as students. He promises to guide us on the path and to use all his
skills to liberate us from suffering. Rama said, "Someday I might not be
in the physical body, but I continue to help you on the path."
the secret meaning of refuge is understanding that our teacher is the essence
of the refuge. His mind is Buddha, his speech is dharma, and his body is sangha.
we receive a blessing from our teacher, his mind melts with ours. Rama called
it, "The transmission of the lamp."
Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö
Thaye, the famous 19th century master, said, "If the teacher's blessing comes
together with the openness of the student, you will meet your mind like an old
friend" (from Cloudless Sky.)
In this context, we are taught to see the
teacher as the Buddha. It is easy to claim being able to perceive our teacher
as the Buddha, but it is difficult to really do it. Actually, the ability to do
so is proportional to our inner development.
we understand that we are not separate from the Buddha, from our teacher, this
is the absolute meaning of refuge. When we see that we have a direct connection
with the Buddha, with our own Buddha nature, with the dharma and the practice
of the dharma, and with our sangha, then we realize that we are not alone. We
are all part of the One Mind. Everything is mind. The absolute refuge is our mind
As students of Rama, it is our responsibility to keep alive the teachings
our teacher. We all took an inner refuge with him. He made us see our own Buddha
nature. He blessed us with great teachings, and he created a great community of
American Buddhist. It is up to us now to continue his work, to make his blessing
count in our lives, and to dedicate ourselves to benefit all sentient beings.
This is the true meaning and importance of the three jewels.