Simply this means about three gems. Three kinds of gem. As gems more expensive, the Triple Gem is a worth jewel to a Buddhist.
Often the Westerners and others who are interested in Buddhism, ask the question that, how can one become a Buddhist? Or in the other way, they ask that, how can one become a follower of the Buddha? There may have some reasons behind these questions. In here, some people expect there to be some kind of act which marks officially their new status as a Buddhist. Many of the important events in our lives are marked by a ceremony. All those have their own customs and traditional practices. Religious events like entry into the Christian church, are marked by rites of Baptism and confirmation and it is understandable that many Westerners look for something similar in Buddhism. not only do people expect some kind of initiation ceremony, but they also want it. they want to take part in some kind of ritual which they can hold onto and tell their friends about.
Once the Buddha was living in the Nigrodharama monastrary in Kapilawattu, there Mahanama Sakya visited the Buddha and asked how a man could become a lay disciple? Then the Buddha answered,
“when Mahanama, he has found refuge in the Buddha, found refuge in the Dhamma, found refuge in the Sangha, then he is a lay disciple.” – (Mahanama Sutta-Anguttara Nikaya)
Lay disciples are called Upasaka and Upasika. Nowadays very often for Buddhist devotee we say Dayaka and Dayikas. The man characteristic of the Upasaka and Upasika in understanding the qualities of the spiritual triple gem.
Noble qualities of the Triple Gem
In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, explaining the qualities of the disciple, and noble qualities of the triple gem, the Buddha said to Ananda,
“The disciple of the noble ones is possessed of this clear confidence in the Buddha. That the exalted one is rightly named the fully enlightened one, perfect in knowledge and conduct, wise as to the worlds and incomparable guide to man’s self-mastery, happy a teacher of devas and men, a Buddha, an exalted One. The disciples of the noble one is possessed of this clear confidence in the Dhamma, the Dhamma is well proclaimed by the exalted One, is evident in this life, is not subject to time, invites every man to come and see for himself, and brings near that which should be known to the wise each for himself. He has his clear confidence in the sangha, that the Sangha of the followers of the Exalted one is entered on the direct path, is walking in the right path, the proper path, namely the four pairs of persons, the eight classes on individuals, that the Sangha is worthy of offering, of hospitality, of gift, or beings honored, that the Sangha is the incomparable source of merit for the world, that it is possessed of the percepts believed in by the wise, which are uncorrupted and which lead to Samadhi.”
In this description, there are two important things. The Buddha starts by defining the qualities of the disciple, then he goes on to describe the qualities of the Triple Gem.
An important quality of the noble disciple is Saddha. This means, the confidence of faith. As a spiritual faculty and a spiritual power Saddha holds a great part among the 37 factors in the path of enlightenment. It is not mere faith. Proper Saddha is always based on knowledge.
Once a millionaire called Upali, who was a devotee of Jaina Mahaveera, visited the Buddha. And he attentively listened to a sermon from the Buddha and was delighted. Then Saddha arose in him and he wanted to be a follower of the Buddha. He expressed hid feeling of joy towards the Buddha. The Buddha replied,
“householder, see the truth through investigation”.
Listening to this advice Upali became more a delightful person and sought refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. This is called, refuge in the Triple Gem.
The knowledge which has been developed by listening to the Dhamma leads to Samma Ditthi which means right understanding. That’s is the first factor of the noble eightfold path. The goal and the path are clear to the investigator. So Saddha has a magnetic power to attract the person to follow the Dhamma. The person is more confident and approaches the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. He takes the three refuges to start the journey which is shown by the Buddha.
True knowledge of the triple Gem
Now we look at the other important part in greater detail the qualities of the three refuges or the Triple Gem. In previous paragraph explained about nine qualities of the Buddha, six qualities of the Dhamma and nine qualities of the Sangha.
Every day in the morning and in the evening, as Buddhists, we recite, “Itipi so bhagava, arahan,……..”(Meaning) and “Svakkhato bhagavata dhammo……..”(Meaning) and “Supatipannao bhagavato savakasangho….”(Meaning) When reciting these qualities, we contemplate their meaning. The Buddha is a title, which means the fully Enlightened one or fully Awakened one. In the first sermon, the Buddha clearly said that,
“O bhikkus, my vision of true knowledge was fully clear in these three aspects and in these twelve ways regarding the four noble truths, then I claimed to have realized the perfect enlightenment that is supreme in the world with its devas, maras and brahmas, in the world with its recluses and brahmanas, with its princes and men.”
As a Bodhisatva, he practiced the ten Parami or perfections. These ten Paramis are generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving kindness and equanimity. As well as the Buddha explained on several occasions the harshest path, which he had trodden for six years in his spiritual quest. After this ascetic One entered through his noble research discovered the middle path and follow that way. With this path, he became Enlightened finally as his aim.
The Buddha is the teacher who shows the path of deliverance. The Buddha clearly said,
“The Tathagatas are only teachers but you yourself have made the necessary effort.”
In the Cullahatti Padopama Sutta, the teacher said you can see my foot prints in the journey, through your own spiritual experiences. In the experience of the jhanas you can see my foot prints. Again, there are three knowledge. The first knowledge of the remembrance of one’s own previous lives. The second knowledge of seeing the previous lives of others. The third knowledge of the eradication of cankers.
When one realizes these knowledges one sees the lands marks of the Buddha’s journey. When one realizes the four noble truths and experiences the Nibbanic bills through wisdom, then one sees the Buddha. In that sense the Buddha said,
“He who sees the Dhamma he sees me.’ (Yo dhammam passati so mam passati.).
when we take refuge in the Buddha, this is not him as a historical personage, but in the wisdom he represents. wisdom is to be found within each one of us, in our own mind. Wisdom is a difficult concept for us to grasp in abstract.
So it is easier to personify it and the image of the Buddha is a symbol. When we see a Buddhist prostrating before an image of the Buddha this is not idol worship, but it is the intelligent act of acknowledging wisdom as source of safety and security in an ever-changing world.
This does not mean that we have to accumulate lots of knowledge and become university professors. That is not real wisdom. Real wisdom is understanding the changing conditions of existence, which are impermanence-anicca, experiencing the Nibbanic peace and bills, realizing the unsatisfatoriness of this conditioned existence- dukkha, and penetrating the illusory perception of self-entity-anatta.
The Ultimate Truth
The second refuge of the Triple Gem is the Dhamma as the way of means to deliverance. It is ultimate truth. As Buddhist, we are not taking refuge in any philosophy or intellectual theories, ideas, doctrines or beliefs in God or some other kind of super-natural force. The Buddha never said that he taught Buddhism, this was a term invented later by his followers. He simply said that he taught the Dhamma, the four noble truths are the heart wood of the Dhamma.
The Buddha said in brief,
“Bhikkhus, what I teach both formerly and now is just suffering and the cessation of suffering”. – (Alagaddupama Sutta)
We can recall one of the similes of the Dhamma, this is the simile of the draft, which compares the Dhamma to a raft in its meaning and functions it is for crossing over dukkha. So we practice the Dhamma, which is like a raft and so it takes us to the other shore. In that sense Dhamma is a refuge in this dangerous flood of dukkha, we are taking refuge in the truth, as it is here and now. “I go to the Dhamma for my refuge,” means that I commit myself with resolution to follow Dhamma to gain supreme wisdom.
The third refuge is the Sangha. The word “Sangha” means a collection or multitude and can refer to two groups of monks. The Bhikkus are Sangha and Ariya Sangha. The Bhikkhu Sangha and it is the community of monks. And the Ariya Sangha is the community of enlightened beings, who may or may not be monks. The Sangha provides us with a living example of the way life is to be levied. Here we are taking refuge in virtue, goodness, kindness, compassion’ not in anger, hate, jealousy, cruelty, etc. so we try to speak and act in virtuous ways which do not cause harm to other beings.
“I go to the sangha for my refuge” means that one commits fully with resolution to development himself by his own effort to attain the spiritual heights attained by the spiritual community of disciples (Savaka Sangha). They are able to gain supreme wisdom.
Finally, one can become a Buddhist taking the Triple Gem as one’s refuge and having realized above qualities of the Triple Gem. Further it is essential to taking the five percepts with realizing noble qualities of the Triple Gem to be a Buddhist. Now we can understand how one becomes a Buddhist and the purpose of going to the triple Gem as our refuge. The Triple Gem leads us to Nibbana and freedom from Dukkha.
‘‘Etam kho saranam Khemam
Etam sarana muttaman
Etam saranan magamma
Sabba Dukkha pamujjhati”
“This, indeed is refuge secure. This, indeed is refuge supreme. By seeking such refuge one is released from all sorrow.”
May triple Gem bless you!
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“From desire arise grief, from craving arise fear. For one who is wholly free from craving there is no grief. Accordingly, the fears”