The Three Jewels of Buddhism

What it means to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Continued from page 1

The highest meaning of Dharma is the reality reality that holds us in freedom from suffering, holds us in a state of bliss. Dharma is our own reality that we seek to understand fully, to open to fully. Dharma, therefore, also consists of those methods and the teaching of those methods that are the arts and sciences which enable us to open ourselves. The practices that we do, which will open us, which follow those teachings, which implement them in our lives, in our practice, and in our performance, which deploy those arts-they are also Dharma.

Virtues and ethics and practices are also Dharma. Even the qualities that we develop, the positive qualities that lead us toward freedom and reality, those are dharma. That is how dharma came to mean a religion in some contexts, and also "duty" and other kinds of routines in Vedic Brahmanism, before Buddha used it in the liberating way. In later Hinduism, in the Bhagavad-Gita, dharma was used by God to say, "Do your dharma," meaning, "Do your duty." "Follow your role as a warrior, Arjuna!" said God, "Krishna, you warrior, follow your dharma!" But in Buddhist terms, Dharma means more like Joseph Campbell's great statement, "Follow your bliss!" Bliss is your freedom. So it means, "Follow your freedom!" And it came more to mean that in India, after Buddha's time, also in another strand in the Gita, in Hinduism and Jainism, as well as Buddhism.

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Ultimately, we take refuge in reality itself, because that is the only secure refuge. If we took refuge in any unrealistic thing, it could be blown down by this-and-that howling wind-but when we take refuge in reality, that is what endures. It is uncreated. It is not made by anyone. It lasts. It is there, and therefore it can give refuge. The final taking of refuge is embodying reality in our being, realizing that reality is our body and breath and thought and mind. Therefore, the final refuge is only being Buddha ourselves. But meanwhile, to whatever extent we can open to reality, we take refuge in reality, the second jewel.

The third jewel is the Sangha, the community of those who enjoy the jewels of refuge, who learn that teaching, seek that understanding, and work to embody that Dharma. They are consciously evolving toward being buddhas, sharing their understanding and bliss with others, as teachers of freedom to other beings, helping them discover these jewels. This includes all Buddhists everywhere and through time, in Sri Lanka, in Thailand, in Burma, in Tibet, in China, Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Vietnam, in ancient time and still now in India.

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