Saturday, September 10, 2011

Going for Guidance to the Three Gems

Wisdom Quarterly edit of "Three Jewels" (
Buddhist nuns, monks, and lay followers all go for guidance to the Three Jewels.

The Three Jewels, also the Triple Gem, is the center of one of the major practices of mindfulness, recollection, contemplation, and reflection in Buddhism. The qualities of the three are frequently repeated in the ancient texts, where they are called the "Mirror of the Dhamma" (Dhamma Adassa). I go for guidance to the Buddha, the Greatest in the world, the Guru of devas and human beings, who gained enlightenment to teach freedom from suffering to beings. The Cambodian (Khmer) formulation, in Theravada Buddhist tradition, runs as follows.

ចង្អុលឲ្យដើរផ្លូវកណ្តាល មាគ៌ាត្រកាលអាចកំចាត់​ ទុក្ខភ័យចង្រៃអោយខ្ចាយបាត់ អាចកាត់សង្សារទុក្ខបាន។​
Guiding the right Middle Path, the way that can eliminate all suffering.
២.សាសនាព្រះអង្គនៅសព្វថ្ងៃ សត្វមាននិស្ស័យពីបុរាណ​ ប្រឹងរៀនប្រឹងស្តាប់ចេះចាំបាន កាន់តាមលំអានបានក្តីសុខ។
Such teachings now beings have through karmic-destiny accrued in the past by trying to listen, learn, and practice for happiness.
ឥតមានសុខណាស្មើក្តីស្ងប់ បញ្ចប់ត្រឹមសុខឃ្លាតចាកទុក្ខ​ តាំងពីលោកនេះតទៅមុខ ក្តីសុខនឹងមានព្រោះធម៌ស្ងប់។​
There is no happiness as genuine as one free of all suffering from this world and beyond, where happiness prevails because of Dharma.
៣.ខ្ញុំសូមបង្គំឆ្ពោះព្រះធម៌ ព្រះសង្ឃបវរទាំងសព្វគ្រប់ រួមជាត្រៃរ័ត្នគួរគោរព ជាម្លប់ត្រជាក់នៃលោកា
I go for guidance to the Dharma and the Sangha, all combined as the Three Jewels, the cool shade of the world.
ព្រះរូបព្រះធាតុនៃព្រះពុទ្ធ វិសុទ្ធតាងអង្គព្រះសាស្តា​ សូមគុណត្រៃរត័្នជួយខេមរា ឲ្យបានសុខាតរៀងទៅ ៕
May the Triple Gem guide [this country and its people] to happiness forever.

The Mirror of the Dharma
This contemplative practice (anussati) -- often replacing formal sitting meditation -- refers to reflecting on the true qualities of the teacher, teaching, and the taught -- the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

These qualities are called the "Mirror of the Dharma" in the Discourse on the Buddha's Last Days. They help practitioners attain a "mind like a mirror" -- a possible reference to the "mind-door" (mind-door cognitive processes) near the physical heart that reflect the contents of consciousness.

In the commentary on the Crossing the Wilderness Rebirth-Tale, the Buddha declares:

Disciples, nowhere between the lowest of the hells below or the highest heavens above, nowhere in all the countless worlds that stretch to the right and left is there the equal, much less one superior, to a buddha. Incalculable is the excellence that springs from keeping the precepts and from other virtuous conduct.
By taking refuge in the Triple Gem, one escapes from rebirth in unfortunate states of suffering. By forsaking such guidance as this, one hase certainly erred. In the past, too, humans who foolishly mistook what was no guide for a true guide met with disaster.

Amaravati Three Gems (triratna) symbols

The Buddha
"The Blessed One is an arhat, perfectly enlightened, accomplished in true knowledge and conduct, fortunate, knower of the world, unsurpassed leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One."

In early traditions the Buddha as a worthy guide is taken to refer to the historical Buddha. Later traditions expanded this to include buddhahood or "the full development of mind." In other words, the full development of one's highest potential came to mean our intrinsic buddha nature or ability to reach buddhahood, full enlightenment.

This later interpretation recognizes the possibility of completion, perfection, full development of one's own inherent qualities. Mind in Buddhism does not mean the head; it means the heart. They are one and the same, both involved in consciousness. So the metaphorical head/heart allows for the full development of wisdom and compassion in equal measure.

The Dharma
"The Dharma is well expounded by the Blessed One, directly visible, immediate [timeless], inviting one to come and see, applicable, to be personally experienced by the wise."

Going for guidance to the Dharma, in the Vajrayana tradition, includes reference not only to the words of the Buddha, but to the living experience of realization and the teachings of fully realized practitioners.

In Tibetan Buddhism, it includes both the Kangyur (the teaching of the Buddha) and the Tengyur (the commentaries written by realized practitioners). In an intangible way, it may also include the living "transmission" of those masters, which can be very inspiring.

The Sangha
"The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is practicing the good way, practicing the straight way, practicing the true way, practicing the proper way; that is, the four pairs of persons, the eight types of individuals: This Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is worthy of gifts [a statement which makes it certain that we are not talking about just anyone with a shaved head wearing a saffron robe but instead those ], worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of reverential salutation, the unsurpassed field of merit for the world." (Bhikkhu Bodhi, 2000, The Collected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, Somerville: Wisdom Publications, p. 319–321).

A more liberal definition of "Sangha" may include all practitioners actively following the Buddha's teachings to benefit themselves and others. But it is more strictly defined as the "Realized Sangha" (Arya-Sangha). In other words, it really means those practitioners and historical students of the Buddha who realized the true nature of mind.

The ordinary Sangha means practitioners and students of the Buddha who are using the same methods and working towards the goal of enlightenment and benefiting others by making the Dharma known that brings about the end of suffering (here and now and in the ultimate sense of their own attainment).

Tibetan Buddhism


In Tibetan Buddhism there are three guidance formulations: the Outer, Inner, and Secret forms of the Three Jewels.

The outer form is the "Triple Gem" (Sanskrit, Triratna). The inner is the Three Roots. And the secret form is the "Three Bodies" (trikaya of a buddha). These alternative guide formulations are employed by those undertaking Deity Yoga and other tantric practices in the Vajrayana tradition as a means of recognizing Buddha Nature.


The Three Gems are so called because of their treasured value to Buddhists, as well as their indestructible and unchanging nature.

The Three Gems when used in the process of going for guidance become the Three Guides. In this form, metaphors occur very frequently in ancient Pali texts (of Theravada Buddhism). Sangha always really means those persons (ordained or not) who have reached at least the first stage of enlightenment, which is very hard to know about others. So for practical purposes most use the term to refer to the Sangha of Buddhist monks and Buddhist nuns.

I go to the Buddha for guidance and to the Dharma and to the Sangha.

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