Reinterpreting the 3 Jewels of Buddhism


The Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha – The Triple Gem

All practitioners of Buddhism take refuge in the triple gem. However, a deeper meaning can be interpreted about them apart from the conventional meaning.

The 3 jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Conventionally, the Buddha stands for the person Gautama Buddha who taught 2500 years ago in India. The Dhamma stands for his teachings and the Sangha is the order of monks which he founded.

Whenever a lay person wants to get ordained as a Buddhist, he has to recite the three refuges thrice. By doing this, the person expresses his intention to lead his life by following the teachings of the Buddha. If the person wishes to become a monk, he must take formal vows.

Most lay people who consider themselves as Buddhists do not investigate the deeper meaning of the triple gem. They pay respects to the statue of the Buddha; they perform rites and rituals or read Dhamma and also offer food and robes for the monks in the Sangha. However, if one really investigates the true significance of the three jewels, one can discover the Buddha’s teaching for himself and become enlightened.

First Jewel – Buddham Saranam Gacchami (I Take Refuge in the Buddha)

Buddha literally means the ‘Awakened One’. It also stands for the Buddha Nature which is the underlying substance of all the phenomena of this universe and also one’s true self. So when one takes refuge in the Buddha, it is not bowing down to the image of Buddha or praying to that image. In a deeper sense, it means taking refuge in one’s true self or true nature.

Ordinarily, we are known by our individual names and are living according to the circumstances that life presents to us. However, in the Buddhist understanding, this is bondage. To be free, one must recognize one’s true nature and live in it, which puts an end to all striving because one has reached one’s home.

Second Jewel – Dhammam Saranam Gacchami (I Take Refuge in the Dhamma)

The word Dhamma has many meanings. The most commonly used is that of the body of teachings of the Buddha in the form of discourses and the sutras. However, a deeper meaning of the word Dhamma is also phenomena or ultimate reality. It is like saying that ‘water flows because it is the Dhamma of water to flow’.

Taking refuge in the Dhamma does mean, at the superficial level, studying the sutras and following the teachings in one’s life. However, in a deeper sense, one must take refuge in the true nature of things. One must understand that all things have the nature of impermanence, dissatisfaction and emptiness and live that understanding. This refuge meant to free oneself from attachment to things and wrong notions.

Third Jewel – Sangham Saranam Gacchami (I Take Refuge in the Sangha)

The Sangha is the community of monks who live according to the teachings of the Buddha. They beg for their food and spend their time in meditation. In the literal sense, taking refuge in the Sangha means to join their order by becoming a monk. However, in the deeper sense, it means living the right life oneself. Living in society, where one is tempted by all kinds of desires and influences, one must live rightly even if one has to stand alone.

Taking refuge means one is protected against all danger and calamity. And taking refuge in the triple gem is the true protection from the vicissitudes of life. However, one must take the refuge understanding the deeper significance of the three jewels.

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