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Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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A Buddhist or a disciple of Buddha is one who has taken refuge in the Triple Gem as their first step. By taking refuge, one declares that he is a disciple of the Triple Gem.
The “Triple Gem” means Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
“Dharma” refers to the teachings of the Buddha and “Sangha” is the collective name for the monastic Buddhist community.
The Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha are the gems of the spiritual life beyond the bounds of this world. Accordingly to cultivate the way (to practice Buddhism) the first significant thing to do is to take refuge in the Triple Gem.
Taking refuge means publicly accepting Buddha as our teacher, the Dharma as his teachings and the Sangha is the religious community. The ceremony for taking refuge is quite important because this ceremony marks the beginning of our commitment to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

Benefits of Taking Refuge:

    One will not fall into the realms of evil.
    One will understand the Law of Cause and Effect and cease all evils.
    One will gain self-esteem and dignity in character.
    One will accomplish good deeds and accumulate more merits.
    One will establish foundations of taking further precepts and reach Buddhahood.

Just as a child must depend on the parents for protection and safety, Buddhists depend on the Triple Gem. Just as a navigator must rely on his compass, Buddhists rely on the Triple Gem.
Just as light illuminates the path in darkness, the Triple Gem elucidates the way. In “taking refuge” one seeks guidance and to turns to the Triple Gem for liberation and salvation from suffering. The ceremony for taking refuge is quite important because this ceremony marks the beginning of our commitment to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Only someone who has taken refuge in the Triple Gem can truly call himself a Buddhist.

The Meaning of Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem

In our endeavor to strive for perfection and liberation from the stress of life, the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha are the most precious Gems we have.

The Buddha: is the Pali word for the Fully Enlightened One. Out of deep compassion the Buddha taught people the way to end suffering and to gain enlightenment.

The Dharma: Dharma refers to Buddha’s teachings to overcome desire, ill-will and ignorance in order to liberate people from the cycle of birth and death. The Dharma includes the Tripitaka (the sutras, vinaya and sastras) and the Twelve Divisions of the Mahayana Canon.
The Sangha: Sangha is the Pali word meaning “group harmony”. Sangha here refers to the Buddhist community (monks and nuns). The two main characteristics of the monastic community are
(a) all members in the monastic community try to end attachments as their common goal.
(b) to achieve group harmony, members are required to strictly observe the following rules:
    1. Unity in thoughts
    2. Equal rights for all members of the community
    3. Equal financial standing for all members
    4. Promotion and the sharing of common interests.
    5. Being kind and courteous to each other in words.
    6. Considerations and goodwill to others.

As a result, the monastic community provides an ideal environment for individual cultivation as well as forming an important base for the teaching of Dharma to the wider community. In another word, the Buddha is the Saviour, the Dharma the truth and the Sangha, the teacher.
These are the basic and essential requirements for one’s cultivation. As an example, a patient needs the diagnosis of a doctor (the Buddha), for the treatment of some serious illness. In the same way, we have to rely on the help of the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha for our cultivation.