After fulfilling perfections (pāramī) such as generosity (dāna) for an infinite number of aeons, Lord Buddha was born on earth to preach living beings how to eradicate all suffering, stop rebirth, and guide them to attain supreme Nibbāna. The teachings on the path to eradicate suffering are known as “Buddhism”. All those who observe the Triple Gem and follow this path of pure Dhamma to terminate all suffering are considered to be “Buddhists” which includes four categories of people: bhikkhu (i.e. male monastic), bhikkhunī (i.e. female monastic), upāsaka (i.e. male lay person) and upāsikā (i.e. female lay person). The essence of Buddhism that these Buddhists pay reverence and follow is the Triple Gem of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
The Triple Gem
All living beings on earth are subject to endless suffering throughout their endless existence in transmigration of births (saṁsāra). With the infinite compassion towards all living beings Lord Buddha had the noble purpose of helping them end that suffering and attain Nibbāna. Buddha is the most supreme, unsurpassed and foremost human being among all living beings. He fulfilled the ten perfections (pāramitā) such as generosity (dāna) and realized the four noble truths (i.e. chatusacca) on his own without any guidance or help from another.
The exalted one is known as “Buddha” because of the myriad qualities including supreme omniscience (sabbaññutāñāṇa). The Buddha is also known as “Sammāsambuddha” as he understood all that is to be understood comprehensively without any deficiency. The name “Buddha” from which the exalted one is known is not a name given by his parent, relatives or friends but is truly a universally accepted name endowed on him as a benefit for his quality of supreme omniscience (sabbaññutāñāṇa). Taking refuge in Buddha is the starting point of practicing Lord Buddha’s teaching on cessation of suffering.
Consisting of eighty four thousand units (khanda), the noble gem of “Dhamma” is what has been comprehended and preached by Buddha to cease the suffering of all beings in the endless existence of transmigration of births and to take them across to Nibbāna, the ultimate goal of all Buddhist aspirations. This Dhamma was discussed and approved by 500 fully enlightened noble monks into three baskets (Tipitiaka) as Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka.
The exalted noble one with utmost kindness preached and enforced the Vinaya Pitaka, to ensure discipline in word and action, and to accomplish the sīla (discipline) of bhikkhu (i.e. male monastic) and bhikkhunī (i.e. female monastic) of the Buddhist order. There are twentyone thousand units (khanda) of teachings here. Sutta is preached to various people in the world, suiting the various occasions considering their impurities. Here too there are twentyone thousand units (khanda) of teachings. Going beyong the normal worldly life, the profound teachings on ultimate reality are known as Abhidhamma. There are forty two thousand units (khanda) of teachings in Abhidhamma.
The Tipitiaka preached by the exalted one is known as the “pariyatti” (the doctrine). By following the pariyatti the eight stages of enlightenment such as sotāpanna (entering upon the stream) and the Nibbāna can be attained. This is known as “nava lokuttara saddhamma”. The “nava lokuttara saddhamma” and the “pariyatti” is the second noble gem of Dhamma. If one takes refuge in the noble gem of the Dhamma he takes refuge in all the Dhamma mentioned above rejecting all other outside refuges.
Anyone who becomes ordained to comprehend the Dhamma and joins the path of Dhamma irrespective of time, nation, ethnicity, community, age, or education and become bhikkhu (i.e. male monastic) and bhikkhuni (i.e. female monastic) who follow the sīla (i.e. discipline) enforced by the Buddha and possess a similar vision (diṭṭhi) are known as Sangha. The Sangha consists of two sects; Dakhineiya Sangha and Sammuti Sangha. Sōtapanna and other enlightened Sangha in all aspects qualify to receive alms from the devotees and thus are referred to as Dakhineiya Sangha. Those who have not yet achieved any form of enlightenment and are on the path are referred to as Sammuti Sangha.
Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem
Someone uttering the words “I take refuge in Buddha and I do not have any other refuge other than the Buddha” means that he or she is taking refuge in Buddha. Likewise, the words “I take refuge in Dhamma and I do not have any other refuge other than the Dhamma” mean that he or she is taking refuge in Dhamma. Similarly, the words “I take refuge in Sangha and I do not have any other refuge other than the Sangha” refer to the taking of refuge in Sangha. These intentions truly mean that a person has the intention to take refuge in the Triple Gem of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha which is the most supreme refuge anyone can take. Refuge in the Triple Gem itself will be a ground for a person to end all suffering. True to these words, most people who listened to Lord Buddha’s preaching took refuge in the Triple Gem, followed specific practices and attained Nibbāna.
The basic necessity that should be satisfied by anyone who decides to follow Buddhism is to follow the Triple Gem. Following this, the five precepts (Pancha) are the compulsory disciplinary principles that must be followed by a lay Buddhist. A person who becomes a Buddhist in this way should then practice good merits such as dāna (i.e. giving) and follow the threefold training of Morality (sīla), Concentration (samādhi), and Wisdom (paññā) to attain Nibbāna.
Among these practices, the first and the most important is to follow the Triple Gem which has been the focus up to this point. The rest of the teachings considered as essential to Buddhism will be introduced from this point onwards.
Written By – Ven. Maho Gnanaloka
Translation – R Y H De Alwis Seneviratne ,T H Alahakoon