The Three Jewels, also called the Three Treasures, the Three Refuges, or the Triple Gem, are the three things that Buddhists take refuge in, and look toward for guidance, in the process known as taking refuge.
The Three Jewels are:
The Three Jewels, also rendered as Three Treasures, Three Refuges or Triple Gem are the three things that Buddhists give themselves to, and in return look toward for guidance, in the process known as taking refuge.
Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is central to Buddhist lay and monastic ordination ceremonies, as originated by Gautama Buddha, according to the scriptures. The practice of taking refuge on behalf of young or even unborn children is mentioned in the Majjhima Nikaya, recognized by most scholars as an early text (cf Infant baptism).
Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is generally considered to make one officially a Buddhist. Thus, in many Theravada Buddhist communities, the following Pali chant, the Vandana Ti-sarana is often recited by both monks and lay people:
The Mahayana Chinese/Japanese version differs only slightly from the Theravada:
The prayer for taking refuge in Tibetan Buddhism.
In the commentary on the Apannaka Jataka Buddha declares:
In some traditions the Buddha as refuge is taken to refer to the historical Buddha and also 'the full development of mind', in other words, the full development of one's highest potential, i.e. recognition of mind and the completion or full development of one's inherent qualities and activities.
Refuge in the Dharma, in the Vajrayana, tradition includes reference not only to the words of the Buddha, but to the living experience of realization and teachings of fully realized practitioners. In Tibetan Buddhism, it includes both the Kangyur (the teaching of the Buddha) and the Tengyur (the commentaries by realized practitioners) and in an intangible way also includes the living transmission of those masters, which can also be very inspiring.
In the Vajrayana, a more liberal definition of Sangha can include all practitioners who are actively using the Buddha's teachings to benefit themselves and/or others. It can be more strictly defined as the 'Realized Sangha' or 'Arya-Sangha', in other words, practitioners and historical students of the Buddha who have fully realized the nature of their mind, also known as realized Boddhisatvas; and 'Ordinary Sangha', which can loosely mean practitioners and students of the Buddha who are using the same methods and working towards the same goal.
In Tibetan Buddhism there are three refuge 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' or trikaya of a Buddha. These alternative refuge formulations are employed by those undertaking Deity Yoga and other tantric practices within the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition as a means of recognizing Buddha Nature.
|Tibetan Buddhist Refuge Formulations|
|Outer or 'Triple Gem'||Buddha||Dharma||Sangha|
|Inner or 'Three Roots'||Guru||Yidam||Dakini|
|Secret or 'Trikaya'||Dharmakaya||Sambhogakaya||Nirmanakaya|
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 taking refuge, become the Three Refuges. In this form, the metaphors occur very frequently in the ancient Buddhist Texts, and here the Sangha is used more broadly to refer to either the Sangha of Bhikkhus, or the Sangha of Bhikkhunis.
In the Ratana-sutta, all the qualities of the Sangha mentioned are attributes of the Buddha's enlightened disciples:
In his analysis of the Tao Te Ching, Victor H. Mair notes that the jewel metaphor was already widely used in Indian religious metaphor before the Tao Te Ching was written. In Jainism too,
For the Jains, the Three Jewels are a metaphor for describing conduct and knowledge:
The Three Jewels are also symbolized by the triratna, composed of (from bottom to top):
The Triratna can be found on frieze sculptures at Sanchi as the symbol crowning a flag standard (2nd century BCE), as a symbol of the Buddha installed on the Buddha's throne (2nd century BCE), as the crowning decorative symbol on the later gates at the stupa in Sanchi (2nd century CE), or, very often on the Buddha footprint (starting from the 1st century CE).
The triratna symbol is also called nandipada, or "bull's hoof", by Hindus.
There are a number of examples of the triratna symbol appearing on historical coins of Buddhist kingdoms in the Indian sub-continent. For example, the Triratna appears on the 1st century BCE coins of the Kingdom of Kuninda in the northern Punjab. It also surmounts the depictions of stupas, on some the coins of the Indo-Parthian king Abdagases of the 1st Century, CE and on the coins of some of the Kushan kings such as Vima Kadphises, also of the 1st Century CE.
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