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All Buddhist take refuge in the Three Treasures: The Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha.

"Buddham saranam gacchami." (I take refuge in the Buddha.)

"Dhammam saranam gacchami." (I take refuge in the Dharma.)

"Sangham saranam gacchami." (I take refuge in the Sangha.)

Faith in the Three Treasures--the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha--has been the religious characteristic of all Buddhism, Hinayana or Mahayana, throughout the twenty-five hundred years of its history. 

The “Three Treasures” are the three entities that Shakyamuni Buddha taught his disciples to make their spiritual foundation soon after he began spreading his Dharma: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. These are called “treasures” because they are precious to all Buddhists.

The notion of a spiritual foundation brings to mind Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching: “Be a light unto yourself, making the Dharma your light.” “Be a light unto yourself” are powerfully reassuring words that give us great encouragement. Here, the Buddha refers not to the self filled with delusions but to the self that lives the Dharma. We “burn” with the light of the Dharma, and we also have to illuminate the society in which we live. In other words, although we must survive through our efforts, our way of life must always be in accord with the Dharma.

“The Dharma” is the true principle or universal truth. It is challenging for ordinary people to grasp the ultimate reality of this truth, making us feel insecure about depending on it to shape our frame of mind and guide our actions in daily life. For this reason, Shakyamuni Buddha translated the concept of the Dharma—universal truth—into three principles that ordinary people can quickly grasp. These are the Three Treasures.

  1. The first is the Buddha, who becomes one with universal truth when he attains Supreme Perfect Awakening.

  1. The second is the Dharma, which is the sense of Dharma as the teachings of the Buddha.

  1. The third is the Sangha. The Sanskrit word saṃgha means “bound closely together.” Shakyamuni Buddha chose this word for his group of disciples—the community that follows the same path of practice to Buddhahood.

Ordinary people find it challenging to seek and practice the Dharma in isolation. People practicing on their own tend to become negligent and wander onto the wrong paths. But if they join with people of the same faith to form a single community, they can advance steadily on the path of practice by teaching, admonishing, and encouraging one another.

Accordingly, Shakyamuni Buddha teaches us to make the Sangha one of our spiritual supports. The components of our spiritual foundation include these three pillars we rely upon: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. If we spiritually depend upon the Buddha, his teachings, and the community of people who share our faith, we can practice the “right” Dharma daily. For this reason, Buddhists always take refuge in the “Three Treasures.”

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