Be islands unto yourselves,
refuges unto yourselves,
seeking no other refuge;
with the Dharma as your island,
the Dharma as your refuge,
seeking no other refuge.
~ The Buddha
Shortly after the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi (Enlightenment) Tree, and having surveyed the entire universe, he reflected thus – ‘It is not a good thing to live without anyone to look up to, follow, or take refuge in. But there is no holy teacher or brahmin [noble person], no one in this world, who surpasses me in [the Threefold Training of] discipline [morality], meditation [concentration] or wisdom, whom I could honour and venerate. All there is for me to honour and venerate is the Dharma, the holy teaching [that leads to enlightenment] that I have discovered myself… That is good. I shall place myself under that. The enlightened Buddhas of past ages of the world also lived honouring and venerating the precious holy Dharma.’ If even all the countless Buddhas saw the Dharma to be so good for taking refuge in, it must be all the more beneficial for us unenlightened beings to look up to, follow and take refuge in as well – for it leads to the perfection of the Threefold Training, culminating in unsurpassable Buddhahood!
The Buddha’s thoughts above form a remarkable teaching, which expresses the humility of the Buddha despite his obvious spiritual greatness, of how he sees the need to check one’s position with what is above oneself, which in his case, similar to ours, is the Dharma – the truth itself, and the path that leads to the realisation of it. Even the Buddhas are not above the natural and universal laws of the Dharma, which is why even after the Buddha had attained supreme enlightenment, he continues to take refuge in the Dharma. In fact, still under the Bodhi Tree when recently awakened, he spent time to fully reflect upon and relish in the marvels of the Dharma. Becoming one with it in totality of body, speech and mind, he meant it literally when he uttered, ‘One who sees the Dharma sees the Buddha.’ The Buddha is the living embodiment of the truth and one who walked the path to it perfectly, who unceasingly honours and venerates the Dharma by practising and sharing it out of boundless compassion for all who have yet to realise it. Without the ‘Single Gem’ of the Dharma, there would be no Buddhas or Sangha!
The two earliest lay Buddhists could only take refuge in the Double Gem of the Buddha and the Dharma due to the absence of the Sangha then. Thereafter, Buddhists take the Threefold Refuge in the Triple Gem – of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This is so with the exception of Buddhas. Though also perfect members of the Sangha, they take refuge only in the Dharma. Even the Sangha community of monks and nuns founded by the Buddha takes refuge in the Triple Gem (including the Sangha itself). However, the central aspect of refuge in the Triple Gem for all monastic and lay Buddhists is always ‘the Dharma taught by the Buddha’ (Buddhadharma). This is so as unless the Sangha members we take refuge in are of the Arya (Noble) Sangha, who consist of those who are enlightened to some extent, the ordinary and thus somewhat worldly Sangha is realistically imperfect, still a work in progress towards enlightenment. The tricky thing is that we can’t, with our limited wisdom, readily differentiate who is a member of the Arya Sangha, who can range from the young to the old, men to women, laypeople to monastics. It makes sense then, to respect everyone – even if they are not Buddhists by label!
The true Triple Gem never disappoints
as the Buddha, Dharma and Arya Sangha together
is a perfect teacher, a perfect teaching and its community of perfect practitioners.
The Central Gem
Refuge in the Arya Sangha
Confidence in the Triple Gem
Who Do You Take Refuge In?
Have You Seen the Buddha Yet?
Have You Taken Refuge in the Inner Triple Gem?
When Teachers are Not Yet One with the Dharma