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Buddhist Terms, Part 1 - Based on the Treasury of Knowledge by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.
Manfred Seegers
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha - The Three Jewels
Taking Refuge
Buddha originates from the Sanskrit term 'bodhi'-awakened, awakened from the sleep of ignorance. The Tibetan word for Buddha is 'sang gye.' - 'Sang' has the meaning of being completely purified or awakened and 'gye' means unfolded or blossomed. This refers to the purification of all defilements and the unfolding of all inner qualities. What is purified are the three kinds of veils:
  1. The veils of disturbing emotions and negative actions.
  2. The veils referring to the process of perception, i.e. wrong views and concepts about reality.
  3. The very subtle veils of habitual tendencies.
What is unfolded is primordial wisdom, the wisdom which arises when the mind realizes its primordial nature. Primordial wisdom can be further subdivided into two wisdoms:
  1. The wisdom realizing the true nature of all phenomena, the ultimate truth.
  2. The wisdom realizing the appearance of all phenomena to its fullest extent, the relative truth.
Buddha, the Awakened One, is someone who has purified all veils and who knows everything that can be known. He is the highest, the supreme one among all human beings. He is the only one who possesses that omniscience. Therefore he is mentioned first in the order of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Together with the omniscience, the Buddha has loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings and teaches them in order to liberate them from suffering. Therefore, the Dharma is the second in this order.

Here, one distinguishes between the Dharma of the scriptures and the Dharma of realization. The Dharma of the scriptures is classified into Sutra and Tantra. Sutra is subdivided into the Three Baskets of Vinaya, Sutra and Abhidharma. Tantra is subdivided into the four Tantra classes.

The Dharma of realization is classified into three kinds of training: the training of discipline, the training of meditation and the training of wisdom. The Three Baskets correspond to these three kinds of training.

If the people who listen to the teachings of the Buddha enter the path, which means, if they listen to the teachings, reflect upon them and finally put them into the practice of meditation, then the Sangha is established. These are the friends and helpers along the way to liberation. Therefore the Sangha is the third of the Three Jewels.

Also, one distinguishes between two kinds of Sanghas, the ordinary Sangha and the extraordinary or Noble Sangha. The ordinary Sangha consists of the practitioners who have not yet attained realization of the true nature of their minds. The Noble Sangha consists of the practitioners who have accomplished one of the four levels of realization of the Smaller Vehicle (Hinayana) or one of the Bodhisattva levels of the Greater Vehicle (Mahayana). Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the Three Jewels, are the common refuge of all Buddhists in the whole world (of the southern and the northern Buddhism).
Lama, Yidams, Protectors -The Three Roots
Very special in Tibetan Buddhism is that one additionally takes refuge in the Three Roots:
  1. The Lama represents the living connection to enlightenment, because he, as a part of the unbroken transmission-lineage, starting from the historical Buddha Shakyamuni until present time, transmits his direct experience and the blessing for our practice.
  2. The Buddha-aspects or Yidams are the liberating methods given by the Lama, which express the qualities of enlightenment and make it possible for us to achieve the ordinary and extraordinary accomplishments (skr. siddhis).
  3. Finally the Lama also removes all inner and outer hindrances by means of the Protectors, who perform the spontaneous and effortless Buddha-activity and turn all kinds of experiences into a step on the way toward enlightenment.
These three aspects, Lama, Yidam and Protector are the Three Roots, which are inseparable from the Three Jewels. All six aspects are arranged in the so-called "Refuge Tree," a wish fulfilling tree, which according to Tibetan mythology is standing in the god realm and spontaneously fulfills all wishes there. Here the tree symbolizes the wish fulfilling qualities of enlightenment.

The source of the Three Jewels as well as the Three Roots is the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, who lived approximately 2500 years ago. In this eon according to the Bhadrakalpikasutra, appear 1000 Buddhas, of which our Buddha Shakyamuni (tib.: Shakya Thubpa) is the fourth. The names of the first three Buddhas were:
  1. Krakuccanda(tib. Khorvadjig)
  2. Kanakamuni (tib. Serthub)
  3. Mahakashyapa(tib. Ösung Chenpo).
The fifth and next Buddha will be Maitreya (tib. Djampa). Each of these Buddhas shows twelve special deeds.
The Twelve Deeds Of The Buddha
Because of his immeasurable compassion toward all sentient beings, every Buddha shows these twelve deeds. He has complete omniscience and by his all-encompassing wisdom, he is able to recognize all phenomena in the different realms. With this wisdom of omniscience he performs the twelve deeds.

First, Buddha Shakyamuni stayed in Tushita-heaven, where he performed his immeasurable activity. He especially gave teachings to the gods there. By his wisdom he saw the impure realm of human beings and after he had appointed a representative to stay in Tushita-heaven, Maitreya, he decided to descend to the human realm. In the same way, Maitreya, the future Buddha, will appoint a representative and will incarnate in the human realm.
  1. Descending from the Tushita-heaven. The first deed was, that he descended from Tushita-heaven in the form of a white elephant with six tusks.
  2. Entering the mother's womb. He entered the womb of his mother Mayadevi, the queen of the Shakya-clan.
  3. Birth. He was born from his mother's right side in Lumbini. Other teachings say that at the same time he entered his mother's womb, he also went into other realms and gave Dharma teachings there. Directly after his birth in Lumbini he made seven steps in the eastern direction and with each step a lotus flower blossomed under his feet and immediately he taught a verse.
  4. Studying arts and handicrafts. He became very skilled in all handicrafts and arts, in archery, etc.
  5. Enjoying life in the palace. He was married to Yasodhara as well as other women, and lived as customary for a prince of that time.
  6. Renunciation. One day he left the palace and was confronted with sickness, old age and death. After his companion confirmed that this happens to all beings, he developed great renunciation. Consequently he gave up his worldly life. When everybody was sleeping in the palace, he stole away. He was accompanied by only one servant and when they were far away enough from the palace, he sent his servant back with his horse.
  7. Ascetic practices. He cut his hair and practiced asceticism for six years at the bank of the river Neranjana, close to Bodhgaya.
  8. Going to Bodhgaya. Later, he went to Bodhgaya where he reached enlightenment, like all other Buddhas of this eon do.
  9. Defeating all negative forces (skr. maras). The evening before his enlightenment, Mara sent all kinds of wrathful manifestations as well as beautiful women with all kinds of perfumes, demonstrating their charms. But Buddha was sitting in a deep state of samadhi, unshakably calm due to his great compassion.
  10. Enlightenment. By the power of his vajra-like concentration (samadhi, at dawn of the fullmoon day in May, he manifested complete enlightenment. After he attained buddhahood, he did not give teachings for seven weeks, even though one attains buddhahood in order to help all sentient beings. There is an ordinary and an extraordinary explanation for this. The ordinary explanation is that during that time there were no beings present who had the good karma to receive teachings from the Buddha. The extraordinary explanation states that during that time Buddha gave tantric teachings, secret teachings, for example the Hevajra-tantra. After these seven weeks Brahma presented the Buddha with a beautiful conch shell, the spirals of which all turned to the right. This shell was so beautiful and like no other shell in this world. Indra gave him a 1000-spoked Dharma wheel.
  11. Turning the Wheel of the Dharma. Following the first seven weeks of enlightenment, the Buddha went to a Deer Park outside the city of Varanasi. There he taught the first turning of the wheel of the Dharma - the Four Noble Truths, mainly to gods and animals such as gazelles, deers, etc., as well as five human beings who were his former companions from the time of his ascetic practices. The second turning of the Dharma wheel took place in Rajgir, where the Buddha gave the Prajnaparamita-teachings, and the third turning, in which he explained the Buddha nature took place at different places. All three turnings of the wheel of the Dharma are counted as one deed.
  12. Entering Parinirvana. Finally, at the age of 84, at Kushinagara, the Buddha passed into Parinirvana. He went beyond the opposites of the cycle of existence (Samsara) and the liberation of the Arhats (Nirvana). These are the twelve deeds of the Buddha. He demonstrates them in order to establish a connection to the human realm. He shows human beings a path by which they can be liberated from the world of conditioned existence.


BUDDHISM TODAY, Vol.1, 1996. Copyright ©1996 Kamtsang Choling USA.