Following in the Buddha’s Footsteps

1. Trustworthy Spiritual Guidance

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Trustworthy Spiritual Guidance

WHAT MAKES our spiritual practice Buddhist? It is not merely doing practices taught in Buddhist scriptures, for some of those practices — such as refraining from harming others, cultivating love and compassion, and developing concentration — are also found in other religions. Doing these and other practices with a mind that has taken refuge in the Three Jewels is the key that makes these practices Buddhist. Taking refuge means we entrust ourselves for spiritual guidance to the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha. Based on knowledge of their qualities, we choose to follow their guidance.

The Entrance to the Buddhist Path

Our ultimate goal is to become the Three Jewels ourselves. To do this, we need to rely on the guidance of the Three Jewels that already exist. To actualize the Dharma Jewel — which as true cessation and true path is the ultimate refuge — in our own mindstream, we take refuge in the Buddha as the one who taught the Dharma and in the Saṅgha as the ones who have actualized some true cessations and true paths in their mindstream.

Taking refuge is not simply reciting “I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha” with our mouths. It involves an internal commitment to our spiritual practice that motivates us to humbly seek spiritual guidance. Refuge is to be lived each moment, so that all the practices we do are directed toward actualizing the Dharma Jewel in our mindstream. When we have done this, we will have genuine, lasting joy and fulfillment, 4and our lives will have become highly meaningful. To attain nirvāṇa, we must start practicing now.

Based on his own experience, the Buddha taught a path in accord with reality. He did not teach anything illogical or contradictory to the laws of nature or the way things are. Through his teachings and his living example, he demonstrated the ability to eliminate unrealistic and harmful mental states — such as ignorance, animosity, and attachment — from their root and to develop good qualities limitlessly. All of this accords with the way things function, and by practicing the Buddha’s instructions we can verify the path to awakening and its resultant awakening through our own experience.

Some people read the biographies of the Buddha or other Buddhist sages and, inspired by their sublime lives, follow their teachings. That is wonderful. But the most important reason for following the Buddha’s teachings is that we have studied and investigated them and have found them to be reliable and effective. In this way, we confirm for ourselves that the Buddha’s philosophical teachings are the result of deep contemplation, sincere practice, and genuine meditation. They were not made up quickly to impress others. The faith that arises from understanding the teachings is stable and reliable, whereas the faith that derives from admiration of the Buddha’s life or amazement at his supernormal abilities can easily change.

It is said that taking refuge in the Three Jewels is the excellent door for entering the Buddha’s doctrine, renunciation of duḥkha is the door for entering a path, and bodhicitta is the door for entering the Mahāyāna. Taking refuge establishes the spiritual direction we will take in life and leads us to learn and contemplate the Buddha’s teachings. Through this, we will realize that no enduring happiness is to be found in cyclic existence and we will renounce this suffering state and generate the aspiration to attain liberation. The stability of this understanding in our mind marks our entrance to a path. Stable bodhicitta is the door to enter the bodhisattva path that leads to full awakening because only this altruistic intention to attain awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings will give us the strength of mind to fulfill the collections of merit and wisdom necessary to attain full awakening.

To view this sequence in the reverse order: To attain full awakening, bodhicitta is indispensable. Bodhicitta is based on great compassion, but 5to feel great compassion for others, we must first have compassion for ourselves. Renunciation — wanting ourselves to be free from saṃsāra and to attain nirvāṇa — is the true meaning of self-compassion. To reach this understanding, we must be clear about our spiritual direction and the guides we rely on to lead us. Thus, taking refuge is the first step; it is the door to the Buddha’s teachings.

To take refuge properly, correctly identifying and gaining a clear understanding of the Three Jewels is crucial. To do that, understanding the four truths is important, and this is based on comprehending the two truths: veiled and ultimate truths. Without comprehending the two truths, our understanding of the four truths will be hazy, and without understanding the four truths, our refuge in the Three Jewels will not be stable.

We may wonder how we can take refuge without understanding profound and advanced topics such as the two truths, the four truths of āryas, emptiness, and dependent arising. Conversely, we may wonder how we can understand such topics without having deep refuge in the Three Jewels. By beginning with the topics of the two truths, the four truths, emptiness, and dependent arising, as we did in Approaching the Buddhist Path, we gain an initial understanding that forms a good foundation for taking refuge in the Three Jewels. Based on taking refuge, we then learn, contemplate, and meditate on the Buddha’s teachings, and the understanding we gain from that deepens our refuge. That deeper refuge will inspire us to learn, contemplate, and meditate more, bringing even deeper understanding; and so it goes — with taking refuge and understanding the teachings aiding each other.


1. Contemplate the forward sequence: taking refuge is the door to enter the Buddha’s doctrine by making us receptive and giving direction to our spiritual yearnings.

2. Refuge opens our minds to contemplate duḥkha, the unsatisfactory conditions of saṃsāra. Seeing there is no final happiness to be had in saṃsāra, we renounce duḥkha and aspire for liberation. This is the door to enter the paths of the śrāvaka, solitary realizer, and bodhisattva.


3. Seeing that all sentient beings, who have been kind to us in our beginningless lifetimes, are trapped in saṃsāra, we cultivate great compassion and aspire for full awakening in order to help them escape from saṃsāra. This bodhicitta motivation is the door to the Mahāyāna. Motivated and informed by bodhicitta, we generate the wisdom realizing the emptiness of inherent existence, which removes all obscurations and enables us to attain buddhahood.

4. Contemplate the reverse sequence, seeing that realization of emptiness on the Mahāyāna path is fueled by bodhicitta, which is generated through having great compassion for all living beings. This, in turn, depends on having the aspiration for ourselves to be free from saṃsāra, which relies on having taken refuge in the Three Jewels.

Reasons for Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels

As with any produced phenomenon, taking refuge occurs due to the coming together of its own causes and conditions. The first cause is being alarmed by the possibility of our misdeeds ripening in unfortunate rebirths in future lives. This is the basic, most immediate reason that leads us to seek spiritual protection and guidance. As we progress and our understanding of the Buddha’s teachings increases, we become alarmed at being subject to the various kinds of duḥkha of cyclic existence in general and seek refuge from those.

The second cause is having faith and confidence in the ability of the Three Jewels to guide us from these dangers. Such confidence is based on understanding the qualities and abilities of the Three Jewels and how they are able to guide and protect us from these dangers.

Those inclined to the Bodhisattva Vehicle cultivate a third cause: great compassion for sentient beings and the wish to alleviate their duḥkha. Since the main audience in this series is disciples with sharp faculties who aspire for buddhahood, we must seek refuge with the aspiration to become a buddha in order to have all the necessary qualities to most effectively benefit all sentient beings. Even if this bodhicitta motivation is fabricated at present, by continued cultivation it will eventually become spontaneous. 7We seek refuge in the Three Jewels that embody the spiritual aims we aspire for and that we regard as reliable guides to show us the path.

In the first three volumes of this series, the first cause — alarm at the prospect of experiencing unfortunate rebirths and the duḥkha of saṃsāra — has been described in depth. We will now look at the way the Fundamental Vehicle, Perfection Vehicle, and Vajra Vehicle delineate the Three Jewels, and then we will examine the qualities of the Buddha in particular and the reason the Buddha is an excellent guide. The readers of this series are intelligent, and I am confident that by analyzing and contemplating the Three Jewels you will come to well-formed conclusions.


Contemplate the causes to take refuge in the Three Jewels:

1. Reflect on the faults of rebirth in unfortunate realms and in cyclic existence in general, as explained in volumes 1 and 2.

2. Reflect on the excellent qualities of the Three Jewels that make them trustworthy objects of refuge (you can read ahead to learn these).

3. With compassion for others who are bound to saṃsāra by afflictions and karma, generate the aspiration for full awakening.

4. With relief and confidence, turn to the Three Jewels as reliable guides to actualize your spiritual aims.

The Mind’s Potential and the Existence of the Three Jewels

Before discussing the qualities of the Three Jewels, it is helpful to know the mind’s potential and how mental purification occurs. These points were covered in chapter 12 of The Foundation of Buddhist Practice, and we will briefly review them now.

The greatest potential each sentient being has is to become a fully awakened buddha who has the wisdom, compassion, and power to be of the greatest benefit to all sentient beings. A key quality of a buddha is 8omniscience. How is attaining omniscience possible given our current state of ignorance? The mind has the natural capacity to cognize objects, but various obstructions prevent it from knowing phenomena. (1) An intervening object, like a wall, prevents us from seeing what is on the other side. (2) The object is very far away or very small and is not within the purview of our sense faculties. (3) Our cognitive faculties are defective or limited in their scope — for example, our visual consciousness cannot hear sounds; if we have severe cataracts, we can barely see; an animal brain is not equipped to comprehend philosophy. (4) A mind obscured by wrong views or one that is unable to concentrate because of an abundance of disturbing emotions cannot understand certain points. (5) Some objects are so subtle, vast, or profound that unless we have meditative concentration or superknowledges, we cannot know them. (6) The latencies of ignorance and the mistaken appearances that they cause prevent the mind from knowing both veiled truths and ultimate truths simultaneously by one consciousness.

From their side, buddhas are not limited by the above obscurations, and having perfected their virtuous qualities, they have the ability to effortlessly and spontaneously manifest in limitless ways to benefit sentient beings. However, their power is not omnipotent in the sense of being able to unilaterally control events. Our ability to be benefited by the buddhas depends on our receptivity.

Just as the sun’s light radiates everywhere equally, so do buddhas’ awakening activities. Nevertheless, however brilliant the sun may be, its radiance cannot enter an upside-down vessel. Similarly, our karmic obscurations or lack of merit curtail the buddhas’ ability to help us. But when the vessel is turned upright, the sun naturally flows in. Similarly, when we purify our minds and accumulate merit, our minds become receptive to the buddhas’ awakening activities.

As our understanding of the mind increases, we will gain conviction in three points. First, the basic nature of the mind is pure and clear. Second, afflictions are based on ignorance that apprehends phenomena as existing in the opposite way than they actually exist. Thus ignorance and the afflictions born from it are adventitious and do not inhere in the nature of the mind. Third, it is possible to cultivate powerful antidotes — realistic and beneficial mental states — that root out ignorance, afflictions, and other obscurations.


In chapter 24 of his Treatise on the Middle Way, Nāgārjuna explains that together, the doctrines of dependent arising and emptiness of inherent existence establish the existence of the Three Jewels. Because all phenomena arise dependently, they lack inherent existence. Ignorance, however, grasps them to exist in the opposite way, as inherently existent. Because phenomena exist dependent on other factors — sprouts depend on seeds, children depend on their parents — they do not exist independently or inherently. When wisdom realizes their emptiness, it has the power to gradually eradicate ignorance and its latencies from our minds, and thus stop our duḥkha. This wisdom is true paths, and the cessations of the afflictions and duḥkha are true cessations. More specifically, a true cessation is the purified aspect of the emptiness of a mind that has removed a portion of afflictions by means of its antidote, the true path. True paths and true cessations constitute the Dharma Jewel, and in this way the existence of the Dharma Jewel, which is the actual refuge, is established.

True paths are first generated and true cessations are first actualized on the path of seeing of all three vehicles — the Śrāvaka, Solitary Realizer, and Bodhisattva Vehicles — and they exist in the mindstreams of āryas on the paths of seeing, meditation, and no more learning. Those that have directly perceived emptiness and actualized true cessations are āryas and become the Saṅgha Jewel. When bodhisattvas overcome all obscurations, they become buddhas, the Buddha Jewel. In this way, the existence of the Three Jewels is established and the possibility of our becoming the Three Jewels is demonstrated.

When we deeply contemplate Nāgārjuna’s explanation, our faith in the Three Jewels grows, not because someone told us about them or because we admire them, but because we understand the possibility of mental development that can lead to actualizing the Three Jewels ourselves. The ideal way to take refuge in the Three Jewels entails some degree of understanding of emptiness and dependent arising. Of course, we may initially take refuge for more elementary reasons, but our refuge will deepen as our understanding of the Three Jewels increases.

Another way of speaking of the Dharma is in terms of the transmitted or scriptural Dharma and the realized Dharma. The teachings given by the Buddha are the transmitted Dharma; the realizations that arise in the minds of practitioners who practice the transmitted Dharma are the 10realized Dharma. Currently both the transmitted and realized Dharma are present in our world. To preserve the transmitted Dharma, we must study the Dharma by listening to oral teachings and reading scriptures, treatises, and commentaries. To preserve the realized Dharma, we must meditate and actualize these teachings in our own minds. We should not take the existence of the Dharma for granted, but make a personal contribution to preserving it.


According to your present understanding, reflect that liberation is possible:

1. The basic nature of the mind is pure and clear.

2. Afflictions are based on ignorance that apprehends phenomena as existing in the opposite way than they actually exist. Thus ignorance and the afflictions born from it are adventitious and do not inhere in the nature of the mind.

3. It is possible to cultivate powerful antidotes — realistic and beneficial mental states such as the wisdom realizing emptiness — which root out ignorance, afflictions, and other obscurations.

4. Remember these three points, and as your understanding of the mind expands, come back and reflect on them again.

The Three Jewels according to the Fundamental Vehicle

According to the Fundamental Vehicle, the Buddha Jewel is the historical Buddha, Śākyamuni Buddha, who lived approximately 2,500 years ago. The Dharma is the true paths — the eightfold path of right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration — and true cessations in the mental continuum of an ārya. The Saṅgha refers principally to the four pairs of realized beings — the approacher and abider 11for stream-enterer (srotāpanna, sotāpanna), the approacher and abider for once-returner (sakṛtāgāmi, sakadagāmi) the approacher and abider for nonreturner (anāgāmi), and the approacher and abider for arhatship. Bodhisattvas are also included in the Saṅgha Jewel. A commonly recited verse from the Pāli tradition expresses some of the magnificent qualities of the Three Jewels:

The Buddha, the Pure One, with ocean-deep compassion,

who possesses the eye of wonderful stainless insight,

the destroyer of worldly evil and defilement —

with devoted heart, I honor that Awakened One.

The Dhamma taught by the Master,

like a lamp that illuminates the path, fruit, and deathless nibbāna,

untouched by the conditioned world and pointing the way beyond —

with devoted heart, I honor that natural truth.

The Saṅgha, the most fertile ground for cultivation,

seers of true peace, awakened through the Sugata,

all wavering subdued, ariyas with subtle wisdom —

with devoted heart, I honor that ariya community.

The qualities of the Three Jewels are also described in the Jewel Sutta (Ratana Sutta, Sn 2.1). The Buddha delivered this sūtra when the city of Vaiśālī was subject to the triple disaster of famine, evil spirits, and plague. The citizens invited the Buddha and Saṅgha to visit to remedy the difficulties. The protective blessing arising from the Buddha teaching this sūtra and from the citizens reflecting on the qualities of the Three Jewels spread throughout the city. The triple disaster ceased and the citizens lived in peace. Verses 3–6 below encapsulate the qualities of the Three Jewels:

Whatever treasure exists here or beyond,

or whatever precious jewel is in the heavenly world,

there is none comparable to the Tathāgata.

This precious jewel is in the Buddha.

By this truth may there be safety.


The Buddha often uses the term “Tathāgata” to refer to himself. Tathāgata may be translated as the One Thus Gone, indicating that the Buddha has gone to nirvāṇa, the unconditioned state. Tathāgata can also be translated as the One Thus Come, in that the Buddha has come to nirvāṇa in the same way all the previous buddhas have: by perfecting the thirty-seven harmonies with awakening, completing the ten perfections, and acting for the welfare of the world.

The Tathāgata has fully awakened to the nature of this world, its origin, its cessation, and the path to its cessation — that is, he fully comprehends the four truths. The Tathāgata has fully understood and can directly perceive all things that can be seen, heard, sensed, known, cognized, and thought about; he knows them just as they are. Everything he speaks, from the time he attained awakening until his parinirvāṇa, is true and correct, and his actions are consistent with his words. He has conquered the foes of the afflictions and is not conquered by them. Thereby he possesses great power to benefit the world.

The Tathāgata has realized two great principles: dependent origination and nirvāṇa. Dependent origination applies to the conditioned world and pertains particularly to true origins and true duḥkha. Nirvāṇa applies particularly to the last two truths: it is the unconditioned, true cessation that is realized by true paths. Together dependent origination and nirvāṇa include all existents.

Although there may be great wealth, treasures, and jewels in the world, none of them even come near the qualities and benefit of the Tathāgata. The Buddha is even more precious, rare, and difficult to encounter than a wish-fulfilling gem. He has the capacity to fulfill all our wishes for enduring peace and happiness through leading us on the path to nirvāṇa.

The destruction, dispassion, deathless, and sublime

discovered by the Sage of the Śākyas in samādhi —

there is nothing equal to that Dhamma.

This precious jewel is in the Dhamma.

By this truth may there be safety.

The Dharma Jewel that is an object of refuge consists of true cessations and true paths. This verse speaks of true cessations, nirvāṇa, which is the 13ultimate aim of spiritual practice. Unlike the conditioned, impermanent phenomena of saṃsāra, nirvāṇa is not created by causes and conditions and does not change in each moment. Nirvāṇa has four synonyms, each describing it from a different angle: (1) it is destruction of craving, or of ignorance, attachment, and animosity; (2) it is dispassion because it is the absence of attachment, desire, greed, and lust; (3) it is deathless because it is free from repeated birth, aging, sickness, and death in saṃsāra; (4) it is sublime — supreme, never-ending, and inexhaustible. Nirvāṇa is often said to be cooling because the heat of lust and mental afflictions has been extinguished, and experiencing nirvāṇa is like diving into a pool of cool water during India’s hot season.

The supreme Buddha praised that purity

that is called the “uninterrupted concentration” —

there exists no equal to that concentration.

This precious jewel is in the Dhamma.

By this truth may there be safety.

The “uninterrupted concentration” refers to the supramundane eightfold path that leads to nirvāṇa. It is called “uninterrupted” because it brings immediate results. No other path or samādhi (a state of single-pointed concentration) can equal it. To develop the supramundane eightfold path, we must first cultivate the ordinary eightfold path by practicing the four establishments of mindfulness (of body, feelings, mind, and phenomena) and developing mundane right concentration. Through these, we will gain insight, which examines the nature of the body, feelings, mind, and phenomena in a deeper way. This leads to the wisdom of clear realization (P. abhisamaya), which breaks through and realizes the unconditioned. Wisdom of clear realization occurs in a samādhi that is a supramundane (lokottara) dhyāna. The supramundane dhyānas may be of four levels, corresponding to the four mundane dhyānas. They are used as the basis for insight that brings the path and fruit of one of the four stages of stream-enterer and so forth. For example, if a practitioner has attained the second dhyāna and uses that to develop insight that brings the path and fruit of stream-enterer, it becomes a supramundane dhyāna, and the path and fruit are the second dhyāna supramundane path and fruit of stream-entry.


While the mind dwells in the uninterrupted concentration, wisdom actively penetrates the truth, bringing the immediate result of extinguishing certain defilements.1 When one emerges from that concentration, one is a stream-enterer, an ārya. Unlike worldly samādhis that lead to rebirth in the form and formless realms, this samādhi leads to liberation.

The supramundane Dharma consists of the four ārya paths, their fruits, and nirvāṇa. These true cessations and true paths in the mind of the Tathāgata are his dharmakāya: his Dharma body or truth body. Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the Middle Length Discourses explains:

Here the Blessed One shows [himself as] the Dhamma-body (dhammakāya), as stated in the passage, “The Tathāgata, great king, is the Dhamma-body.” For the ninefold supramundane Dhamma is called the Tathāgata’s body.2

To return to the Jewel Sutta:

The eight persons — the four pairs — praised by the good,

disciples of the Tathāgata, are worthy of offerings.

What is given to them bears great fruit.

This precious jewel is in the Saṅgha.

By this truth may there be safety.

The ārya Saṅgha and Saṅgha Jewel refers to the eight āryas, who may be monastics or lay practitioners.3 The conventional Saṅgha is the monastic order of fully ordained ones. The eight classes of ārya Saṅgha are subsumed in four pairs — stream-enterers, once-returners, nonreturners, and arhats. Stream-enterers have a clear realization of nirvāṇa; they have understood the four truths directly, made the initial breakthrough to nirvāṇa, and abandoned three of the five lower fetters (saṃyojana, saṃyojana) — view of a personal identity, doubt about the Three Jewels, and view of rules and practices.

This breakthrough or clear realization is called “the arising of the Eye of Dharma” — one now sees the Dharma and the truth of the Buddha’s teaching. Because of the power of this realization, it is impossible for a stream-enterer to do any of the five heinous actions: killing his mother, killing his 15father, killing an arhat, causing a schism in the Saṅgha, or drawing blood from a buddha. Stream-enterers are endowed with virtue and observe ethical conduct well. Lay stream-enterers keep the five precepts and monastic stream-enterers keep monastic precepts. While they may still commit transgressions — such as angrily speaking harshly — they never conceal their transgressions and confess and make amends as soon as possible.

Because stream-enterers’ faith in the Three Jewels is unshakable, they are firmly planted on the path to liberation. Some may attain arhatship in that very life, as did Sāriputta and Moggallāna, Ānanda, and many others. If not, they will be reborn in cyclic existence, but only as humans or devas, never in unfortunate realms. Stream-enterers with sharp faculties will take only one more rebirth, those of middle faculties will take two to six rebirths, and those of dull faculties will take at most seven more rebirths before attaining nirvāṇa. Stream-enterers with dull and modest faculties are not immune to the eight worldly concerns, and sometimes their behavior may resemble that of ordinary beings. Stream-enterers who are householders may marry and be attached to their families; they may enjoy praise, compete in business deals, and become angry when criticized. Nevertheless their afflictions are weaker than those of people who are not āryas.

Once-returners have significantly reduced, though not totally eliminated, their ignorance, attachment, and animosity and will be reborn in the desire realm only once more. Nonreturners have abandoned the fetters of desire and malice and will never again take rebirth in the desire realm. If they don’t attain nirvāṇa in that life, they will be reborn in a pure abode in the form realm and attain nirvāṇa there. Arhats have eliminated the remaining fetters of desire for existence in the form and formless realms, conceit, restlessness, and ignorance.

Each of these four pairs has two phases: the path and the fruit. The phase of the path is the time one practices to attain the fruit that is certain to be attained in that very life. The phase of the fruit is the time of breaking through and attaining that result. All four pairs are called śrāvaka (P. sāvaka), or disciples of the Sugata. This term literally means “hearer” because, as Buddhaghosa explains (Vism 7.90), “they hear attentively the Blessed One’s instructions.” However, during the Buddha’s time śrāvaka was a more general term indicating a disciple, and the teacher of each sect had his own circle of śrāvakas, or disciples. These four pairs are the Buddha’s 16ārya śrāvakas who, because of their spiritual realizations, are worthy of offerings and respect. As visible representatives of the ārya Saṅgha, the monastic Saṅgha are also objects of respect and offerings. Those who make offerings to them accumulate great merit that leads to fortunate rebirths and conducive circumstances for Dharma practice.

The Three Jewels according to the Perfection Vehicle

The Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha are called “jewels” because they are rare and precious — rare because they appear in the world infrequently, precious because they have the ability to lead us out of saṃsāra to liberation and full awakening. All sentient beings’ virtuous attitudes, words, and deeds can be traced to the Three Jewels that continually instruct and encourage sentient beings in virtue. The Three Jewels are more valuable than the mythical wish-fulfilling jewel because they fulfill our yearning for complete peace and freedom. They differ vastly from ordinary jewels that may temporarily improve the conditions of this life but cannot prevent or remedy all of our duḥkha. Each of the Three Jewels has an ultimate and a conventional aspect, which are presented below.

Perfection Vehicle practitioners take refuge in all buddhas throughout the universe — those living on our Earth, in other realms, and in the pure lands. In our world system Śākyamuni Buddha is the wheel-turning buddha who taught the Dharma (turned the Dharma wheel) when it was not previously present. Others have become buddhas by following his teachings. Each buddha has four buddha bodies. Here “body” means collection, as in a body of knowledge or a body of representatives. Buddha bodies may be enumerated as two, three, four, or five. These divisions involve different ways of classification but come to the same points.

There are several ways to posit the ultimate and conventional Three Jewels. The following is one way.4

Buddha Jewel

The ultimate Buddha Jewel is the truth body (dharmakāya), which has the nature of the perfect abandonment of all defilements and the perfect realization of all excellent qualities. It is of two types:


The wisdom truth body (jñāna dharmakāya) is the omniscient mind of a buddha, which has three principal qualities. With knowledge (jñāna), buddhas know all phenomena; with compassion (anukampā), they seek to benefit sentient beings without hesitation; and with power or ability (T. nus pa), from their own side they lack all impediments to exercising their skillful means.

The nature truth body (svabhāvika dharmakāya) is of two types:

The natural stainless purity is the emptiness of inherent existence of a buddha’s mind.

The purity from adventitious defilements is a buddha’s true cessations of afflictive obscurations (kleśāvaraṇa) that bind sentient beings to saṃsāra, and cognitive obscurations (jñeyāvaraṇa) that prevent them from knowing ultimate and veiled truths simultaneously with one consciousness.

The conventional Buddha Jewel consists of the form bodies (rūpakāya) in which a buddha appears in order to enact the welfare of sentient beings. These are of two types:

An enjoyment body (saṃbhogakāya) is the form that a buddha manifests in his or her Akaniṣṭha pureland to teach ārya bodhisattvas.

Emanation bodies (nirmāṇakāya) are the forms a buddha manifests that are perceivable by ordinary beings. These are of three types:

A supreme emanation body — for example, Śākyamuni Buddha — turns the Dharma wheel.

An ordinary emanation body manifests in diverse appearances of various people or things.

An artisan emanation body subdues sentient beings’ minds through showing certain worldly skills.

The truth body is so-called because the wisdom truth body is the supreme true path and the nature truth body is the supreme true cessation. The dharmakāya is the fulfillment of our own purpose, in the sense that it is the total perfection of our mind. Form bodies are the fulfillment of others’ purpose because through manifesting in these various forms, buddhas lead sentient beings to awakening. The truth bodies and form bodies are one 18inseparable entity. They are attained simultaneously at the first moment of buddhahood.

Contemplating the four buddha bodies gives us a profound understanding of Buddha Śākyamuni. His physical appearance as the human being Gautama Buddha is an emanation body, a form he assumed to suit the spiritual dispositions and interests of ordinary beings in our world. An emanation body derives from a subtler body, an enjoyment body, which emerges from the wisdom dharmakāya, a buddha’s omniscient mind. A wisdom dharmakāya arises within the underlying nature of reality, a buddha’s nature dharmakāya.

Dharma Jewel

The ultimate Dharma Jewel is the true cessations and true paths in the mindstreams of āryas.

The generally accepted Dharma Jewel consists of the transmitted Dharma — the Buddha’s word (the 84,000 teachings and twelve branches of scriptures) taught with compassion and skill from the Buddha’s personal experience.

Saṅgha Jewel

The ultimate Saṅgha Jewel is an indivual ārya — someone who has some true cessations and true paths in their mindstream — or a group of āryas.

The symbolic representation of the Saṅgha Jewel is a group of four or more fully ordained monks or nuns. They have received the ethical restraints set forth by the Buddha.

The Buddha spoke of the importance of the fourfold assembly: fully ordained men and women and male and female lay practitioners who keep the five lay precepts. A group of four or more fully ordained monks (bhikṣu, bhikkhu) or four fully ordained nuns (bhikṣuṇī, bhikkhunī) is a Saṅgha, and this Saṅgha represents the Saṅgha Jewel. “Saṅgha” does not refer to a group of people who attend a Dharma center.

The description of the Three Jewels emphasizes the inner, experiential aspect of religion and spirituality. The Three Jewels that we trust to lead us to liberation and awakening are distinct from religious institutions. Although realized beings may be members of religious institutions, these institutions are often operated by ordinary beings. Our refuge must always 19remain purely with the Three Jewels. If it does, we will not be confused by the actions of ordinary beings. It’s important to remember that not all Buddhists are buddhas.

Eight Excellent Qualities of the Buddha Jewel

Maitreya’s Sublime Continuum (Ratnagotravibhāga or Uttaratantra Śāstra) discusses the excellent qualities of the Three Jewels according to the unique Mahāyāna perspective that is not shared by the Fundamental Vehicle. Learning and contemplating these qualities inspires our confidence and faith that they are superb, trustworthy guides on the path. Contemplating their qualities shows us the direction to take in our spiritual practice in order to actualize the Three Jewels ourselves. Giving us a vision of our potential, this overcomes the despair that lacks clear spiritual direction and dispels the thought that we have only limited purpose and potential in life.

The Buddha Jewel is a final object of refuge that possesses eight excellent qualities, such as being unconditioned and so forth. As described in the Sublime Continuum (RGV 1.5):

Unconditioned and spontaneous,

not realized by other [extraneous] conditions,

possessing knowledge, compassionate love, and ability,

only the buddha

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