Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.
- We take refuge in many worldly things
- The ultimate Three Jewels are the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha we will become
- We take refuge in the outer Three Jewels as guides along the way
Gems of Wisdom: Verse 61 (download)
“On what can one rely that has power to protect from all forms of suffering?”
Venerable Thubten Chodron: Right. “The Three Supreme Jewels which no horror can affect.”
On what can one rely that has power to protect from all forms of suffering?
The Three Supreme Jewels which no horror can affect.
It’s really saying that the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—the Three Jewels—are the really reliable refuge that can protect us from all dukkha and all of our confusion.
Lama Yeshe used to tell us that we’re always taking refuge. Whenever we’re dissatisfied or unhappy or bored, or angry, we always take refuge. But we usually take refuge in things outside of ourselves.
“I feel lonely,” so I take refuge in food. Or, “I feel bored,” so I take refuge in the computer and surfing the computer [internet]. Or, “I’m angry,” so I take refuge in a bottle of booze or a joint. Or whatever it is, we’re always looking for something to protect us from misery. But we always look outside of ourselves to something that doesn’t have the power to really protect us from misery. Because whatever it is is, first of all, something impermanent. Second, something that arose due to ignorance and karma, and so on. And especially when we take refuge in other people—expecting another person to solve all of our problems and be everything we need, and fulfill us—then we’re taking refuge in an ordinary living being who is under the influence of afflictions and karma and taking rebirth, and how can that person protect us from all suffering? You know? There’s no way that can happen.
The Three Jewels that we’re taking refuge in, the ultimate Three Jewels that are the actual objects of refuge, are the Three Jewels that we will become—foremost the Dharma Jewel, which is the true paths, true cessations, the realizations of emptiness, and so on. Those are the real protection that stop the misery for us. And of course when we gain the Dharma Jewel in our mind we become the Sangha Jewel. When we purify our mind completely we become the Buddha Jewel. So that refuge that we will become is the actual thing that ends our difficulties and problems.
Until that time, we also take refuge in the outer Three Jewels, because that way we can learn and hear teachings and receive the kind of guidance and support that we need on the path. Because let’s face it, we don’t know the path to awakening, do we? And if we try and make up our own path to awakening, or cobble together a bit of things that we hear here and there that sound good…. That’s what Lama Yeshe used to call “making soup.” Okay? You make soup. A little bit of this, and a little bit of that. And again, it doesn’t get us anywhere. So we need to rely on a holy being who has had that experience of the path, who has actualized the path, actualized the result of the cessation of all misery, and who can teach out of their own experience. Okay? So that’s why we rely on the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Here we see the Buddha as the teacher, who’s the one who described the path. The Buddha did not make up the path. He simply described it and said: This is how it is and this is what I did and if you want to wind up where I wound up, do the same thing.
And the Dharma is the teaching. The Dharma is like the map. The Buddha’s the one who’s saying, “Here’s the map, take this route, turn left, turn right, do this…. It’s a little bit tricky up here so be careful….” Yes? But you know, the Dharma is like the road map and the Buddha is the teacher.
And then the Sangha are all of the people traveling together with us, who are really helping us on the path, who are further along the path than we are and who are saying, “Okay, I’m here, come on, just follow the road, turn right, turn left, you’ll get here too.” Yes? And so they support us on the path and they act as a good role-model for us, too.
We have to realize that we need this kind of instruction and path, that we can’t just go it alone and make it up ourselves. Because we’ve been doing that since beginningless time already, haven’t we? We’ve been born many many many times, and you know, made up our own paths and taken refuge in all sorts of different things—either worldly things, or this path, the other path, all different sorts of religions or whatever. And we’re still here—not liberated. We’re still here with a mind that suffers from ignorance, anger, and attachment. So we have to seek the guidance from those who are beyond what we’re still afflicted with.
Another analogy we use for the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha is like a doctor, the medicine, and nurses. We’re the patient.
I remember at the end of one retreat (you remember that too) one of the people on retreat said: “The big thing that I really realized on this retreat was that I was the patient.” Because sometimes we think: “Well, all these other people don’t have it together and they really need the Dharma, but I’m somehow a pretty together person.” His big thing was “Oh, I’m the patient who’s suffering from cyclic existence, too. I’m the person who’s under the influence of ignorance, anger, attachment, conceit, jealousy, laziness, wrong views—the whole nine yards. That’s me, too.”
We go to the doctor for help. The doctor is the Buddha. The Buddha prescribes the medicine of the Dharma, which are all the meditations on the stages of the path to awakening.
We have to take the medicine. We can’t just leave it on our nightstand. We can’t just carry the prescription around with us. We have to get the prescription filled and we have to get the medicine in our mouths.
This is an important thing, because it means we have to practice. We can’t just listen to teachings. We can’t just say, “Oh, the Dharma’s wonderful.” We have to actually work with our own minds.
Then the Sangha are like the nurses—and when we can’t remember which pills to take at what time, it’s like, “I have a problem and I can’t remember which meditation to do for this particular mental affliction, then the Sangha is the one that reminds us and helps us and encourages us. “Oh yes, I did that too, and I took the wrong medicine, and so what I learned is take this medicine instead and you have to take it slowly. Don’t drink the whole bottle all at once. Take a little bit at a time and let it work….”
In that way the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha also help us along the path.
We take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha not because the Buddha’s going to swoop down and pick us up and take us to la-la-land. The chief way the Buddhas help us is by teaching the Dharma. And that is empowering us because when we learn the teachings then we have the ability to practice them and experience the result. So listening to the teachings, the Buddha is empowering us to go ahead on the path. But we have to be responsible and self-reliant and take the medicine. And then if we do, it works.