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The Three Gems

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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By Thich Nhat Hanh

WHEN WE SAY, "I take refuge in the Buddha" we should also understand that "The Buddha takes refuge in me," because without the second part the first part is not complete. The Buddha needs us for awakening, understanding, and love to be real things and not just concepts. They must be real things that have real effects on life. Whenever I say, "I take refuge in the Buddha," I hear "Buddha takes refuge in me."

We are all Buddhas, because only through us can understanding and love become tangible and effective. Thich Thanh Van was killed during his effort to help other people. He was a good Buddhist, he was a good Buddha, because he was able to help tens of thousands of people, victims of the war. Because of him, awakening, understanding, and love were real things. So we can call him a Buddha body, in Sanskrit Buddhakaya. For Buddhism to be real, there must be a Buddhakaya, an embodiment of awakened activity. Otherwise Buddhism is just a word. Thich Thanh Van was a Buddhakaya. Shakyamuni was a Buddhakaya. When we realize awakening, when we are understanding and loving, each of us is a Buddhakaya.

The second gem is the Dharma. Dharma is what the Buddha taught. It is the way of understanding and love - how to understand, how to love, how to make understanding and love into real things. Before the Buddha passed away, he said to his students, "Dear people, my physical body will not be here tomorrow, but my teaching body will always be here to help. You can consider it as your own teacher, a teacher who never leaves you." That is the birth of Dharmakaya. The Dharma has a body also, the body of the teaching, or the body of the way. As you can see, the meaning of Dharmakaya is quite simple, although people in Mahayana have made it very complicated. Dharmakaya just means the teaching of the Buddha, the way to realize understanding and love. Later it became something like the ontological ground of being.

Anything that can help you wake up has Buddha nature. When I am alone and a bird calls me, I return to myself, I breathe, and I smile, and sometimes it calls me once more. I smile and I say to the bird, "I hear already." Not only sounds, but sights can remind you to return to your true self. In the morning when you open your window and see the light streaming in, you can recognize it as the voice of the Dharma, and it becomes part of the Dharmakaya. That is why people who are awake see the manifestation of the Dharma in everything. A pebble, a bamboo tree, the cry of a baby, anything can be the voice of the Dharma calling. We should be able to practice like that. . . .

Dharmakaya is not just expressed in words, in sounds. It can express itself in just being. Sometimes if we don't do anything, we help more than if we do a lot. We call that non-action. It is like the calm person on a small boat in a storm. That person does not have to do much, just be himself, and the situation can change. That is also an aspect of Dharmakaya: not talking, not teaching, just being. . . .

The Sangha is the community that lives in harmony and awareness. Sanghakaya is a new Sanskrit term.

The Sangha needs a body also. When you are with your family and you practice smiling, breathing, recognizing the Buddha body in yourself and your children, then your family becomes a Sangha. If you have a bell in your home, the bell becomes part of your Sanghakaya, because the bell helps you to practice. If you have a cushion, then the cushion also becomes part of the Sanghakaya). Many things help us practice. The air, for breathing. If you have a park or a riverbank near your home, you are very fortunate because you can enjoy practicing walking meditation. You have to discover your Sanghakaya-invite a friend to come and practice with you, have tea meditation, sit with you, join you for walking meditation. All those efforts are to establish your Sanghakaya at home. Practice is easier if you have a Sanghakaya. . . .

Practicing Buddhism, practicing meditation is for us to be serene and happy, understanding and loving. In that way we work for the peace and happiness of our family and our society. If we look closely, the Three Gems are actually one. In each of them, the other two are already there. In Buddha, there is Buddhahood, there is the Buddha body. In Buddha there is the Dharma body because without the Dharma body, he could not have become a Buddha. In the Buddha there is the Sangha body because he had breakfast with the bodhi tree, with the other trees, and birds and environment. In a meditation center, we have a Sangha body, Sanghakaya, because the way of understanding and compassion is practiced there. Therefore the Dharma body is present, the way, the teaching is present. But the teaching cannot become real without the life and body of each of us. So the Buddhakaya is also present. If Buddha and Dharma are not present, it is not a Sangha. Without you, the Buddha is not real, it is just an idea.

Without you, the Dharma cannot be practiced. It has to be practiced by someone. Without each of you, the Sangha cannot be. That is why when we say, "I take refuge in the Buddha," we also hear, "The Buddha takes refuge in me." "I take refuge in the Dharma. The Dharma takes refuge in me. I take refuge in the Sangha. The Sangha takes refuge in me."