The Nottingham Buddhist Centre and the Three Jewels of Buddhism
The Nottingham Buddhist Centre is part of the worldwide Triratna Buddhist Community and the word Triratna literally means the Three Jewels. These Three Jewels are often talked about as the three most precious things for Buddhists - the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
The term 'Buddha' means one who is ‘awake’, fully awake to his potential and to the world around him. The Buddha was not a god or a prophet, he was a human being like all of us. Through his own efforts he gained Enlightenment.
Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born, in approximately 560 BCE. His father was the ruler of a small but prosperous state and it was predicted after Siddartha's birth that he would either become a great spiritual or secular leader. His father feared his son would later forsake his kingly duties and so provided Siddartha with a life of opulence and sheltered ease. Despite all this he was not happy. Against his father's wishes, Siddartha journeyed outside the palace one day and encountered what are called the Four Sights.
These sights, that of an old person, some one who is ill, a corpse, and a wandering sadhu or holy man, caused Siddartha to undergo a spiritual crisis. Responding to these sights he determined to find the truth about the human condition and left his father's house in search of teaching and practices that could provide him with answers.
He travelled for seven years, encountering many types of disciplines and doctrines, some of which were extreme and counterproductive. He became famous for certain ascetic practices and began to attract disciples but recognising that he had still not found the deepest realisation he abandoned asceticism. Travelling alone he reached Bodhgaya and whilst meditating under a tree, gained Enlightenment, or, as it is also known, Nirvana. Nirvana is characterised by profound compassion, wisdom and integrated energy. After his Enlightenment, he began to teach, guiding others along the path towards this liberation. The Buddha died at Kusinara at the age of eight-one after tirelessly working for the benefit of all.
The word 'Buddhism' is not how the teachings of the Buddha were originally known. The Buddha taught his 'Dharma' or the truth as he saw it, and what he taught became known as the 'Buddha-dharma', the teachings of the Buddha.
This body of teachings is what we in the West have come to call Buddhism. Buddhism is, essentially, all the teachings and practices developed by the Buddha and subsequent Enlightened disciples, that help the individual to become increasingly spiritually free, wise and compassionate, culminating ultimately in a profound state of knowledge known as Enlightenment. Enlightenment is also characterised by an awakened heart, responsive and compassionate towards all beings.
Buddhism is the way to Enlightenment. It is the communication of the Enlightened individual to the non-Enlightened individual, the encouragement of the spiritually free individual to the individual who is not yet spiritually free. It is a universal teaching, accessible and relevant to all, regardless of age, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
In Buddhism, the Sangha is the spiritual community of those who are following the same path towards the same goal. In other words, the Sangha is the body of people who follow the Path towards Enlightenment.
The Sangha originated when the first of the Buddha's followers, after hearing the Buddha teach, they committed themselves to him and his teaching. In time this group of disciples flourished and spread.
As Buddhism spread across Asia from its Indian roots, it encountered cultures with different social and religious forms. The Sangha adapted itself to prevailing conditions, often cohabiting with other established religious systems whilst continuing to live according to the teaching of the Buddha.
But why bother joining a group at all, albeit a spiritual one? Spiritual development could be said to consist of increasing self-knowledge. But we learn about ourselves best in relation to others. We clarify our ideas through discussion, simply through communication with others of a like-mind. Also, it is often our attachment to our own selfish interests that brings us the most suffering and to participate in a vibrant spiritual community gives us many opportunities to go beyond our own narrow self-interest. It is for this reason that the Buddha said that spiritual friendship is the whole of the spiritual life.
The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha comprise the Triratna or Three Jewels - the three most valuable things for Buddhists.