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The Three Jewels, also rendered as Three Treasures, Three Refuges or Triple Gem are the three things that Buddhists give themselves to, and in return look toward for guidance, in the process known as taking refuge.

Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is central to Buddhist lay and monastic ordination ceremonies, as originated by Gautama Buddha[1].

Taking refuge in the Triple Gem is generally considered to make one officially a Buddhist. Thus, in many Theravada Buddhist communities, the following Pali chant, the Vandana Ti-sarana is often recited by both monks and lay people:

I go for refuge in the Buddha
I go for refuge in the Dharma
  • Sangham saranam gacchāmi
I go for refuge in the Sangha
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Buddhism and psychology
Buddhist psychology
Buddhist philosophy
Buddhism and psychoanalysis
Buddhism and psychotherapy

Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
The Five Precepts
Nirvāna · Three Jewels

Key Concepts
Three marks of existence
Skandha · Cosmology · Dharma
Samsara · Rebirth · Shunyata
Pratitya-samutpada · Karma

Practices and Attainment
Buddhahood · Bodhisattva
Four Stages of Enlightenment
Paramis · Meditation

Buddhism by Region

Schools of Buddhism
Theravāda · Mahāyāna
Vajrayāna · Early schools

Pali Suttas · Mahayana Sutras
Vinaya · Abhidhamma

Comparative Studies
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Dharma wheel 1.png

The Mahayana Chinese/Japanese version differs only slightly from the Theravada:

  • 自皈依佛,當願眾生,體解大道,發無上心。
I take refuge in the Buddha, wishing for all sentient beings to understand the great way and make the greatest vow.
  • 自皈依法,當願眾生,深入經藏,智慧如海。
I take refuge in the Dharma, wishing for all sentient beings to deeply delve into the Sutra Pitaka, gaining an ocean of knowledge.
  • 自皈依僧,當願眾生,統理大眾,一切無礙。
I take refuge in the Sangha, wishing all sentient beings to lead the congregation in harmony, entirely without obstruction.

The Vajrayana prayer for taking refuge.

  • Sang-gye cho-dang tsog-kyi cho-nam-la

I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha

  • Jang-chub bar-du dag-ni kyab-su-chi

Until I attain enlightenment.

  • Dag-gi jin-sog gyi-pe so-nam-kyi

By the merit I have accumulated from practising generosity and the other perfections

  • Dro-la pan-chir sang-gye drub-par-shog

May I attain enlightenment, for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Importance of the Triple Gem

The Triple Gem is in the centre of one of the major practices of mental "reflection" in Buddhism; the reflection on the true qualities of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. These qualities are called the Mirror of the Dharma in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta and help the practitioner attain the true "mind like a mirror".

In the Apannaka Jataka Buddha declares:

"Disciples, nowhere between the lowest of hells below and the highest heaven above, nowhere in all the infinite worlds that stretch right and left, is there the equal, much less the superior, of a Buddha. Incalculable is the excellence which springs from obeying the Precepts and from other virtuous conduct."
"By taking refuge in the Triple Gem, one escapes from rebirth in states of suffering. In forsaking such a refuge as this, you have certainly erred. In the past, too, men who foolishly mistook what was no refuge for a real refuge, met disaster."

Reflection in the Mirror of the Dharma

The Triratna or "Three Jewels" symbol, on a Buddha footprint (bottom symbol, the top symbol being a dharmachakra). 1st century CE, Gandhara.

The qualities of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are frequently repeated in the ancient texts.

  • The Buddha: "The Blessed One is an Arahant, perfectly enlightened, accomplished in true knowledge and conduct, fortunate, knower of the world, unsurpassed leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One."[2]

In some traditions the Buddha as refuge is taken to refer to the historical Buddha and also 'the full development of mind', in other words, the full development of one's highest potential, i.e. recognition of mind and the completion or full development of one's inherent qualities and activities.

  • The Dharma: "The Dhamma is well expounded by the Blessed One, directly visible, immediate (eternal or not subject to time), inviting one to come and see, applicable, to be personally experienced by the wise."[2]

Refuge in the Dharma, in the Vajrayana, tradition includes reference not only to the words of the Buddha, but to the living experience of realization and teachings of fully realized practitioners. In Tibetan Buddhism, it includes both the Kangyur (the teaching of the Buddha) and the Tengyur (the commentaries by realized practioners) and in an intangible way also includes the living transmission of those masters, which can also be very inspiring.

  • The Sangha: "The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is practising the good way, practising the straight way, practising the true way, practising the proper way; that is, the four pairs of persons, the eight types of individuals - This Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of reverential salutation, the unsurpassed field of merit for the world."[2]

In the Vajrayana, a more liberal definition of Sangha can include all practitioners who are actively using the Buddhas teachings to benefit themselves and/or others. It can be more strictly defined as the 'Realized Sangha' or 'Arya-Sangha', in other words, practitioners and historical students of the Buddha who have fully realized the nature of their mind, also known as realized Boddhisatvas; and 'Ordinary Sangha', which can loosely mean practitioners and students of the Buddha who are using the same methods and working towards the same goal.

Triratna symbol on the reverse (left field) of a coin of the Indo-Scythian king Azes II (r.c. 35-12 BCE).

In the Vajrayana traditions, the teacher is also seen as a refuge. This can be understood on many levels including what is called the Three Roots — the Root of Blessing, the Root of Methods, and the Root of Protection. Another way to understand this is as the Body (Sangha), Speech (Dharma) and Mind (Buddha) of the Buddha. The teacher has a prominent place in the Vajrayana, as without his personal permission and guidance, a practitioner cannot achieve proper spiritual progress.

Why is it called the Triple Gem?

In Buddhism, the following three are called Gems (Ratna) as they are invaluable :

  • Buddha (The Enlightened One; Chn: 佛, , Jpn: Butsu), who, depending on one's interpretation, can mean the Historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, or the Buddha nature or ideal within all beings;
  • Dharma (The Teaching; Chn: 法, , Jpn: ), which is the Teachings of the Buddha.
  • Sangha (The Community; Chn: 僧, Sēng, Jpn: ), The Community of those great people who have attained Enlightenment. so that those people(Sangha) will help you to attain Enlightenment.


The three gems are so called since amongst all gems, the Buddha gem and Dharma gem are considered incomparable in value as they are not material, so cannot be created, destroyed or changed in any way. Buddha's mind in his earth body or sambhogakaya is frequently associated with the greatest gem of all, the diamond. In the Anguttara Nikaya(3:25), Buddha talks about the diamond mind:

These three types of persons are found in the world: One with a mind like an open sore; one with a mind like a flash of lightning; one with a mind like a diamond.
  • One who is irascible and very irritable, displaying anger, hatred and sulkiness; such a one is said to be a person with a mind like an open sore.
  • One who understands the Four Noble Truths correctly is said to have a mind like a flash of lightning.
  • One who has destroyed the mind-intoxicating defilements and realized the liberation of mind and the liberation by knowledge is said to have a mind like a diamond

With this we understand that to take refuge in the Buddha is to take refuge in the mind like a diamond, the hardest natural substance that can cut through all delusion.

The Three Gems when used in the process of taking refuge, become the Three Refuges.

The expression Three Gems are found in the earliest Buddhist literature of the Pali Canon, besides other works there is one sutta in the Sutta-nipata, called the Ratana-sutta[3] which contains a series of verses on the Jewels in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. In the Ratana-sutta, all the qualities of the Sangha mentioned are attributes of the Buddha's enlightened disciples.

The Three Refuges occur very frequently in the ancient Buddhist Texts, and here the Sangha is used more broadly to refer to either the Sangha of Bhikkhus, or the Sangha of Bhikkhunis.

"I go to Master Gotama for refuge and to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha of Bhikkhus."[4]

Triratna symbol

The compound Buddhist symbols: Shrivatsa within a triratana, over a Dharmacakra wheel, on the Tonana gate at Sanchi. 1st century BCE.

The Three Jewels are also symbolized by the triratna, composed of (from bottom to top):

  • A lotus flower within a circle.
  • A diamond rod, or vajra.
  • A Gankyil.
  • A trident, or trisula, with three branches, representing the threefold jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

On representations of the footprint of the Buddha, the Triratna is usually also surmounted by the Dharma wheel.

The Triratna can be found on frieze sculptures at Sanchi as the symbol crowning a flag standard (2nd century BCE), as a symbol of the Buddha installed on the Buddha's throne (2nd century BCE), as the crowning decorative symbol on the later gates at the stupa in Sanchi (2nd century CE), or, very often on the Buddha footprint (starting from the 1st century CE).

2nd century BCE coin of the Kunindas, incorporating on the reverse the Buddhist triratna symbol on top of a stupa.

The Triratna is also on the 1st century BCE coins of the Kingdom of Kuninda in northern Punjab, surmounting depictions of stupas, on some the coins of the Indo-Parthian king Abdagases, or the coins of some of the Kushan kings such as Vima Kadphises.

The triratna can be further reinforced by being surmounted with three dharma wheels (one for each of the three jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha).

The triratna symbol is also called nandipada, or "bull's hoof", by Hindus.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hanh, Thich Nhat (1991). Old Path White Clouds: walking in the footsteps of the Buddha, 157-161, Parallax Press. ISBN 0-938077-26-0.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000). "The Collected Discourses of the Buddha: A new translation of the Samyutta Nikaya", Sakkasamyutta, Dhajjaggasutta (3), p.319-321, Somerville: Wisdom Publications.
  3. (1990) Anderson, Dines, & Smith, Helmer Sutta Nipata (pali), 39-42, oxford: Pali Text Society.
  4. Bhikkhu Nanamoli (1995). Bhikkhu Bodhi The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta 4, paragraph 35, p.107; Sutta 7, paragraph 21, p.121; Sutta 27, paragraph 27, p.227; Sutta 30, paragraph 24, p.297; etc..

"ガンダーラ美術の見方" (The art of Gandhara), Yamada Kihito, ISBN 4-89806-106-0

External links


  1. ^  Refuge : An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha. Thanissaro Bhikkhu : Third edition, revised, 2001