Learn the Three Jewels of Buddhism -- The Buddha, a life of the historical figure; The Dharma, an account of the fundamental teachings; and The Sangha, the disciplines, both lay and monastic throughout the world.
The life of the Buddha is the story of a man. Siddartha was a human being like you or I. He was not, of course, an ordinary human being; and in this too he was like you or I. He was as distinct and separate from us as we are from each other. The extra difference in a Buddha, in anyone who attains what the Buddha attains, is that he no longer experiences his own essential difference, his own separateness.
The sense of our separation from one another, of being trapped in our own separate universes, is the very taste of human existence, and it is what Siddartha tasted. We know this is our world because we have all looked beyond it, and some of us have even stepped out of it for a dizzying, dazzling moment. But the Buddha walked out of that separate universe and never returned. What he — and those who followed him — tasted was the taste of freedom.
Since the 1960s there has been an unprecedented explosion of interest in Buddhism in the west. It is not just that a lot of people actually practice Buddhism. There have always been plenty of those, at least up till recently in East Asia. But in the west a lot of people simply like the idea of Buddhism. Some people feel able to call themselves Buddhists without
practicing it or indeed knowing anything about it at all. They have just absorbed something of the message of Buddhism from looking at a simple image of a meditating Buddha. It represents an ideal that they respond to intuitively. Others actually practice Buddhism without really liking the idea of calling themselves Buddhists. There is also a flourishing academic industry centered on Buddhism, which has produced by far the richest and most profound body of religious literature in the world.
The special place that Buddhism holds within world religions is that it is essentially non-threatening. This is firstly because according to Buddhism the use of force, even when it is just manipulation, is a reflection of a mistaken view of the way things are and therefore needs to be avoided. Secondly it is because the Buddhist view is never one that separates the Buddhist from others. Again, this is regarded as simply a reflection of the nature of things.
Buddhism is one of the most influential belief systems of today, and also one of the oldest. What makes it at once so mysterious and so approachable is that it is not fixed in any specific formulation. It is not in its essence really a belief system as such at all. This gives it a protean ability to explain itself from within the assumptions of any culture within which it finds itself. The reason it is not tied to any external forms of expression whatsoever, not even to a form of belief system, is what it is all about.
When one examines Buddhism one sees first of all smiling monks in yellow or maroon robes; one also sees images of unearthly refinement and beauty, of wild sexual abandon, and of nightmare horror. One perhaps smells incense and hears deep-throated chanting. One may even find oneself thinking profound philosophical thoughts. One may go on adding elements of these kinds as much as one likes — one may think of meditation or karma — but though all these things may be of concern to Buddhists, they do not describe it at all.
It is significant that there is no Buddhist creed of any kind. Some people may say Buddhism is basically about impermanence or the fact that actions have consequences or that it is about letting go, or the interpenetration of all things. But no agreement can be reached, because Buddhism is specifically about seeing through the notion of a consensus world out there. And as soon as someone agrees with that statement then the point has been missed. Buddhism is not actually about anything at all. It is always a direct pointing to the true nature of things, now.
To those who asked where do we come from, the Buddha would give the example of a man with an arrow in his eye. ‘Would that man’, the Buddha replied, say ‘“Before you take the arrow out of my eye, could you tell me who made it?”’
There are three aspects of the Buddhist faith, three most precious things that the Buddhist places at the center of their life. These are known as the three Jewels or Refuges: the Buddha jewel, representing the ideal of Awakening or Enlightenment to which all Buddhists aspire; the Dharma jewel, which represents the Buddhist teachings by which that ideal is realized in one’s individual life; and the Sangha Jewel, standing for the community of Buddhists, through which those teachings are communicated and practiced.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Buddhism is establishing itself so strongly in the west at a period when science and technology are in firm control of the way the world works.
Middle Way: The Story of Buddhism, 3 CDs, 3 hours and 56 Min. $19.98