Wat  Buddharatanaram

The Triple Gem

Parts of this analysis of the Triple Gem were originally used to teach new monks here at the temple and have been printed twice in book form. Now that a group of people who feel that the book would be beneficial to Buddhists at large have pooled their resources and asked permission to print it a third time, I have decided to expand it into a handbook for all Buddhist adherents — i.e., for all who have declared the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha to be their refuge. Once we have made such a declaration, we are duty-bound to learn exactly what the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha are. Otherwise, we will follow our religion blindly, without realizing its aims or the benefits — called 'puñña,' or merit — that come from its practice, inasmuch as Buddhism is a religion of self-help.

Furthermore, we as Thai people are known throughout the world as Buddhists, but my feeling is that there are very few of us who know the standards of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. Although many of us are 'Buddhist,' we are Buddhist mostly through custom, not through informed awareness.

Altogether, there are two ways of adhering to the religion: rationally and irrationally. To adhere to the religion irrationally means to adhere to it blindly, following one's teachers or companions, holding to whatever they say is good without showing any interest as to whether it really is good or not. This is like a person of no discernment who uses whatever paper money comes his way: If it turns out to be counterfeit, he'll be punished and fined in a variety of ways. This is what it means to adhere to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha irrationally.

To adhere to the religion rationally means not to follow one's own prejudices or those of one's teachers or companions, but to follow the principles of the texts; holding to the Dhamma-Vinaya as one's standard, like a legal document affixed with the government seal, carrying the force of law throughout the land, making exceptions for no one. Whoever then transgresses the law can't be regarded as a good citizen. So it is with the religion: If we want to know if a practice is good or bad, right or wrong, worthy of respect or not, we should check it against the standards established by the Buddha, which are eight in number: Any behavior that —

1. leads to passion,
2. leads to the compounding of suffering,
3. leads to the accumulation of defilement,
4. leads to over-weaning ambition,
5. leads to discontent with what one has — i.e., having this, one wants that (greed that goes beyond moderation),
6. leads to socializing (of the wrong sort),
7. leads to laziness,
8. leads one to be burdensome to others:

None of these eight forms of behavior qualify as the doctrine or discipline of Buddhism. Once we know that these forms of behavior are not what the Buddha intended, we should abandon them completely.

Thus, all of us who respect the Buddha's teachings should — instead of working at cross-purposes — join our hearts to cleanse and correct the practice of the religion. Monks, novices, lay men, and lay women should make a point of helping one another in the area of reform. Whatever is already good, we should maintain with respect. Whatever isn't, we should exert pressure to improve. We'll then meet with what's truly good, like rice: If you cook good, clean, husked white rice, you'll eat with pleasure. If you cook unhusked rice, or a potful of husks, they'll stick in your own throat. If we let any bad factions go uncorrected, they will burden the hearts of their supporters, who will become like people who cook rice husks to eat. Are we going to let one another be so stupid as to eat rice husks?

By and large, though, most lay people don't see this as their duty. As for the monks and novices, they throw the responsibility on the lay people, and so we do nothing but keep throwing it back and forth like this. When things have a bearing on all of us, we should by all means unite our hearts and accept joint responsibility. Only things that have no bearing on us should we leave to others. Unless we act in this way, what is good — the religion — will fall from our grasp. And when the religion falls from our grasp, lay men(upasaka) will become obstacles (upasak), i.e., they'll keep creating obstacles in the way of finding merit. Lay women (upasika) will become the color of crows (sika), i.e., dark and evil in their behavior. Novices will become sham novices, careless, spattered, and filthy; and monks (phra) will become goats (phae), missing out on the flavor of the Dhamma, like the nanny goat who has to go hungry because her milk has been taken and drunk by people more intelligent than she. In India, for instance, there are hardly any monks left to make merit with.

Monks are the important faction, because they are the front-line troops or standard-bearers in the fight with the enemy — evil. Ordinarily, soldiers have to adhere to the code of their army and to be sincere in performing their duties. As for the duties enjoined by the religion, they are two:

 1 Gantha-dhura: studying the scriptures. Once we know the scriptures, though, we can't stop there. We have to put them into practice, because the level of study is simply knowledge on the level of plans and blueprints. If we don't follow the blueprints, we won't receive the benefits to be gained from our knowledge. And when we don't gain the benefits, we're apt to discard the texts, like a doctor who knows the formula for a medicine but doesn't use it to cure any patients. The medicine won't show any benefits, and this will cause him to go looking for a living in other ways, discarding any interest to pursue that formula further. Thus, putting the scriptures into practice is one way of preserving them, for once we have put them into practice and seen the results arising within us — i.e., our own bad qualities begin to wane — we will appreciate the value of the scriptures and try to keep them intact. This is like a doctor who is able to use a medicine to cure a fever and so will preserve the formula because of its use in making a living. Thus, the Lord Buddha set out a further duty, in the area of practice, for those who are ordained:

2 Vipassana-dhura: the practice of tranquillity and insight meditation. These two practices are our primary duties as monks and novices. If we don't devote ourselves to these two lines of practice, we'll become a fifth column within the religion, enemies of the good standards of the Dhamma and Vinaya. Monks will become political monks, war-making monks, loudspeaker monks — loudspeaker monks are those who can teach others but can't teach themselves. They can speak Dhamma, but their hearts have no Dhamma, and so they become the enemies of those who practice the Dhamma and Vinaya rightly and well.

Thus I ask all Buddhists not to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to these problems. If we hold that it's none of our business, the consequences could well flare up and spread to burn us. For this reason, I ask that we all help one another to look after the religion.

Actually, all human beings born need a set of customs and traditions — called religion — to which they give special respect. Otherwise, we will have no principles of good and evil or of moral virtue. Whatever religion this may be is up to the individual adherents. I ask only that they respect their religion sincerely and rightly, for the sake of true purity.

If we were to use only worldly knowledge to keep order, it would work only in public places. In private or secret places, order wouldn't last. But as for religion, once people have studied so that they really know good and evil, they wouldn't dare do evil, either in public or in private. Religion is thus one of the important mainstays of the world. If we human beings had no moral virtue imbedded in our hearts, even the greatest power on earth would be able to keep us in line only temporarily, and even then it wouldn't be able to influence our minds the way the moral virtue that comes from religion can. For this reason, the practice of moral virtue is one way of helping the religion and the world.

Now, I'm not claiming to be a heavenly being or anyone special. I'm simply a person who wishes the religion well. So if anything in this book is defective — in terms of the expression or the Pali — I hope that knowledgeable people will forgive me, for it's not the case that I'm expert in a wide range of matters.


Introduction. (1994). Retrieved February 15, 2016, from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/lee/triplegem.html