The prospective Buddhist must take refuge in the three â€śjewelsâ€ť of Buddhism. Â The Jewels are the Buddhistâ€™s guideposts to enlightenment, their source of advisement and aid. Â There are as follows:
The Dharma: the essential teachings and writings of Buddhism, and the Buddhist way of life.
The Sangha: the religious community of Buddhists, particularly the teachers and sages.
The Buddha:Â Â Â Â Sakyamuni, the Buddha, and the essential truth of Enlightenment.
This three point plane serves, also, as the core of the major worldâ€™s religions. Â All have a goal, whether it be union with God, salvation, or enlightenment. Â All have a community that reinforces the way of life leading to that goal.
The solitary religious practitioner does not have the benefit of the Sangha. Â There is no community for them, which is perhaps why so many religious forums spring up in an age of individual enlightenment. Â Without a continuous, historical community to draw from, neither is there a well of teachings, or of interpretations of those teaching, as there is in the Torah, for example, and the Talmudic discussions and injunctions that sprang up after it. Â Many solitary practitioners may have a goal, but some, like this writer, has none, except perhaps the discovery of truth and my own self.
Solitary waters are dangerous, in a way. Â The solitary may believe that they are on the track to enlightenment, that they have made discoveries that none other has before. Â They may become deluded into thinking of themselves as a genius beyond all others. Â There is a reason why, in Tae Kwon Doe, for example, before any student may obtain their belt, they must spar each one of the other black belts in the school, to remind them that they are only one of many, and new to the title, at that. Â Without the reinforcement of humility, false pride can delude the solitary, and prevent them from obtaining the goal.
Furthermore, the student cannot compare notes with others who have been performing similar experiments, or with others who may be able to point out errors in the studentâ€™s work. Â Now, it is possible for the Sangha to become convinced of its own rightness, and to discourage students from branching out and doing their own original work, or even from questioning the authorities at all. Â That is an opposite and equally dangerous risk.Â But the true Sangha will encourage new thought, and correct only in the spirit of helpfulness.
A sprawling religious community, if it is open to new ideas and the possibility of growth and change, is more of a boon to the active spiritual seeker than solitary seeking. Â On the other hand, a Sangha (using the broadest connotation of the term) that encourages only relentless study of the teachings of the approved former leaders and current elite can only hinder the genuinely open-minded believer.
Religions based around revelation, such as the Catholic Church, are hindered by their very nature.Â A revelation from a truth-telling God cannot be altered, only re-interpreted. Â But some revelations have a specificity such that they must their be ignored or erased to enact change. Â The Church has done its share of changing recently, in permitting (but note the word) believers to assent to findings from the intellectual world, such as the Big Bang Theory and evolution. Â Then thereâ€™s Vatican II, wherein the Church attempted to alter itself to fit the needs of a new generation of the faithful. Â But in a religion where the central authority only believes itself to be guided by God, no amount of critical thinking on the laymanâ€™s part, or even on the non-elite religiousâ€™ part, will enact any kind of large-scale change.
We must be free to experiment freely and fully, and compare notes with other experimenters in the realm of the spirit. Â Who and what our Sangha shall be is up to us, now. Â But we must not let power struggles get in the way of the search for truth, whether it be in the academy, the monastery, or the Church.371d36d75e05eda735858f8e467be99c