This course involves lessons which lead students through a stepwise, progressive enumeration of groups of Dhammas similar to that found in the Aṅguttara Nikāya. The Course is broken up into Eight Units with each unit providing enough material for a suggested two weeks of in-depth study. The course discussion forum hosted through Discord can be reached through the link to the right.

1.6 – The Three Gems (Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha)



In a Theravadan country, the three elements which are the focus of this lesson are typically the first learned, the most central, and the most synergistic of all the Buddha’s teachings. This is the teaching of the Three Gems or Three Jewels (tirattana): the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Also referred to and conceived of as the Triple Refuge (tisaraṇa), these three complimentary bulwarks of the path are conceived of in various ways. The Buddha is both the historic, Enlightened teacher and our own awakened nature. The Dhamma is both his recorded Teachings and our own practice of them. The Sangha is both the Enlightened group of Noble Disciples past and present and the mundane collective of aspirants to that end. In this lesson, we will explore both traditional and conceptual understandings of each of these jewels – seeing them as external objects for worship, as internal mindstates for contemplation, and as prospective attainments to aim toward.

You may download the topic’s flashcard deck on Quizlet or Anki for further study.

Pre-test yourself

1) Definitions

  • Note: “Buddha”, “Dhamma”, and “Sangha” have all been accepted into the English lexicon.
  1. Buddha
    1. The Historical Siddhattha Gotama
    2. The Awakened One
    3. The One Who Knows
    4. (Pali English Dictionary entry) Buddha
    5. (Oxford English Dictionary entry) Also with the: (a title for) Siddhārtha Gautama, or Śākyamuni, a spiritual teacher from South Asia on whose teachings Buddhism is based, and who is believed to have been born in what is now Nepal and flourished in what is now Bihar, northeastern India, during the 5th cent. b.c. Also: (a title given to) any Buddhist teacher regarded as having attained full awakening or enlightenment.
  2. Dhamma
    1. The Buddha’s Teaching
    2. The Truth
    3. The Law (of Nature)
    4. (Pali English Dictionary entry 1.C) Dhamma
    5. (Oxford English Dictionary entry) Cf Dharma: Right behaviour; law; esp. in Buddhism and Hinduism: moral law, truth.
    • Note: Though other meanings of “dhamma” exist (e.g. “phenomena,” “of a nature,” etc.), this lesson will focus on The (Capital-D) Dhamma – as it is written in English – of the Triple Gem with the more restricted meanings listed here.
  3. Sangha
    1. The Order
    2. The Community of Enlightened Beings
    3. The Community of Ordained Monastics
    4. (Pali English Dictionary entry) Sangha
    5. (Oxford English Dictionary entry) The community or order of monks.
    • Cultural Note: As Buddhism has moved West, the term Sangha has broadened in scope to include any assemblage of practitioners – including wholly un-ordained groupings.
    • Spelling Note: Both ‘Sangha’ and ‘Saṅgha’ are acceptable spellings in Pali.

Review (Click text for answer)

2) Sutta Selections

  1. Buddha
    1. Nine Qualities of the Buddha
    2. Bhikkhu Khantipālo ‘Buddha, My Refuge’
    3. A Sketch of the Buddha’s Life
    4. Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli The Life of the Buddha
  2. Dhamma
    1. Six Qualities of the Dhamma
    2. AN 8.53 ‘This is the Dhamma’
    3. Ud 5.5 ‘Eight Amazing Qualities of This Dhamma’
  3. Sangha
    1. Nine Qualities of the Sangha
    2. AN 8.13 ‘Worthy of Respect’
    3. Iti 4.107 Mutual Benefit
  4. The Triple Gem (Tiratana)
    1. Taking the Three Refuges
    2. Dhp 188-192 Refuge Supreme
    3. AN 11.12 Leading to Concentration

    Review (Click text for answer)

3) Ancient Commentary

  1. Buddha
    1. The Path of Purification (p. 246 of pdf)
  2. Dhamma
    1. The Path of Purification (p. 267 of pdf)
  3. Sangha
    1. The Path of Purification (p. 273 of pdf)

Review (Click text for answer)

4) Modern Commentary

  1. Buddha
    1. Bhikkhu Bodhi “The Buddha and His Dhamma”
    2. Thanissaro Bhikkhu “Noble Warrior”
  2. Dhamma
    1. Ajahn Sujāto “How to Read the Suttas”
    2. Reading Faithfully “Your Sutta Practice Begins”
  3. Sangha
    1. Bhikkhu Bodhi “The Challenge to the Sangha in the 21st Century”
    2. Ajahn Kittisāro “True Friends”
  4. The Triple Gem
    1. Ajahn Thanissaro “Refuge: An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha”

    Review (Click text for answer)