The Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
In order to begin to appreciate the meaning of these three refuges, we need to have a working definition for Buddha (Tathagata), Dharma, and Sangha. Let us begin with these following definitions.
A Buddha is a person who is fully awakened to the truth; a person who embodies the truth. As the embodiment of truth, however, a Buddha is also someone who helps others become enlightened themselves. Tathagata is used as a synonym for a Buddha who is reaching out to enlighten others. Tathagata is a term that literally means come from or going to "thusness," a term that was coined to describe "reality itself." In other words, "thusness" is used as a synonym for Truth. It is from this embodiment of the truth that Buddhism gets its name. Buddhahood is the goal of all Buddhists.
The Dharma is that which a Buddha becomes enlightened to. It is the content and source of the Buddha’s enlightenment.
The Sangha is the group that supports, maintains, and protects the Buddha and Dharma by realizing the Dharma and becoming Buddhas. It is the entity that supports, encourages, and protects those who live their lives trying to fulfill this ideal of attaining Buddhahood.