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The Buddhist Path: A Preliminary Introduction

What is Buddhism? Many kinds of answers are typically given, but "philosophy of life" or "way of life" are perhaps the most frequent. In these answers, the common denominator is the exploration of life. Because of this, Buddhism can be described as a religion; a system that helps to create and maintain the culture of what it means to live life as a human being.

In defining it as the source for human culture, religion is something that must be experienced and not just studied or understood. Describing the quality of Buddhahood (the state of being awakened fully to the human condition) as the fulfillment of wisdom and compassion also makes this point. Wisdom fully understands the human condition, while compassion is its shared experience.
In living as a Buddhist, human life is explored from three distinct points of view. These are the three treasures of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. These Three Treasures are the foundations that Buddhists anchors their lives on in order to explore life as both wisdom and compassion.

This way of living, anchored in the Three Treasures is expressed as the Three Refuges. The Three Refuges are expressed in the following “pledge” that is often read during the ritual service:

It is difficult to receive a human body; already, now, have I received it. It is difficult to hear the Buddha-Dharma; already, now, have I heard it. If this body, in facing this life, does not cross over, then in facing what life will this body cross over? Together with the great assemblage, with a true heart I will take refuge in the three treasures.

  1. I take refuge in the Buddha. Truly it is my vow that together with multitudinous beings, I will understand (with my whole being) the great path and give rise to the unsurpassed heart.
  2. I take refuge in the Dharma. Truly it is my vow that together with multitudinous beings, I will deeply enter the Dharma Storehouse and become like the ocean of wisdom.
  3. I take refuge in the Sangha. Truly it is my vow that together with multitudinous beings, I will unify and give meaning to the great assemblage making it unobstructable to all.

The Dharma that is unsurpassed, extremely deep, wondrous and rare is difficult to meet even in Hundreds of Thousands of Tens of Thousands of kalpa. I am now seeing and hearing, and have gained the receiving and holding of it. It is my vow to understand the True and Real meaning of the Tathagata.

These three refuges form the general outline of this online introduction to Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.