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Excerpted from An Open Heart by Dalai Lama. Copyright © 2001 by Dalai Lama. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Co.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"The state of being free of suffering can also be referred to as the Dharma."

  Dalai Lama, An Open Heart, Part 4

Before we seek refuge from suffering, we must first deepen our understanding of its nature and causes. Doing so intensifies our wish to find protection from suffering. Such a mental process, which incorporates study and contemplation, must also be applied to develop our appreciation of the Buddha’s qualities. This leads us to value the method by which he attained these qualities: his doctrine, the Dharma. From this ensues our respect for the Sangha, the spiritual practitioners engaged in applying the Dharma. Our sense of respect for this refuge is strengthened by such contemplation, as is our determination to engage in a daily spiritual practice.

As Buddhists, when we take refuge in the Buddha’s doctrine, the second of the Three Jewels, we are actually taking refuge in both the prospect of an eventual state of freedom from suffering and in the path or method by which we attain such a state. This path, the process of applying this doctrine through conscious spiritual practice, is referred to as the Dharma. The state of being free of suffering can also be referred to as the Dharma, as it results from our application of the Buddha’s doctrine.

As our understanding and faith in the Dharma grows, we develop an appreciation for the Sangha, the individuals, both past and present, who have attained such states of freedom from suffering. We can then conceive of the possibility of a being who has attained total freedom from the negative aspects of mind: a Buddha. And as our recognition of the miserable nature of life develops, so does our appreciation of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – the Three Jewels in which we seek shelter. This intensifies our quest for their protection.

At the outset of the Buddhist path, our need for the protection of the Three Jewels can, at most, be grasped intellectually. This is especially so for those not raised inside a faith. Because the Three Jewels have their equivalent in other traditions, it is often easier for those who have been raised inside such a tradition to recognize their value.

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