For people exploring Buddhism, we recommend books such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Venerable Thubten Chodron's introductory series The Library of Wisdom and Compassion, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo's Reflections on a Mountain Lake: Teachings on Practical Buddhism, or our spiritual director Za Choeje Rinpoche's Deep Resilience: Tibetan Wisdom for Building Inner Strength.
More than 2500 years ago in northern India, a man called Siddartha Gautama completely awakened to the wisdom that understands reality at the deepest, subtlest levels of mind. This marked the end of his search for ultimate happiness, the complete freedom from all struggles and sufferings. This search had taken him many lifetimes. Remembering that he embarked on this path not for his own benefit but in order to help all sentient beings, he then taught this path of liberating wisdom for 45 years to whoever sought his guidance. Siddhartha came to be known by the title Shakyamuni Buddha, meaning awakened one, the sage of the Shakya clan.
The seat of awakening - vajrasana - the very place where Siddartha Gautama became a fully awakened Buddha in Bodhgaya, India.
The Buddha remarked that he had discovered a path that had been travelled many times before, and would continue to be travelled by many in the future, indicating that we too can become a buddha. All the awakened ones who reached the end of this path and taught it to others are the buddha jewel, the first of the Three Jewels that Buddhists rely on and turn to for refuge. To be more precise, a buddha is someone who has completely freed their mind from the two types of obscurations: afflictive obscurations, the unwholesome states of mind which lead to suffering, and cognitive obscurations which hinder the mind's innate ability to know the true nature of all phenomena.
The wisdom teachings of buddhas are the dharma jewel, the second of the Three Jewels. It is the dharma jewel that is the ultimate refuge since it is what actually protects us from harm and leads to happiness. In particular, the teachings on the noble truth of cessation and the noble truth of the path are considered the actual refuge. The noble truth of cessation indicates that mind's fundamental nature is pure, clear, and knowing, free from the afflictions that cause suffering.
Awakening - the cessation of suffering forever - is possible because the afflictions are based on a misapprehension of reality. This misapprehension causes us to grasp at the notion of ourselves as an independent, unchanging entity, creating the notions of me and mine. Grasping at pleasurable feelings, we pursue external objects to satisfy our desires, and rejecting unpleasant feelings, we push away and destroy beings and objects we identify as sources of our pain and discomfort. This grasping and rejection leads us to verbal and physical actions, some wholesome but many of them unwholesome, leading us to hurt ourselves and others. We must eventually experience the consequences of these actions in accordance with the natural law of cause and effect (karma). Because all of this is based on a misunderstanding of reality, it lacks a foundation and the entire process falls apart when viewed from a realistic perspective.
The noble truth of the path shows us the way to break out of this cycle through practicing the three higher trainings in morality, meditative concentration, and wisdom. Morality eliminates the coarser disturbances of the mind and prevents future suffering by putting an end to unwholesome actions and cultivating wholesome actions. Once the coarser distractions have been eliminated, the power of the mind can be enhanced greatly by developing meditative concentration. This extremely powerful concentration combined with penetrative insight into the wisdom understanding reality transforms the mind at the deepest, subtlest levels. This wisdom is a direct antidote to the root cause of suffering, so when the mind functions based on this wisdom alone, full awakening has been attained.
This graphic, courtesy of Tibet House New Delhi, summarises the entire contents of the Buddha's teachings in the context of the path to full awakening as understood by our lineage. Click the image to download the full version.
The dharma jewel was transmitted throughout the generations by masters and teachers who developed not only an intellectual understanding, but also experiential understanding of the teachings by applying and experiencing liberating wisdom for themselves. The Buddha established four groups of followers: monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen; all four groups have produced masters and teachers who continued the lineage of the Buddha's wisdom teachings. The community of noble beings who have even partially realised this wisdom and made progress on the path to liberation and awakening are the sangha jewel, the third of the Three Jewels.
In short, the Buddha taught a path that leads us away from struggles and towards happiness at both worldly and ultimate levels. He identified the causes of both suffering and happiness, and demonstrated it was possible to end the causes of suffering and bring together the causes of happiness. Understanding the law of cause and effect guides us to practice wholesome actions of body, speech, and mind, leading to conventional success and happiness. Developing great compassion and wisdom understanding reality leads us to ultimate happiness.
Buddhas do not wash unwholesome deeds away with water,
Nor do they remove the sufferings of beings with their hands,
Neither do they transplant their own realisation into others.
Teaching the truth of suchness they liberate (beings).
Buddha invited everyone to try out his suggestions and see if they work. We invite you to join us in learning these methods and giving them a go. Listen to samples of teachings given by our teachers here, or participate in one of our events.