When first I read the Buddhist Confession of Faith called the "Three Jewels," I recognized it as the true foundation of my own beliefs:
I go to Buddha for refuge;
I go to Dharma for refuge;
I go to Sangha for refuge.
My "refuge" was not any external shelter or protection, but an inner sanctuary, a holy place within myself, "Buddha" was not a single person, but the idea of all those who devote their lives to improving the human condition. And "Dharma" was not any particular doctrine, but an ever-growing realization that everything in life, every moment, is alive with truth. Most of all, I found sanctuary in "Sangha," the idea of mankind, humanity, evolving toward a conscious, interdependent unity of mutual assistance.
These "jewels" remained relatively unchanged for me until I heard them expressed as moral obligations: duty to the teacher, duty to the teachings, and duty to the brethren. But this simplified interpretation often leads people to lay too great emphasis on one of the three at the expense of the other two.
There are many whose duty to the teacher becomes so important that they deify him: some try to visualize his face, hear his voice, have him actually manifest before them; others seek to have the teacher speak or act through them.
Then there are those who devote themselves solely to the teachings. They often become dogmatic, quoting chapter and verse in support of rigidly held interpretations. If the teachings include some kind of practice or ritual, this can become mere ceremonial, while the true meaning is forgotten. All that remains is then the outward form.
Finally, there are those who have no particular interest in any teachers or teachings. They simply believe in universal brotherhood, the oneness of life. They have a genuine concern for others and are constantly striving for communion in the act of sharing.
After reflecting on all this, I began to ask myself: Doesn't the true essence of each teacher manifest in his teachings? And what is the purpose of the teachings, if not to guide, to show the way, to provide the keys whereby each of us can discover truth within ourselves and share it with others?
The manifestation of the Buddha or any other teacher is in the Dharma, the universal ideas which describe the unity of life and the dignity of mankind. They are the touchstones by which all people can recognize the truth in themselves and help others to do the same. And both the Buddha and the Dharma, the teacher and the teachings, manifest to their fullest extent in our genuine, thoughtful concern for one another.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1982. Copyright © 1982 by Theosophical University Press)