The Precious Three are the three basic elements that Shakyamuni Buddha taught his disciples as the spiritual foundation of Buddhism soon after he began his missionary work; The Buddha, the Law, and the Sangha. Because of their supreme value, they are also called the Three Treasures.
We must remember the Buddha’ s teaching “Make the self your light, make the Law your light.” These are the words Shakyamuni spoke to Ananda, one of his ten great disciples, before dying. Ananda felt anxious, reflecting, “When the World-honored One, who is an unparalleled leader and teacher, dies, who on earth should we depend upon in our practice and life?” In response to Ananda’ s anxiety, the Buddha said: “Ananda! In the future, you should make yourself your light and depend upon your own self. You must not depend upon other people. You should also make the Law your light and depend upon the Law.”
There is no better teaching than this to sum up the essence of a right religion in a few words. The Buddha first taught, “You can depend upon your own self.” When we depend upon other people, we do not know what to do if we are forsaken by them or if they disappear. Therefore, the Buddha admonished us to depend upon ourselves and walk the Way through our own efforts. But what should we depend upon in living our lives? The Buddha taught that this is nothing other than “The Law,” namely, the truth, and that we must not depend absolutely upon others. Here the word “others” means “gods”, beings who are considered to exist outside ourselves and to be our masters. The Buddha taught emphatically that we must not depend upon such gods but only upon “The Law”, the truth.
The Law is the truth, or universal law, whose true state is very hard for ordinary people to grasp. Therefore they feel insecure in depending upon it for their mental attitude and actions in their daily lives. For this reason Shakyamuni Buddha explained “The Law” in terms of the following three principles: First is the Buddha, Second is “The Law”, meaning the universal truth. The third is the Sangha, whose meaning has been greatly misunderstood since ancient times. The Sangha is usually interpreted as meaning the community of Buddhist monks and nuns. But, as in the case of the words “I with all the Sangha”, this term often indicates the idea of a believers in a broad sense, although originally it meant a religious order or community of believers. The Sanskrit word Sangha means “A close and faithful group consisting of many believers.” Shakyamuni Buddha gave the name of Sangha to the community of fellow believers who seek the same teachings as his disciples.
People find it difficult to seek the Law and to practice it in complete isolation. They are apt to become lazy and fall into evil ways. But they can steadily advance by teaching, admonishing, and encouraging each other. So Shakyamuni Buddha taught us to regard the Sangha as one of our mental foundations.
The things on which we must depend spiritually are the Three Treasures: the Buddha, the Law, and the Sangha. If we depend spiritually upon the Buddha, his teachings and the community’ of believers, we can faithfully practice the Righteous Law in our daily lives. Therefore Buddhists always take refuge in the Three Treasures.
These words mean that “ We depend on the Buddha, the teaching of the Truth preached by him and the community which is closely unified for the purpose of believing in and practicing his teachings”, and we devote ourselves to these Three Treasures.