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What Are the Three Kinds of Jewels?

I chose ”Jewels” as the title of the book because in Buddhism jewels are used as a metaphor for something of immense spiritual preciousness.

A person is considered to have become a Buddhist when they accept as the basic foundation of their life the “three jewels,” referring to the Buddha (the fully awakened person), the Dharma (the Buddhist teachings), and the Sangha (the community of fellow Buddhists). (

For Buddhists of all schools, the three jewels are the object of ultimate reliance and respect. This imagery of jewels also can help explain how these divergent schools can live in harmony.

Buddhist teachings tell us to see all living beings as precious jewels. You and I, along with all beings, are like jewels that are linked together in the vast web of the universe, each jewel reflecting all the others. Each jewel has an outer and inner aspect.

The outer jewels are talked about through the metaphor of Indra’s Net of Jewels. Indra’s net is known in East Asia through the teachings of the Huayen school of Buddhism, which is based on the Flower Garland Sutra and related writings. ( The metaphor is now often cited by Buddhists in North America and beyond.

Picture an expansive net extending endlessly in all directions throughout the universe. At each of its nodes hangs a shimmering jewel. Each jewel is connected to all the other jewels, even to those so distant that they are not even visible from one location.No jewel shines by itself. Each one needs the light from the other jewels to shine. At the same time, a jewel does not just receive light; it also gives out light. Although each jewel may illuminate nearby jewels with greater intensity than it does distant ones, each shines on all the others, no matter how faintly. They need each other and help each other. They are mutually linked, interconnected, and interdependent.

No two jewels are exactly the same. Despite being countless in number, each jewel is unique in its shape, size, color, and texture. Each of us is one of these jewels. We are dependent on others, yet we also contribute to others. Such is the nature of our existence, which includes our relationships with our family, our friends, our community, the nation, the international community, and the natural world. Each jewel has worth and value simply for existing and for being a part of this net of jewels.

As one of the jewels in the web, I am connected to the countless other jewels that illuminate and support me. This is the outer jewel. At the same time, there lies within each one of us an inner jewel, waiting to shine forth to help us realize Buddhism’s aim of awakening, overcoming suffering and manifesting joy, satisfaction, peace of mind, and gratitude — its aim, in other words, of achieving happiness.

To understand the inner aspect of the jewels, we can turn to a famous parable from another important Buddhist scripture, the Lotus Sutra.

The parable tells of a poor man who visited the house of a rich friend, where he was wined and dined. The poor man got drunk and fell asleep. While his friend slept, the rich man sewed a priceless jewel into the lining of his poor friend’s clothes. The poor man awoke and set out on a long journey, unaware of the jewel he now carried.

One day, by chance, the poor man ran into his rich friend, who saw that his friend’s life continued to be so hard and realized he hadn’t discovered the jewel. When the rich man told his friend, the poor man was overjoyed. He had discovered at last that precious something that had all along been in his possession.

The jewel, of course, symbolizes our spiritual potential to become happier and wiser. We all have that inner jewel, and the teachings of the Buddha are meant to help us discover that for ourselves. Our task is to take hold of that jewel, polish it, and let it shine forth.

Rev. Dr. Kenneth Tanaka is a former Resident Minister of Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church and former Associate Professor and Assistant Dean of the Institute of Buddhist Studies.

Next: What Are the Four Groups of Buddhism?



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