Buddha – ‘The Awakened:’ a word and a meaning that has inspired a huge range of people and cultures for over 2,500 years. In this one word is the promise of a way to fulfil the human potential – not by belief or dogma, but by freeing the heart from sorrow, stress, confusion – in summary, to realising the end of ‘dukkha.’
More specifically Buddha refers to someone who, through their own efforts, has cleared through the fog and turmoil of the mind to Awaken to the Dhamma – the Way It Really Is. Historically, this was Siddhattha Gotama, ‘the Buddha,’ who, after his own Awakening in India, spent the rest of his life teaching others what he had realised. Moreover, during those forty-five years, he laid down guidelines through which a fellowship of dedicated disciples could train as an Order, to both realise and exemplify the Way. These disciples were samanas – those who had deliberately set aside all other responsibilities, and even family ties, to follow the Buddha's Way. So this samana life was one of renunciation, and of ‘Going Forth’ from the roles and responsibilities of normal social life. It meant wandering without a fixed home, and it entailed a simplification of needs to the minimum required for a modest lifestyle. It also required a lot of resilience, as well as the faith to live on what offerings were freely made through the goodness of other people.
Thus the Buddhist Sangha, or community of samanas, came into being: not as a priesthood or even a monastic Order in the Christian sense, but a fellowship that, through its mendicant lifestyle, rests within the larger community of lay followers. Through this interdependent Assembly of lay and renunciant disciples, the Dhamma has been perpetuated as a culture of practice as well as a textual transmission.
Thus the overarching structure of Buddhism rests upon these three foundations: Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. They are sometimes called the Triple Gem because they exemplify a precious triad of Awakened Wisdom, Truth, and Commitment. To have access to the teachings of a fully Awakened One, a Buddha; for that teaching to be something that one can inquire into and test for oneself; and to come across men and women willing to commit their lives to practising and realising its truth, is rare and precious indeed. Yet these are all available today – and monasteries like Cittaviveka are treasure-houses for this Gem. Here the teachings and accumulated experience of these two and a half millennia are still guiding the lives of those who wish to enter into it.