This book is a short introduction to the basic principles of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dhamma (his teachings), and Sangha (the community of his noble disciples), also known as the Triple Gem or the Triple Refuge. The material is divided into three parts: (I) an introductory essay on the meaning of refuge and the act of going for refuge; (II) a series of readings drawn from the earliest Buddhist texts illustrating the essential qualities of the Triple Gem; and (III) a set of essays explaining aspects of the Triple Gem that often provoke questions in those who are new to the Buddha’s teachings. This last section concludes with an essay that summarizes, in a more systematic form, many of the points raised in the earlier parts of the book.

The readings on Dhamma form the core of the book, organized in a pattern—called a graduated discourse (anupubbi-katha)—that the Buddha himself often used when introducing his teachings to new listeners. After beginning with the joys of generosity, he would describe the joys of a virtuous life, followed by the rewards of generosity and virtue to be experienced here and, after death, in heaven; the drawbacks of sensual pleasures, even heavenly ones; and the rewards of renunciation. Then, when he sensed that his listeners were inclined to look favorably on renunciation as a way to true happiness, he would discuss the central message of his teaching: the four noble truths.

My hope is that this introduction will help answer many of the questions that newcomers bring to Buddhism, and will spark new questions in their minds as they contemplate the possibility of developing within their own lives the qualities of refuge exemplified by the Triple Gem.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Metta Forest Monastery
Valley Center, CA 92082-1409