Ever since the founding of Buddhism more than 2,500 years ago, all Buddhist followers take refuge in the Three Jewels which are the Buddha Jewel, the Dharma (Buddha’s teachings) Jewel, and the Saṅgha (the monastic disciples and the liberated ones) Jewel.
Buddha is a Sanskrit word that means “the Awakened One”, “the Enlightened One”. In Buddhism, it is a title bestowed upon one who has achieved ultimate Enlightenment, perfection in compassion and wisdom.
Historically, the word refers to the figure Buddha Śākyamuni from 2,500 years ago in Ancient India who was born a prince named Siddhārta Gautama of the Śākya clan. At the age of 29, he renounced the lay life including his right to the throne and left the palace on a spiritual journey in search of the answer to the end of human suffering. At the age of 35, he attained full enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. Thereafter, he devoted the rest of his life to teaching the Truth which he discovered up until his passing at the age of 80.
Dharma means the teaching, the Truth. It refers to all the teachings of the Buddha–Buddhadharma.
In Buddhism, Sangha refers to a community of at least four Buddhist monks and nuns living the pure life of celibacy. They are Buddhist practitioners who gather together in the common effort of attaining liberation and/or Buddhahood.
Before the Buddha’s passing, the Saṅgha was entrusted with the responsibility of leading and instructing the Buddhist community made up of both monastic and lay.
The reason the Saṅgha has been important, respected, and valued throughout history is that its members practice the higher training in ethical conduct through taking and observing the monastic precepts. Because Saṅgha members live a simple lifestyle and are free from family concerns, they have more time for Dharma study and practice. Thus the Saṅgha has been chiefly responsible for preserving the Buddha’s teachings throughout the millennia by memorizing, studying, contemplating, and meditating on them, and by teaching them to others.