As the second of the 'Three Jewels' (Tib. Konchog Sum - Skt. Triratna) or Three Sources of Refuge, the term DHARMA refers in its common use, to the Buddhadharma also known as Three Baskets, or Three Pitakas, from the Sanskrit tripitaka.

When the Buddha's outer teachings were collected together and formalized, they were arranged into three lots which were called the "Three Baskets":

  • Basket of Discipline - Vinaya-pitaka. The Vinaya-pitaka contained the codes of disciplines for lay practitioners and monastics, though it is mainly concerned with the latter since these are much more extensive;
  • Basket of Discourses - Sutra-pitaka. The sutra pitaka contained the general discourses of the Buddha;
  • Basket of Abhidharma - Abhidharma-pitaka.    The Abhidharma-pitaka contained the metaphysical teachings.

There are also the esoteric teachings of the Buddha, called Tantras (Tib. gyud - Skt. tantra).  When the esoteric teachings are spoken of in relation to the exoteric teachings, all three baskets are summed up and called the 'do-de' - the 'sutra section' and the tantras are called the 'gyud-de', the 'tantra section'; the 'sutra section' in that case should not be confused with the sutra pitaka as one of the three baskets. Also, the tantra pitaka is referred to as the de-nod zhi-pa - The fourth basket.

While the word ‘dharma’ is most commonly used to refer to the liberating teachings that lead a devotee on the Path to Liberation, the term itself has ten separate meanings, which we will look at further on.    

The results obtained by listening, studying and practicing the Buddhadharma vary in accordance with the vehicle used, wether Shravakayana - Pratyekabuddhayana - Bodhisattvayana respectively leading to realizing the state of:

  • An Arhat;
  • A Pratyekabuddha;
  • A Buddha.

In each case, there are five Paths that must be completed in order to achieve the result:

  1. The Path of Accumulation;
  2. The Path of Union;
  3. The Path of Seeing;
  4. The Path of Meditation;
  5. The Path of No-more Learning.

To provide further insight into the subject there is a brief explanation of two related topics below:

  1. The ten meanings of the word Dharma;
  2. The Ten Dharma Activities suitable for a Buddhist practitioner.

First, the ten meanings of the word ‘Dharma’:

The source of this teaching is a commentary written by the great Acharya Vasubhandu (Tib. 'lob pön chenpo yig nyen'). He is considered as one of the 'Six Ornaments Who Beautified Jambuvipa', six particularly great Buddhist Masters who appeared while Buddhism flourished in India.

These six are:

  1. Nagarjuna, (Tib. 'Lu drub');
  2. Aryadeva, (Tib. 'Phag pa lha');
  3. Asanga, (Tib. 'Thog-med');
  4. Vasubhandu, (Tib. 'Yig-nyen');
  5. Dignaga, (Tib. 'Chog-lang');
  6. Dharmakirti, (Tib. 'chö drag').

Acharya Vasubhandu, wrote eight major texts on Buddhist philosophy called ‘The Eight Prakarana', (Tib. 'pra ka ra Na de gyäd'. The seventh text, the "Vakhyayukti' -  (Tib. 'nampar shädpa'i rigpa'), is the source that explains the ten meanings of the term Dharma in ancient Indian texts.

These meanings are given as follows,

  1. Knowable phenomena - (Tib. 'Shey ja'): It means all 'that which can be known', or 'that which can be an object of knowing'. It can be used in the sense of what can be known in general and can be used to mean the object that is known by an individual;
  2. Path - (Tib. 'Lam'): The Tibetan word stand as an abbreviation of 'lam gyi den pa' - 'the truth of the Path', or the Fourth Noble Truth'. More precisely, it is the name of the first of the 'the four aspects of the truth of Path' -  'lam gyi den pa'i nam pa zhi'.
  3. Nirvana - (Tib. 'Nya-ngän lay däy-pa'): Nirvana is the result obtained by practicing the Buddhist path through to its end, which is the end of suffering - (Tib, 'dug ngal'). This result is defined in different ways in accordance with the particular Buddhist path that is being practiced. The original Sanskrit means literally 'to be snuffed out' and the example the Buddha gave was like a lamp that has been extinguished. However, this definition is accepted only in the Lesser Vehicle and not in the Greater Vehicle or in the Vajra Vehicle. The Tibetan term means 'to have gone beyond, to have transcended, misery and pain'.
  4. Mental object - (Tib. 'Yid-kyi-yul'): Any object of the conscious mind. This means that which is known by the mind consciousness.  The object of the mind consciousness is phenomena (Tib. 'chö') with the particular meaning of anything which can be known by the conscious mind.
  5. Merit - (Tib. 'Söd-nam'): This term refers to positive karma (Tib. 'lay kar po'); i.e. 'that which will produce a pleasant result'.
  6. Human life - (Tib. 'Mi-Tshe'): Including the ideas of life-time and life-span.
  7. Religious teaching - (Tib. 'Sung-rab'): Literally 'excellent speech', meaning a collection of discourses given by an eminent spiritual person which have been written down for posterity. For example, the discourses of the Buddha as preserved in writing. As recorded in the sutras, the excellent speech of the Buddha is divided into twelve branches of the excellent speech - (Tib. 'sung rab kyi yan lag chu nyi').
  8. Material objects made of the five elements - (Tib. 'Jung-gyur'): These are to be understood as the objects of the five senses, (Tib. 'jung wa nga'): 
    • Visible forms (Tib. 'zug');
    • Sounds (Tib. 'dra');
    • Smells (Tib. 'dri'); 
    • Tastes (Tib. 'ro');
    • Tangible (Tib. 'reg ja').
  9. Regulation which must be followed - (Tib. 'Ngey'): Something definite. Some rules that are absolute, ultimate, related to samaya or the inner essence. This is related to the clarity aspect of the mind and subsequent sense of integrity.
  10. Religion - (Tib. 'Chö-lug'): In the sense of a religious system or tradition, as well as in the sense of school, lineage or system of Dharma.

Secondly, the Ten Dharma Activities suitable for a Buddhist practitioner:

Called in Tibetan 'chö kyi chöd pa chu', the ten Dharma activities mean ten religious activities for Buddhists to follow. Lord Buddha Shakyamuni described ten different activities which were suitable for his followers to engage in as part of a life of Dharma.

  1. Writing the letters, (Tib. 'Yige driwa' -Skt. 'lekhana'): This means to transcribe the written teachings of the Buddha. Traditionally, it refers to the practice of transcribing the words of the Buddha, the sutras, etc., from an original text so as to make a copy. The tendency today is to make photocopy or scan and print. It is a sign of degeneration of the Dharma. One should remember that, as mentionned by Guru Rinpoche, calligraphy is one of the entrances to Dharma. 'Yige driwa' is a most excellent activity and certainly not a waste of precious time.
  2. Making offerings, (Tib. 'Chödpa bulwa' - Skt. 'pujana'): This means to worship the Three Jewels and three roots by making ceremonial offerings or performing puja to them.
  3. Performing generosity, (Tib. 'jinpa tongwa' - Skt. 'dana'): This means engaging in the practice of giving or the practice of 'Dana Paramita'.
  4. Listening to Dharma, (Tib. 'chö nyänpa' - Skt. 'shravana'): In Buddhist texts this usually means to listen to the Buddhadharma, the Buddha's teachings in order to develop the wisdom of listening (Tib. 'tödpa lay jungwa'i sherab').
  5. Holding the Dharma, (Tib. 'dzin pa' - Skt. 'udgrahana'): This means 'retention' of the dharma teachings: having read or heard the teaching, endeavor to keep it in mind, to remember it. It has to do with the studying part and will help to acquire the wisdom of studying (Tib. 'sam pa lay jung-wa'i sherab').
  6. Reading Dharma, (Tib. 'log pa' - Skt. 'vacana'): This verb has the general sense of being involved with books and letters and does not only mean 'to read'. It means 'to read' in the sense of looking at and understanding letters. However it does not mean silent reading only, it can equally mean reading out loud. Tibetan culture has a habit of reading out loud as part of the learning process.
  7. Explaining the Dharma, (Tib. 'chäd pa' - Skt. 'prakashana'): This means to explain something verbally, to expound something to others so they understand it more clearly.  The verb is often used where an explanation of some subject is being given. In this context it refers to explaining points of dharma, (Tib. 'chö kyi näd chäd pa'). It is considered as one of the three activities of the learned one, (Tib. 'khä pa'i ja wa sum') often referred to as 'explanation, debate, and composition', (Tib. 'chäd-tsöd-tsom').
  8. Recitation, (Tib. 'khatön du jawa' - Skt. 'svadhyaya'): To perform recitations of dharma-related texts, liturgies, sutras, etc. or saying one's own prayers out loud.
  9. Contemplating the meaning of Dharma, (Tib. 'chökyi dön sempa' - Skt. 'cintana'): So as to develop the wisdom of studying, (Tib. 'sampa lay jung-wa'i sherab').
  10. Meditating on the meaning of Dharma, (Tib. 'chökyi dön gompa' - Skt. 'bhavana'): In order to develop the wisdom of practicing. (Tib. 'gompa lay jung wa'i sherab').

In conclusion it is important to understand the need for studying and then practicing these ten aspects of Dharma activity by which one will ensure that one's Dharma practice is complete and effective. We often see our practice going nowhere or being competitive. This is generally the result of neglecting one of these aspects and going to selective. It is similar to a plant that is given too much sun or wind and not enough good soil or water: the result will be poor!