Refuge (Buddhism)

Refuge (Buddhism)

In lay and monastic ordination ceremonies, Buddhists take the "Three Refuges" in the "Three Jewels" and are said to "take refuge." The practice of taking refuge on behalf of young or even unborn children is mentioned ["Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha", tr Nanamoli, rev Bodhi, Wisdom Pubns, 1995, pages 708f] in the Majjhima Nikaya, recognized by most scholars as an early text (cf Infant baptism).

The general signification of Three Jewels is: 
* the Buddha;
* the Dharma, the teachings;
* the Sangha, the community of (at least partially) enlightened beings, often approximated to community of monks and nuns (Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis).

In Vajrayana practice, the refuge tree is often visualized by practitioners (sadhakas), and to aid this interior viewing, the 'refuge tree' is often found as scroll paintings (thangka) or murals.


In Buddhism, instead of looking for any external saviour, most Buddhists believe one can take refuge in oneself. From the Dhammapada:

quote|160. One truly is the protector of oneself, who else could the protector be? With oneself fully controlled one gains a mastery which is hard to gain.

165. By oneself is evil done, by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone, by oneself is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself--no one can purify another.

The Mahaparinibbana sutta states, "For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone."

Faith (Saddha)

Faith (saddha/sraddha) is an important element of the Buddha's teachings, in both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. The Sanskrit word "sraddha" is translated as faith; the original word has connotations of trust, perseverance, humility and steady effort. In contrast to Western notions of faith, sraddha implies thorough reasoning and accumulated experience.

In the Kalama Sutra the Buddha explicitly argues against simply following authority or tradition, particularly those of religions contemporary to the Buddha's time.Fact|date=December 2007. Nevertheless, there remains value for a degree of trusting confidence and belief in Buddhism, primarily in the spiritual attainment and salvation or enlightenment through the wisdom of the Buddha. Faith in Buddhism centres on belief in the Three Jewels.


Often, one who takes refuge will make vows as well, typically vows to adhere to the Five Precepts (pañca-sila). Laypeople generally undertake at least one of the five, but traditions differ in how many vows is common to take. The Five Precepts are not given in the form of commands such as "thou shalt not ...", but rather are promises to oneself: "I will (try) ..."

# To refrain from harming living creatures (killing).
# To refrain from taking that which is not given (stealing).
# To refrain from sexual misconduct.
# To refrain from false speech.
# To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness.

In some schools of Buddhism, serious lay people or aspiring monks take an additional three to five ethical precepts, and some of the five precepts are strengthened. For example, the precept pertaining to sexual misconduct becomes a precept of celibacy.

Refuge Advice

Primary guidelines

To actualise refuge in: :- Buddha: commit yourself to one teacher, the Buddha :- Dharma: listen, study and practice Dharma to overcome your own delusions :- Sangha: respect Sangha and train in accordance with their example

Commit to: :- train the body, speech and mind, instead of letting our senses rule us: do not speak harsh, cynical things and avoid being judgmental. :- practice ethics and vows. :- be kind and considerate to any living being.

econdary guidelines

Referring to the refuge in the: :- Buddha: do not follow other, lower beings as ultimate spiritual guides. :- Dharma: do not harm or upset humans or animals. :- Sangha: do not be negatively influenced by any extremists or others opposing our beliefs

Show respect to the: :- Buddha: respect all images of the Buddha, treat these as if they are Buddhas. :- Dharma: respect texts, treat them with utmost care. :- Sangha: respect even piece of robes and all who wear robes (despite behaviour)

ix points of training

# Take refuge in the Three Refuges, do not seek the source of your happiness and problems outside yourself.
# Offer the first part of food or drink to the triple jewel, by blessing it before eating or drinking by reciting "Om Ah Hum". (The mantra applies only to the Vajrayana tradition. Any offering prayer may be used.)
# Encourage others to become inner beings (Buddhists) and to take refuge; but only when one is asked for advice.
# Recite the refuge prayer 3x in the day and 3x in the night.
# Follow the example of the Three Refuges, rely on them as the only trustworthy refuge objects.
# Never lose faith in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

Refuge Wording

Sanskrit version::बुद्धं शरणं गच्छामि।:धम्मं शरणं गच्छामि।:संघं शरणं गच्छामि।

:IAST|Buddhaṃ śaraṇaṃ gacchāmi.:IAST|Dharmaṃ śaraṇaṃ gacchāmi.:IAST|Saṃghaṃ śaraṇaṃ gacchāmi.

:I take refuge in the Buddha.:I take refuge in the Dharma.:I take refuge in the Sangha.

Pāli (Theravāda) version: :Buddham saranam gacchami (to the Buddha for refuge I go):Dhammam saranam gacchami (to the Dharma for refuge I go):Sangham saranam gacchami (to the Sangha for refuge I go)

:Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami (For the second time ... (repeated for each of the three))

:Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami (For the third time ... (repeated for each of the three))

Chinese (Mahāyāna) version::南無帰依仏 (to the Buddha for refuge I go):南無帰依法 (to the Dharma for refuge I go):南無帰依僧 (to the Sangha for refuge I go)

However, some substitute the above with mention of three refuge in Lotus Sutra which read, :自皈依佛,當願眾生,體解大道,發無上心。 (I take refuge in the Buddha, wishing for all sentient beings to understand the great way and make the greatest vow.):自皈依法,當願眾生,深入經藏,智慧如海。(I take refuge in the Dharma, wishing for all sentient beings to deeply delve into the Sutra Pitaka, gaining an ocean of knowledge.):自皈依僧,當願眾生,統理大眾,一切無礙。(I take refuge in the Sangha, wishing all sentient beings to lead the congregation in harmony, entirely without obstruction.)

A Tibetan (Mahāyāna, Vajrayāna) version:

:Until I am enlightened, :I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. :Through the virtue I create by practising giving and the other perfections, :may I become a Buddha to benefit all sentient beings.

Levels of Refuge

According to Atisha in the 11th century 'Lamp for the Path' and in the subsequent Lamrim tradition as elaborated by Tsongkhapa, one can distinguish several levels of refuge:

These purposes are introduced using the concept of the 'scope' of a practitioner
* Worldly scope is taking refuge to improve this life (not Buddhist)
* Lowest Buddhist scope is taking refuge to gain high rebirth and avoid the low realms
* Middle Buddhist scope is taking refuge to achieve Nirvana
* High Buddhist scope is taking refuge to become a Buddha
* Highest Buddhist scope is also sometimes included, which is taking refuge to achieve Buddhahood in this life (using Buddhist Tantra techniques)

Another distinction between different levels of Going for Refuge, given by Sangharakshita in his text "Going for Refuge" is:
* "Ethnic" Going for Refuge, when one is born into a Buddhist culture and practice is a matter more of social conditioning than personal commitment.
* "Effective" Going for Refuge, when one has taken the conscious decision to commit oneself to the Three Refuges, typically by joining a Buddhist Order.
* "Real" Going for Refuge, when the Three Fetters of Conditioned Arising has been broken and Stream Entry has been attained.
* "Absolute" Going for Refuge, which corresponds with the attainment of Enlightenment.

The "Dhammapada" on Refuge

: "Driven only by fear, do men go for refuge to many places — to hills, woods, groves, trees and shrines."

: "Such, indeed, is no safe refuge; such is not the refuge supreme. Not by resorting to such a refuge is one released from all suffering."

: "He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Teaching and his Order, penetrates with transcendental wisdom the Four Noble Truths — suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of suffering."

: "This indeed is the safe refuge, this the refuge supreme. Having gone to such a refuge, one is released from all suffering."

: — "Dhammapada" 188-192

Taking Refuge and the "Three Jewels"

Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is central to Buddhist lay and monastic ordination ceremonies, as originated by Gautama Buddha, according to the scriptures.

Taking refuge in the Triple Gem is generally considered to make one officially a Buddhist. Thus, in Theravada Buddhist communities, the following Pali chant, the "Vandana Ti-sarana" is often recited by both monks and lay people:

*Buddham saranam gacchāmi.:I go for refuge in the Buddha.

*Dhammam saranam gacchāmi.:I go for refuge in the Dharma.

*Sangham saranam gacchāmi.:I go for refuge in the Sangha.

The Mahāyāna Chinese/Japanese version differs only slightly from the Theravada:

*自皈依佛,當願眾生,體解大道,發無上心。:I take refuge in the Buddha, wishing for all sentient beings to understand the great way and make the greatest vow.

*自皈依法,當願眾生,深入經藏,智慧如海。:I take refuge in the Dharma, wishing for all sentient beings to deeply delve into the Sutra Pitaka, gaining an ocean of knowledge.

*自皈依僧,當願眾生,統理大眾,一切無礙。:I take refuge in the Sangha, wishing all sentient beings to lead the congregation in harmony, entirely without obstruction.

A Vajrayana prayer for taking refuge.

*Sang-gye cho-dang tsog-kyi cho-nam-la I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha

*Jang-chub bar-du dag-ni kyab-su-chi Until I attain enlightenment.

*Dag-gi jin-sog gyi-pe so-nam-kyi By the merit I have accumulated from practising generosity and the other perfections

*Dro-la pan-chir sang-gye drub-par-shog May I attain enlightenment, for the benefit of all sentient beings.

It should be noted that in Vajrayana, often the Guru is included in the Refuge prayer like a fourth Jewel. In the Vajrayana tradition, the guru is seen as representing all the Three Jewels 'in person' for the disciple. [Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship by Alexander Berzin, Snowlion 2000. E.g. chapter 11 "Seeing a mentor as a Buddha"]

External links

* [ A Buddhist View on Refuge]
* [ Refuge Vows] (including commentary)
* [ Taking the refuges and precepts online] by Bhikkhu Samahita

Access to Insight

* [ The Threefold Refuge (tisarana)]
* [ The Five Precepts (pañca-sila)]
* [ Abhisanda Sutta] ("Anguttara Nikaya")
* [ Saranagamana] ("Khuddakapatha")
* [ Going for Refuge and Taking the Precepts] by Bhikkhu Bodhi
* [ Refuge: An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha] by Thanissaro Bhikkhu



* Sangharakshita, "Going for Refuge". Windhorse Publications. (1997)

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