What are the Buddhist refuges all about?
A refuge is a place where we may turn for comfort, insight, peace and wellbeing. Traditionally there are three refuges or "three jewels": the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.
Refuges are not magical incantations or blood oaths. They're a way to set a frame of mind and heart wisely.
They are often taken at the beginning of a retreat. I like to take them at the beginning of the day when I do my early morning sitting. Traditionally they take the form of three repetitions:
When I'm teaching, I to like translate the second repetition:
Buddha refers to our own Buddha nature, the truth of who we are (and aren't) underneath our layers of confusion and illusion.
Dhamma literally means "law" as in "the laws of nature" or more loosely "the truth of how things actually are whether I believe it or not." So we take refuge in truth, not our opinions of truth.
Sangha means "gathering of those on the path," or "the community of fellow seekers." This community includes those who have gone before us as well those we know personally today. I draw great inspiration knowing that tens of thousands of people have walked this way with great success. I take refuge in their wisdom, guidance, inspiration, and success. I like to include this explicitly with this refuge.
I've posted an article (Click here) which unpacks this further.