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 the potential in all of us to fully awake as the Buddha did.
Dhamma literally means "law." In this case it doesn't refer to civil or religious laws but to the laws of nature. If we don't understand and live wisely, those same laws impersonally may result in suffering. If we throw a rock straight up in the air and it comes down on our head, gravity is not punishing us. It is indifferent to what we want and indifferent to our ignorance. We take refuge in the wisdom of seeing and understanding how those laws work. This is a commitment to taking more interest in the truth of what is and less interest in our opinions about what we want the truth to be. The universe doesn't care about our opinions. It is what it is. The more we see what life is truly like, the greater the peace we can find.
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. And when our awareness is clear and deep enough, we can see interdependent web of life naturally supports us. Yes, bad things to happen to good people. But if we see the impersonal nature of everything, interdependence is just a playing field within which we life and within which we can thrives.
I've posted in an article that unpacks this further.
Copyright 2013 by Doug Kraft
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