As one of the oldest and most widespread religions in the world, Buddhism is rich in history, philosophy, and spiritual practices. At the heart of this tradition lies the concept of taking refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
These three elements represent the foundation of Buddhist faith and practice, providing guidance and support for individuals seeking to overcome suffering and attain enlightenment. In this article, we will delve deeper into the meaning and benefits of taking refuge in the Three Jewels, exploring how these precious gems can illuminate your path towards inner peace and awakening.
What are the Three Jewels?
The Three Jewels (Sanskrit: Triratna, Pali: Tiratana), also known as the Triple Gem or the Three Refuges, are the core components of Buddhist practice and belief. They are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and together, they form the foundation of Buddhist philosophy and spirituality.
- The Buddha: The first jewel is the Buddha. This refers to Siddhartha Gautama, who became the enlightened one after years of intense meditation and spiritual practice. The Buddha is considered the ultimate guide and teacher in Buddhism, and his teachings serve as the foundation of the Buddhist faith. The Buddha’s life and teachings offer a path to enlightenment, or Nirvana, which is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice.
- The Dharma: The second jewel is the Dharma, which refers to the teachings of the Buddha. These teachings are found in the Pali Canon, a collection of texts that describe the Buddha’s life and philosophy. The Dharma encompasses the Four Noble Truths, which state that suffering exists, suffering arises from craving and attachment, suffering can be overcome, and the path to the end of suffering is the Eightfold Path. The Dharma also includes ethical guidelines, meditation practices, and various philosophical concepts that guide Buddhist practice.
- The Sangha: The third jewel is the Sangha, which refers to the Buddhist community. The Sangha is made up of ordained monks and nuns, as well as lay practitioners who follow the teachings of the Buddha. The Sangha provides support and guidance for individual practitioners, and it is also a source of inspiration and motivation for those seeking to deepen their spiritual practice. The Sangha is considered essential for the preservation and propagation of the Buddha’s teachings.
Together, the Three Jewels provide a framework for Buddhist practice and belief. They serve as a source of inspiration and guidance for those seeking to live a life of compassion, wisdom, and inner peace. By taking refuge in the Three Jewels, Buddhists affirm their commitment to the path of awakening and liberation from suffering.
Meaning of taking refuge in the Three Jewels
In the context of Buddhism, “taking refuge” in the Three Jewels—The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—is a significant spiritual act that signifies one’s formal commitment to follow the Buddhist path. To “take refuge” in this context is to seek protection, guidance, and support on the journey towards enlightenment.
In darkness, people rely on a lamp to illuminate the road ahead. Similarly, by taking refuge in the Three Jewels, individuals can find a safe haven to return to and seek refuge in amidst the ups and downs of life. If we take refuge in the Three Jewels and appreciate the benefits they bring, we can rely on them to guide us through the sea of suffering and lead us towards true happiness.
Taking refuge in the Buddha: When one takes refuge in the Buddha, they acknowledge and express faith in the Buddha as the embodiment of enlightened wisdom. It signifies the recognition of the Buddha as the supreme teacher who has shown the path to liberation. More profoundly, it represents the aspiration to achieve Buddhahood, the ultimate state of enlightenment, as exemplified by Gautama Buddha. This refuge recognizes that the potential for enlightenment resides within all sentient beings.
Taking refuge in the Dharma: Taking refuge in the Dharma denotes acceptance of and commitment to the teachings of the Buddha as the guiding truth. This signifies the determination to follow the Buddha’s teachings—comprising moral codes, meditation practices, wisdom teachings, and more—to eliminate suffering and attain enlightenment. Taking refuge in the Dharma also entails an acknowledgement that the teachings provide the means to understand the true nature of reality and the path towards liberation.
Taking refuge in the Sangha: When one takes refuge in the Sangha, they commit to being part of and learning from the community of individuals who are also on the path of enlightenment. The Sangha includes both the monastic community and the broader community of lay followers. This refuge implies an understanding that spiritual progress is fostered within a supportive and collective environment.
As explained by many Buddhist scholars, the Three Jewels can be likened to a “hospital”, where the Buddha acts as the “doctor”, the Dharma as the “medicine”, and the Sangha as the “nurse”. Together, the Three Jewels provide a place for individuals to turn to for healing their physical and mental suffering. – LotusBuddhas.
Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is not merely a ritualistic utterance, but a deeply personal and transformative pledge. It underscores the practitioner’s steadfast dedication to following the Buddhist path towards enlightenment. As such, it involves a conscious endeavor to cultivate wisdom, moral conduct, and mental discipline as guided by the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. This act of taking refuge, while differing in particulars across various Buddhist traditions, universally marks one’s entry into the Buddhist faith.
Benefits of taking refuge in the Three Jewels
Taking refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddhism can bring numerous benefits to individuals on the spiritual path.
- Firstly, taking refuge in the Buddha can provide individuals with a role model for their own spiritual journey. The Buddha’s teachings and example of compassion and wisdom can inspire individuals to cultivate these qualities in themselves.
- Secondly, taking refuge in the Dharma can provide individuals with a framework for understanding the nature of suffering and the path to liberation. The Dharma can offer guidance on ethical conduct, meditation, and mindfulness, helping individuals develop inner peace and clarity.
- Thirdly, taking refuge in the Sangha can provide individuals with a supportive community of like-minded practitioners who can offer guidance, encouragement, and companionship on the path. The Sangha can also offer opportunities for service and generosity, helping individuals to develop a sense of connection and purpose.
In addition, according to Buddhist monks, taking refuge in the Three Jewels brings about 8 specific benefits as follows:
- We become a Buddhist, a follower of the Buddha
- It establishes the foundation for taking all further vows
- It helps purify our negative karma
- It helps us quickly accumulate positive potential (merit)
- We can’t be harmed by humans or non-humans
- We won’t fall to unfortunate rebirths
- Our virtuous aspirations will be fulfilled
- We will quickly attain Buddhahood
By taking refuge in the Three Jewels and cultivating these qualities, individuals can develop greater wisdom, compassion, and inner peace, and ultimately, attain liberation from suffering.
How to take refuge in the Three Jewels
Taking refuge in the Three Jewels can be performed in a formal ceremony or through personal affirmation, depending on the tradition. Here is a general process, bearing in mind that the specific rituals and practices may vary between different Buddhist schools and lineages:
Understanding the Three Jewels: Before taking refuge, it is crucial to have a basic understanding of the Three Jewels. This includes knowledge of the life of the Buddha, the teachings encapsulated in the Dharma, and the role of the Sangha in the Buddhist tradition. Understanding the meaning of refuge and its implications is also vital. This comprehension typically comes through study, reflection and meditation, often under the guidance of a Buddhist teacher or mentor.
Intention: Taking refuge requires a sincere and conscious intention to follow the Buddhist path. The practitioner should hold the genuine aspiration to learn from the Buddha, to practice the Dharma, and to be part of the Sangha. This commitment should stem from a desire to alleviate suffering, cultivate wisdom and compassion, and attain enlightenment.
Formal ceremony: In many Buddhist traditions, taking refuge is marked by a formal ceremony conducted by a qualified Buddhist teacher or monk. This ceremony often includes recitation of refuge vows, in which the practitioner formally expresses their commitment to the Three Jewels. The wording may vary, but a common formulation is: “I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.” The ceremony might also include additional elements like prostrations, offerings, or the receiving of a Buddhist name.
Daily practice: Taking refuge is not a one-time event but an ongoing practice. It is common for Buddhists to recite the refuge vows daily, reaffirming their commitment to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. This serves as a reminder of their spiritual path and helps maintain focus and sincerity in their practice.
Ethical conduct: Taking refuge in the Three Jewels should be accompanied by an endeavor to live according to the ethical precepts of Buddhism. This often includes commitments to abstain from harmful behaviors and to cultivate virtues such as generosity, patience, and mindfulness.
Taking refuge is a profound and personal commitment. Therefore, it should not be undertaken lightly or without understanding. Instead, it should be approached with sincerity, clarity, and a genuine aspiration to embark on the path towards enlightenment as guided by the Three Jewels.