Taking Refuge


To become a Buddhist is to take refuge in the Three Jewels, also called the Three Treasures. The Three Jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

The idea behind taking refuge is that when it starts to rain, we like to find a shelter. The Buddhist shelter from the rain of problems and pain of life is threefold: the Buddha, his teachings (the Dharma) and the spiritual community (the Sangha). Taking refuge means that we have some understanding about suffering, and we have confidence that the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha (the “Three Jewels“) can help us.

We like to be free from suffering, now and in future lives. When we understand the frustrating nature of all life, we like to be freed from cyclic existence in general. The best reason would be the wish to free all living (sentient) beings from suffering.

The analogy of sickness is often used; Buddha is the doctor; Dharma is the medicine; Sangha is the nurse; we are the patient; the cure is taking the medicine, which means practicing the methods. Taking refuge is like unpacking the medicine and deciding to follow the doctor’s advice. “To take refuge in the Buddha is to take refuge in someone who has let go of holding back just as you can do. To take refuge in the dharma is to take refuge in all the teachings that encourage you and nurture your inherent ability to let go of holding back. And to take refuge in the sangha is to take refuge in the community of people who share this longing to let go and open rather than shield themselves.The support we give each other as practitioners is not the usual samsaric support in which we all join the same team and complain about someone else. It’s more that you’re on your own, completely alone, but it’s helpful to know that there are forty other people who are also going through this all by themselves. That’s very supportive and encouraging. Fundamentally, even though other people can give you support, you do it yourself, and that’s how you grow up in this process, rather than becoming more dependent.” 
From the book ‘Start Where You Are’ by Pema Chödrön

Taking refuge in the Buddha means that we are willing to spend our life reconnecting with the quality of being continually awake. Every time we feel like taking refuge in a habitual means of escape, we take off more armor, undoing all the stuff that covers over our wisdom and our gentleness and our awake quality. We’re not trying to be something we aren’t; rather, we’re reconnecting with who we are. So when we say, “I take refuge in the Buddha,” that means I take refuge in the courage and the potential of fearlessness, of removing all the armor that covers this awakeness of mine. I am awake; I will spend my life taking this armor off. Nobody else can take it off because nobody else knows where all the little locks are, nobody else knows where it’s sewed up tight, where it’s going to take a lot of work to get that particular iron thread untied. You have to do it alone. Pema Chödrön 


If we decide to go for refuge in the three jewels, we should also commit ourselves to the path we choose by keeping vows.
The one mandatory vow, always implicit in taking refuge, is not wanting to harm other sentient beings. Please note that depending on tradition and teacher, some differences can appear in the exact definitions of the vows.

Optional other vows are:

1. Not killing: refers to humans and animals; it is both harming sentient beings.
2. Not stealing: not taking what is not given; (this includes not paying taxes).
3. No sexual misconduct: refers usually to committing adultery (having sex with others when married).
4. Not lying: refers usually to not lying about spiritual attainments, but can include all lying.
5. No intoxicants; refers traditionally to alcohol, but anything robbing clarity of mind (like drugs) is usually included.


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