By Judge Chandradasa Nanayakkara
“Triple Gem” in Buddhism means three things: the Buddha (fully enlightened), the Dharma (teachings of Buddha), and the Sangha (the community). They are also known as the “Three Refuges” and the “Three Jewels”. In Sanskrit it is known as triratana. Before a person is initiated into Buddhism, he must seek refuge in the Triple Gem. In addition, a person who wishes to embrace Buddhism must commit to following the five precepts (pancha sila samadana).
The formal practice of seeking refuge is also known as taking refuge. This involves the triple repetition of the following Pali formula.
Buddham Saranam Gacchami
I go to the Buddha for refuge.
Dhammam saranam gacchami
I go to the Dhamma (teaching) for refuge.
Sangham Saranam Gacchami
I go to the Sangha (order of monks) for refuge.
Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami
For a second time, I go to the Buddha for refuge.
Dutiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami
For a second time, I go to the Dhamma (teaching) for refuge.
Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami
For a second time, I go to the Sangha (order of monks) for refuge.
Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami
For the third time, I take refuge with the Buddha.
Tatiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami
For the third time, I take refuge in the Dhamma (teaching).
Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami
For the third time, I take refuge in the Sangha (order of monks).
In many Buddhist temples, we often see people paying homage in front of Buddha statues by kneeling or prostrating while reciting the above formula. This formula is not an empty or mechanical ritual, but a practice intended to broaden our understanding and our interest and to deeply deepen our faith. Refuge in common parlance means a person, place or thing offering protection from harm and danger. But according to Dhammato take refuge in the Triple Gem means to take refuge in our potential for liberation.
The meaning of taking refuge in the Triple Gem is explained somewhat differently by various schools of Buddhism. The Theravada teacher Bhikkhu Bodhi said. “The Buddhas teach as a kind of building with its own distinct foundations, floors, stairs and roof. Like any other building, the teaching also has a door, and to enter it, one must pass through this door. The door of entry into the Buddha’s teaching will take refuge in the Triple Gem which is to the Buddha as a fully enlightened teacher, to the Dhamma as the truth taught by him, and to the Sangha as the community of his noble disciples.
Taking Refuge is defined as a conscious act of will and determination, directed toward liberation, based on knowledge, and inspired by faith and understanding. Taking refuge is sometimes described as a state of mind that does not depend on others for its release.
Going for refuge is a serious commitment and it is not something you do casually. If a person really wants to take Buddhism as his path and base his life on Buddhist principles, he has to make some commitment. To take refuge in the thoughtless recitation of the formula is a degradation of this venerable ancient practice. It robs it of its true meaning and effectiveness. “Going to seek refuge” should be an expression of a genuine inner need, just as in ordinary life one may seek immediate refuge in a place of safety on apprehension of great danger.
Taking refuge in the Triple Gem is actually a profound and deeply personal action. For skeptics, such an incantation or recitation may smack of idolatry or superstition. But by taking refuge in the Triple Gem as a formal step, a person firmly commits to accepting the Triple Gem as the guiding ideals of his life, and reciting five precepts (panchaseela) he expresses his determination to bring his actions into harmony with these ideals through righteous conduct.
From ancient times to the present, seeking refuge in the Triple Gem has functioned as the gateway to the rest of the Buddha’s dispensation. The importance of the Triple Gem should never be underestimated, as it is this act that gives direction and forward momentum to all practice of the Buddhist path. The Triple Gem supports us in difficult times. They encompass values, practices, ideas, and insights that not only protect us from self-destructive behaviors, but also help us to live wisely. They help bring out the best qualities in our hearts. Having taken refuge in the Buddha as an example and the the dhamma as a way, so we take refuge in the sangha as companionship. Therefore, taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhammaand the Sangha is something more than a doctrinal or ritual thing.
Some people wonder if this way of paying homage by taking refuge in the Triple Gem is a form of prayer. Buddhism is not a theistic religion because such a person who takes refuge in Buddha does not do so with the intention of seeking his protection or salvation. Buddha did not claim any divine status for himself, nor did he assert that he was an agent of human salvation. He was neither God nor a savior, but a guide and a teacher. Taking refuge is the formal way in which Buddhists express their trust in the “Triple Gem”. Buddha said: “You must strive, the Buddha only shows the way. Those who meditate and practice the path freed from the bonds of death”. (Dhammapada). Throughout his ministry, he urged his followers to “be islands to yourselves, refuges to yourselves.
Buddha was the founder of Buddhism who reached nibbana bet in India more than 2500 years ago. He is revered by Buddhists around the world as an enlightened being. He was the teacher of the most central concepts of Buddhism, such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path that lead to freedom from suffering and the ultimate bliss of Nibbana. He made suffering and freedom from suffering the center of his teaching. He had a discriminating knowledge of the whole realm of suffering, understood the appearance and disappearance of all miseries. He was completely free from all mental defilements. He placed the mind at the forefront of his teaching and stated that it is the mind that shapes every action, which leads either to misery or to happiness in every human being. He was an exalted being (Bagava) who conquered all desire, all aversion and all illusion.
Buddha was a man, but an extraordinary man (acchariya manussa)a unique being, a man par excellence (purisuttama). When we take refuge with the Buddha, we resort to him as the supreme embodiment of purity, wisdom and compassion, the unequaled teacher who can guide us to safety out of the perilous ocean of samsara. Buddha developed virtues to such a degree that he not only became enlightened without the help of a teacher, but was able to teach the truth to others, so that those who follow his path could attain enlightenment. .
exhibited by the Buddha is considered the second gem. It is the Buddha’s teaching that guides us to true wisdom and the awakening of compassion. He stated shortly before his death; be islands for yourselves, be refuges for yourselves! Take no other refuge! Leave him Dhamma be your island, let Dhamma be your refuge! Take no other refuge! (Maha Pari nibbana Sutta). Taking refuge in the Dharma, or teaching, is sometimes described as the tradition of taking refuge in the Noble Eightfold Path and the Middle Way. These offer a structure of life that brings peace and calm and the absence of enmity, as well as a refuge. The Dhamma is meant to challenge and invite wise people to explore and experience it and allow it to bring about transformation. On many occasions, Buddha warned his disciples not to accept his teachings out of mere trust in him, but only after personal experience, practice and reflection. According to the Kalama sutta “Do not trust hearsay to tradition, nor tradition, nor people’s tales, nor scriptures of authority. Do not go by reasoning, nor by logical and methodical investigations, nor by the approval of speculative views, nor moved by reverence, nor by the thought: “The recluse is my master.”
exhibited by the Buddha could be experienced in this very life (sanditthiko), even by a person of average intelligence (paccattam veditabbo vinnuhiti). And he invites people to come and explore (ehipassiko).
is the third Triple Gem, towards which we take refuge. Word Sangha in Pali is commonly translated as community or association. Traditionally, the Sangha refers to the association of monks or nuns, in whose care Buddha placed his message after his death. The Sangha means the order of Buddhism that practices and preserves the Dhamma. By taking refuge in the Sangha, we find security and strength in following the path traced by Buddha. The third Gem Sangha characterized by the Buddha includes those who practice the Dharma according to his teachings. The Sangha is not just an assembly of ordinary people. They are also characterized by universal qualities such as; To be worthy of invitation (ahuneyyo), worthy of hospitality (pahuneyyo), worthy of offerings (dakkhineyyo), worthy of salvation with folded hands (Anjali karaniyo) and field of merit par excellence (anuttaram punnna kkhettam). On many occasions, Buddha warned his disciples not to accept his teachings out of mere trust in him, but only after personal experience, practice and reflection.