The Buddha knew it would be difficult for people to follow his teachings on their own, so he established the Three Refuges for them to rely on A refuge is a place to go for safety and protection, like a shelter in a storm. Taking refuge does not mean running away from life. It means living life in a fuller, truer way.
Taking refuge is also like a man traveling for the first time to a distant city. He will need a guide to show him which path to follow and some traveling companions to help him along the way.
- The Buddha is the guide and example.
- The Dharma is the path (teachings).
- The Sangha are the teachers or companions along the way. Sangha means "harmonious community".
THE THREE REFUGES by Charlene Jones
One quality of our human minds and hearts is the power of focus: what we focus on grows in power. Tibetan Buddhist practice provides many ways for us to explore this principal. In Refuge Practice for example, we focus on creation of shelter and safety, a haven to which we can retreat and from which we can emerge replenished.
The Three Refuges
Taking Refuge in the Buddha does not mean we expect Buddha to save us! Taking Refuge in Buddha means we reflect upon the power this one man demonstrated through his commitment to achieving his goal. He gained his goal through diligent efforts and hard work. We recognize we too have potential, to unfold inner talents, explore the unknown and awaken to the beauty and mystery of being alive. We take strength and gain confidence from recalling the Buddha's struggle and eventual success.
We take Refuge in the Dharma. The word dharma has many translations. The one I like for its simplicity is "Law". Dharma is the law of how our human awareness works on this planet. One way we can clearly see how our human awareness works is by looking at the past: we are not the same person we were ten years ago. Likewise we are not the same species who came down from the trees, we are not exactly the same as those who first learned to read the written word, an estimated 3000 years ago. You are not the same child who learned to walk many years ago. We are constantly changing and in this change whether we always see it or not, we learn. This is the law. We take refuge in the Dharma or law of change that we will be able to make progress, to grow from our current state to increased understanding and awareness.
Finally we take Refuge in the Sangha. Originally, the Sangha included only members of the Order, monks and nuns. Now, we open this Refuge to include all suitable friends. Suitable friends means people who support your efforts toward living a more wholesome, balanced and dynamic life. This means people who meditate formally, as well as those who encourage your growth and exploration in other ways. We take refuge, then, in everyone who helps us on our path to increased understanding.
In summary, taking refuge helps us. We gain a sense of safety and shelter from bringing to our minds the power of the Buddha's life and how one man achieved his goals and by the law of human awareness that allows us to know it is possible - that in fact it is our destiny to grow in understanding. As my teacher, Namgyal Rimpoche stated emphatically "You will overcome your hindrances, doubts, and self loathing. It is the Law." Finally, taking refuge creates a more powerful bond with others who intend to walk the path of this life with love and joy, awareness and understanding as their refuge and their goal.
As we consciously, with intent and purpose invoke a feeling of Refuge in our lives, we help bring about the conditions of Refuge: a sense of shelter from the chaos in life, and in this shelter a renewed sense of strength and confidence in our direction and in the support upon which we stand. As we feel these qualities we naturally reach out to help others. As we reach out to help others, we create the conditions of Refuge we so desire.