When a person
wishes to become a Buddhist, the first step he or she takes
is to go to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha for refuge. Since
the time of the Buddha, taking this Threefold Refuge has identified
a person as a Buddhist.
for Taking Refuge
observe the world around them carefully, they are bound to notice
the pain, suffering and frustrations experienced by sentient
beings. A Buddhist will look for a way to end such distressing
conditions in life just as a traveller caught in a storm will
seek shelter. If the traveller is able to find shelter inside
a building that is strong and safe, he will call out to others
who are still struggling in the storm outdoors to join him in
this safe refuge. Similarly, a person chooses to become a Buddhist
when he understands who the Buddha is, and how the Buddha, Dharma
and Sangha can provide him the way to end suffering. Out of
compassion, he will also encourage others to take the same refuge.
Dharma and Sangha are called the Triple Gem because they represent
qualities which are excellent and precious like a gem. Once
a person recognises these unique qualities after careful consideration
and is confident that the Triple Gem can help lead him towards
happiness and Enlightenment, he takes refuge. It is, therefore,
not out of mere faith, but with an open-minded attitude and
enquiring spirit that he begins to practise the Buddha's Teaching.
In a way, he resembles the scientist who decides to carry out
a research project once he is confident that it will bring positive
Buddha means the "Fully Enlightened One" or "Awakened
One". It is the title given to those who have attained
supreme and perfect Enlightenment. Buddhists acknowledge the
Buddha as the embodiment of the highest morality, deepest concentration
and perfect wisdom. His followers also know the Buddha as the
"Perfected One" because He has wiped out desire, ill
will and ignorance, and has overcome all unwholesome actions.
He has put an end to suffering and is no longer bound to the
cycle of birth and death.
is the Fully Enlightened One because He has realised the Truth
and sees things as they really are. He knows through his perfect
wisdom, what is good and what is not good for all beings. Out
of great compassion, He shows people the path leading to the
end of suffering.
exemplary conduct, perfect wisdom and great compassion make
Him an excellent teacher. By His use of skilful means, He is
able to reach out to all His followers so that they can understand
taught the Dharma solely out of compassion for sentient beings
who suffer in the cycle of birth and death. The Dharma is therefore
taught without any selfish motives. It is well-taught and completely
good. It is by nature pure and bright like a light that destroys
the darkness of ignorance. When the Dharma is studied and practised,
it brings many benefits now and in the future.
is the Teaching about the nature of life. This Teaching of the
Buddha is contained in the three collections of scriptures called
the Tripitaka or the "Three Baskets". These consist
of the discourses (Sutra Pitaka) said to have been taught by
the Buddha, the rules governing the discipline of the monastic
community (Vinaya Pitaka) and the philosophy and psychology
of Buddhism (Abhidharma Pitaka).
gets to know about the Dharma by reading the scriptures. He
also learns from the writings and explanations of qualified
teachers of Buddhism. Once he has familiarised himself with
the Dharma through reading and listening, he has to realise
its truth for himself by putting it into practice. This means
purifying his conduct and cultivating Mental Development until
the Teaching becomes part of his own experience.
that a Buddhist takes refuge in is the community of Noble Ones
who have led exemplary lives and attained extraordinary insight
into the true nature of things. Their lives and achievements
show others that it is possible to progress on the path to Enlightenment.
the Sangha also generally refers to the fourfold community of
monks, nuns, men and women lay followers. Monks and nuns are
respected for their good conduct and for their experience in
meditation. They are also respected for their diligence, mindfulness
and calmness. Wise and learned, they are able teachers of the
Dharma. They can also be like trusted friends inspiring the
lay followers along the path of Good Conduct.
followers accept the Four Noble Truths and the other teachings
of the Buddha and seek happiness and Enlightenment as their
common goal in life. They also uphold common moral values such
as avoiding injury to others in any way. Thus a Buddhist can
look to other members of the lay community for help and advice
in times of need.
of a Journey
better the idea of taking refuge, one might take the example
of a traveller who wants to visit a distant city where he has
never been to before. He will surely need a guide to lead him
towards his destination. He will need a path to follow. He may
also wish to have travelling companions on the journey. A Buddhist
working towards attaining happiness and Enlightenment is like
the traveller trying to reach that distant city. The Buddha
is his "guide", the Dharma his "path" and
the Sangha are his travelling companions".
takes refuge in the Buddha as his guide because he believes
that the Buddha, having attained Enlightenment Himself, is able
to guide him towards that goal. The Dharma that he takes as
his refuge is like a path that has been well laid out. Such
a path may include signposts to show directions, bridges for
crossing rivers and steps for climbing mountains. Similarly,
the Dharma includes the rules of Good Conduct to help him avoid
unwholesome actions and the techniques of Mental Development
to help him overcome distractions. It also teaches him how to
overcome ignorance and gain Enlightenment.
in the Sangha is like having good travelling companions who
keep a traveller company, care for him when he is sick and encourage
him along when he is tired. The members of the Sangha, like
ideal travelling companions, help the lay follower to purify
his unwholesome ideas and correct his behaviour through sound
advice and instruction, and encourage him to continue his journey
Act of Taking Refuge
expresses his intention of taking the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
as his refuge by repeating the following lines thrice:
can be recited by the person alone before the image of a Buddha
or repeated line by line after a monk or master. A Buddhist
may repeat the Threefold Refuge daily to remind himself that
he has made a commitment to attain the goal of happiness and
Enlightenment through the guidance and inspiration of the Triple
Benefits of Taking Refuge
performs the act of taking refuge as the first step on the path
to Enlightenment. Thereafter, through Good Conduct and Mental
Development, he tries to achieve contentment, self-control,
a calm and clear mind, and wisdom. Even if Enlightenment is
not achieved in this life, a Buddhist who takes refuge in the
Triple Gem is more likely to have favourable conditions for
attaining Enlightenment in a future life.
takes refuge when he fears the suffering of the world and develops
confidence in the Triple Gem which can lead him to happiness
and Enlightenment. The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are called
the Triple Gem because they represent qualities that are precious
like a gem. A Buddhist who wishes to attain Enlightenment regards
the Buddha as his guide, the Dharma as his path and the Sangha
as his travelling companions. He repeats the formula of taking
refuge before an image of the Buddha or a monk. Taking refuge
is the first step on the path to Enlightenment.