Practicing the Three Refuges

Practicing the Three Refuges

How do we face and live with life’s ever-changing flow of circumstances that can bring the unexpected loss of loved ones, sickness and injury, uncertain economic security, aging, fear, the loss of control, and the accompanying anger that can arise in response to unpredictable conditions? Our hearts and minds yearn for a way to meet these challenges.

There is a way to find peace, ease, faith, happiness, and freedom amidst all this. In Buddhist teachings, there is a training called the Three Refuges, a practice that brings solace and serenity to an aching heart and mind.

What are the Three Refuges?

A refuge can be a person or a place where people go when they feel distressed or when they need safety and security. There are different kinds of refuges. When people are unhappy, they may take refuge with friends or, when they are worried or in fear, they may take refuge in a beautiful haven in nature. As they face a terminal illness, they may take refuge in a belief in heaven. When they are confused and disoriented, they may take refuge in false hopes and beliefs. The Buddha says none of these are true refuges because they do not give comfort and non-harming based on reality.

“Truly these are not safe refuges, not the refuge supreme. Not the refuge whereby one is freed from all sorrow. But to take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and the Sangha and to see with real understanding the Four Noble Truths…This indeed is safe refuge, it is the refuge supreme. It is the refuge whereby one id freed from suffering.”

Taking refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha has traditionally been a way for people to begin their commitment to practice as they find a way to happiness, freedom, and awakening.

In ancient pre-Buddhist India, going for refuge meant proclaiming allegiance to a patron, a powerful person, or god in the hope of receiving protection from danger.

On the Buddhist path, central to the teachings is that life still has dangers or poisons — greed, aversion, and delusion. The idea of refuge is core to this practice in gaining release from suffering or danger by feeling our trust and connection to the truth of each refuge.

Today, we are faced with the same internal dangers as in Buddha’s time. In taking refuge, one is committing to living in line with skillful actions based on happiness. It is an act of claiming that seeks protection by avoiding the misfortunes of unskillful intentions; to take refuge in the quality of our own true intentions.

These refuges are also known as the Triple Gem or the Three Jewels because gems are valuable, and in ancient times gems were believed to have protective powers. So the three-fold nature of these refuges lies in the fact that they can be practically put to the test in daily life and yield more real wealth than any physical gem. They lead to the true freedom from the uncertainties of dukkha, true immeasurable wealth, and acceptance of aging, illness, death, and impermanence.

Verses of the Three Refuges

Traditional Phrases:

I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.

Nontraditional Phrases:

I take refuge in my capacity to awaken.
I take refuge in this path that leads to truth and freedom.
I take refuge in those who support me on this path.

These refuges are a part of traditional Buddhist ritual practice. Please consider participating in our upcoming nonresidential retreat, “Bringing the Sacred into Everyday Life,” where we be introducing and practicing The Three Refuges, from Friday night, October 12, through Sunday, October 14.