Going for Refuge

อาจารย์ สุเมโธ

Going for Refuge

When people ask: ‘What do you have to do to become a Buddhist?’, we say that we take refuge in Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha.

Long ago, I remember superstitious people coming to my teacher, Ajahn Chah, wanting charmed medallions or little talismans to protect them from bullets and knives, ghosts and so on, and he would say: ‘Why do you want things like that? The only real protection is taking refuge in the Buddha.’ As we begin to realize the profundity of the Buddhist teachings, it becomes a joy to take these refuges.

Even simply reciting them inspires the mind. When we say: ‘I take refuge,’ what do we mean by that? How can this simple phrase become more than a repetition of a few words, but something that truly gives us direction and increases our dedication to the path of the Buddha? It’s a lovely word, ‘Buddha’.
It means ‘the one who knows.’

When we take refuge in the Buddha, it doesn’t mean we take refuge in some historical prophet; we take refuge in that which is wise in the universe, in our minds and not something separate from us. Taking refuge in the Buddha, in wisdom, means we have a place of safety. The future remains unknown and mysterious, but by taking refuge in the Buddha we gain presence of mind in this moment, learning from life as we live it.

The second Refuge is in the Dhamma, in ultimate truth or ultimate reality. We may think that Dhamma is ‘out there,’ the Dhamma is something we have to find elsewhere. Really, it is immanent; it is here- and-now. One does not have a personal relationship with Dhamma; one cannot say, ‘I love the Dhamma!’ or, ‘The Dhamma loves me!’ We only need a personal relationship with something separate from us, like our mother, father, husband or wife.

But we don’t need to take refuge in someone to protect us and say: ‘I love you no matter what. Everything is going to be all right.’ The Dhamma is a refuge of maturity in which we don’t need to be loved or protected any more; now we can love and protect others. When we take refuge in the Dhamma, we let go of our desire to have a personal relationship with the truth. We have to be that truth, here and now.

The third Refuge is Sangha, which refers to all those who live virtuously. Taking refuge in the Sangha means we take refuge in that which is good, virtuous, kind, compassionate and generous – doing good and refraining from evil with bodily action and speech. The refuge of Sangha is very practical for day-to-day living in the human form, in this body, in relation to the bodies of other beings and the physical world we live in. When we take this refuge, we do not act in any way that causes division, disharmony, cruelty, meanness or unkindness to any living being, including our own body and mind.

So reflect on this – consider and really see Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha as a refuge. It is not a matter of believing in Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha as concepts but in using them as symbols for mindfulness, for awakening the mind, here-and-now.

This reflection by Luang Por Sumedho is from the book, Ajahn Sumedho Anthology, Volume 5—The Wheel of Truth, (pdf) pp. 23-24.