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Three Jewels and Taking Refuge

Categories: Buddhism
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Published on: December 1, 2011

I should probably start this series of blog entries with the disclaimer that I am not a scholar, expert or in any way to be looked to as an authority on anything. This is first and foremost an exercise in regular writing and a means by which I can identify gaps in my own knowledge for future study.

The first on the Buddhist list of lists is the three Jewels, the three things that lie at the heart of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dhamma* and the Sangha. Different traditions and sects have a variety of ceremonies regarding officially becoming a Buddhist but when you strip everything extraneous away it comes down to little more than a simple statement of commitment to awakening usually in the form of “taking refuge”.

Taking refuge is best described as looking for shelter from the pain and vicissitudes of life. People do it all the time and in a variety of ways, in the US it’s mostly by seeking distraction. Taking refuge for a Buddhist, however, is a statement both of faith and intent. Faith that through study and effort we can perceive our true nature, the nature of the world around us and, in doing so, free ourselves from pain, fear, worry and doubt as well as the intent to pursue that end.

Taking refuge in the Three Jewels generally goes something like this:

I go to the Buddha for refuge.
I go to the Dhamma for refuge.
I go to the Sangha for refuge.

We take refuge with the Buddha as our teacher who points the way. We take refuge in the teachings of the Buddha as a guide, in it’s study, and practice. Finally we take refuge in the community of monks and fellow Buddhists.

As the first Jewel, the Buddha is pretty self explanatory. The Buddha was the awakened teacher who realized the nature of suffering**, its source and how to be free of it.

The second Jewel is the Dhamma i.e. the teachings of the Buddha recorded in the various sutras and commentaries. Essentially this is the roadmap.

The third Jewel is the community of Buddhists. Technically this probably meant the the community of monks but those are few and far between. I’ll settle for simply meeting up with a small group of local Buddhists for discussion and meditation.

Driven by fear they go to many a refuge, to mountains and forests, to parks and tree shrines.

That is not the secure refuge, not the supreme refuge, that is not the refuge, having gone to which, you gain release from all suffering & stress.

But when, having gone to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha for refuge, you see with right discernment the four noble truths:

suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the noble eightfold path that leads to the end of suffering.

That is the secure refuge, that is the supreme refuge, that is the refuge,
having gone to which, you gain release from all suffering & stress.

Dhammapada 188-192


* I tend to use dhamma and dharma interchangeably, the first is Pali, the second Sanskrit. Tomato / Tomahto
**I’ll go on about why I hate using the word suffering in another post

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