Happy is the arising of Buddhas;
Happy is the teaching of the Good Dharma;
Happy is the harmony of the Sangha;
Happy is the austerity of those in harmony.
– Dhammapada 194
As our meditation and mindfulness practice develop, we often discover increasing levels of trust in a personal capacity for openness and wisdom. This in turn gives rise to an increasing appreciation and even a sense of devotion to those people and teachings supporting that inner trust. In the Buddhist tradition, those people and teachings are represented by the “Three Jewels”: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. “Taking refuge” is consciously choosing to be supported and inspired by these Three Jewels.
To take refuge in the Buddha is to take refuge in wisdom and clarity. Not only does the Buddha exemplify a person who has traversed the path to freedom, he also personifies the full potential for awakening and compassion found in each of us.To take refuge in the Dharma is, in part, to take refuge in the teachings and practices taught by the Buddha. However, more deeply, the Dharma is the marvelous and immediate awareness-unobscured by our greed, hatred and delusion.
Most generally, to take refuge in the Sangha is to take refuge in the community of people who share in Buddhist practice. It can be inspiring to know that others are dedicated to living the Buddha’s teachings through their ethics, mindfulness and compassion. More specifically and traditionally, taking refuge in the Sangha refers to taking refuge with the community of people who have tasted liberation-the awakening of the Buddha. To have the example and guidance of such people can be phenomenally encouraging.
Taking refuge is one of the most common rituals a lay practitioner performs in Theravada Buddhism. While it is done as a matter of course at ceremonies, during retreats, and when visiting a temple, it can be a pivotal moment when, for the first time, one takes refuge with the conscious intent of orienting one’s life in accordance to one’s deepest values and aspirations. Relating our practice to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha helps ensure that our practice is not limited to intellectual concerns or issues of personal therapy. It helps solidify a wide foundation of trust and respect from which the entire practice can grow.