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Taking Refuge in the 3 Jewels

A Reader recently wrote:

I’ve posed this question on another site.. wondered what your ‘take’ was.

Following a statement that a Buddhist is someone who takes refuge in the 3 jewels.

Question: What’s actually involved in ‘taking refuge in the 3 jewels’?

I understand its accepting/realising the way to overcome samsara is through the Buddha, dharma & sangha. The 3 jewels.

However, does this mean ‘joining the sangha’? (bit difficult round here! Buddhists are rarer than a rare thing with a reason to be rare)

Does it involve any ceremony, any ritual?

Or could it just be a personal declaration, in the absence of others?
I’m personally happy to be someone who incorporates what he understands of Buddhism into his life, as opposed to applying a label and proclaiming “I’m a Buddhist!”. Although lately I’m feeling the label possibly does apply.

Currently being a husband and father occupies the vast bulk of my time. I’ll practice mindfulness within my daily life with them, meditate, read my rapidly expanding library of Buddhist/meditation books – Whilst chatting about Buddhism with the new Sri Lankan student, the companys just contracted.

But the ‘taking refuge’ intrigues me. maybe because we think of taking refuge as a physical thing and this is mental/spiritual?

My Response:

No, it’s not been any trouble “keeping it fresh” yet- all the emails keep me going with plenty to discuss. And there are thousands of years of material to cover if those ever dry up.

Although the phrase, “I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha” is indeed used in rituals such as ordination, I can’t say that I ever really gave the phrase itself much in the way of deep thought. I have always taken it at face value:

The First Noble truth is “all life is suffering.” Generally speaking, out in the physical world, “taking refuge” is usually done in order to relieve or remove suffering. If I’m out in the pouring rain, I’m going to take refuge under the nearest roof. It’s the same with the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; they help remove or alleviate suffering. They are metaphorical “shelters” from suffering. The Buddha is my role model; when I feel bad I read some dharma; I enjoy and learn a lot by interacting with (emailing mostly in my case) other Buddhists. These three sources help relieve my suffering. I’ve “taken refuge in them.”

As far as your sangha problems are concerned, you aren’t alone. I don’t know many Americans who aren’t thrilled with the selection of Buddhist groups in their area, and I’m one of them. I think the best we can do is look at the term “sangha” as a form of “community.” There ARE other Buddhists out there, and we do form a kind of community. You read Buddhist books, and that too is a loose form of community. If you listen to podcasts or watch documentaries on TV, you are still connecting with other Buddhists. You are learning something new regularly. I think that’s really about the best that can be done if there isn’t a “church” in your area.

A Sangha isn’t a building, it’s a community. There are many kinds of communities.

3 comments to Taking Refuge in the 3 Jewels

  • Bill

    A very good question. I, too, have wondered about the three jewels. Though I think I understand I can’t always be for certain.
    Great question and great response.

  • Wes Wolter

    Thanks you so much for your service. I have found extremely useful as a resource and community. It’s a huge bulletin board and it’s how I found your website. It’s got a great search feature that allows you to find answers posted by many wizened minds. I hope everyone finds it useful.


  • jake

    I think the sangha idea in the refuges is just that it is very encouraging and comforting to know that there are others out there seeking the same path you seek, that’s all there is to it. Just that simple knowledge is a very strong refuge in doubtful and depressed moments.