To be a Buddhist we have to take refuge in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha (Triple Gems). The word refuge means to find shelter from sufferings. Behind this simple decision lies our resolutions and faith. A firm belief that the Triple Gems offer a safe harbour from the stormy sea of Samsara (mundane world)
Is that all to it?
Since it is a conscious decision or a mental position that we took, it is interesting for us to re-examine our refuge frequently to determine where we stand. Are we still a Buddhist in substance?
There are 2 forms of refuge.
The 1st and best one is infallible. Basically, you are in refuge forever! To do that, you need to have realisations of the Truth and attained the path. You are one with the Dhamma.
2nd and most common one is what we ordinary folks do. We develop faith after reviewing the qualities of the Triple Gems with right view. Right view is important to have refuge. For example, if someone wrongly believe that Buddha to similar to Santa Claus, then he did not have the right view and thus did not take refuge in Buddha. (logical right?)
The 2nd form of refuge is further classified into 4 types
- Refuge whereby one renounces their sense of beings and totally offer themselves and their life(s) up to the Triple Gems. It’s like giving yourselves away to the Triple Gems.
- Refuge whereby one looks for support and protection in life through the Triple Gems. One has strong faith and reliance, believing wholeheartedly that the Triple Gems is the only safe refuge and protection.
- Refuge whereby one looks upon Triple Gems as a teacher. Many educated Buddhist started off like that. This is why we encounter questions like; “Instead of saying I take refuge in Buddha, can I say I take Buddha as my teacher?”
- Refuge whereby one worships and adores the Triple Gems wholeheartedly and nothing else. Many people in Asia is in this category. Sweep the monastery, wipe the altar, bow to every monk and nun, raise their hands in salutation to every Buddhist artefact etc.
There are 3 types of faulted faith that does not result in refuge in the Triple Gems
- Faith in Fake Triple Gems. For example, believing that Buddha is a terrestrial or celestial God. Or believing some charlatan cult leader to be a Buddha. In another example, a relative of Buddha viewed him as a wise reputed senior of the Sakya clan. Such views do not result in refuge.
- Faith arising from fear. For example, if a person takes refuge because he believes that his life will be endangered if he did not profess faith in the Triple Gems. This will not result in refuge. Or if he wrongly believes that since his whole family is Buddhist, therefore Buddha will punish him if he does not become Buddhist too.
- Faith arising from mundane benefits. If one views the teaching of Buddha as a means of accumulating mundane benefits such as wealth, fame etc. Then such motive will not result in proper Buddhist refuge.
The bottom line is that we need to
- have the correct understanding of the object of refuge. (Triple Gems)
- We need to have the correct motive for taking refuge
- We need to actually take refuge in the Triple Gems.
Last of all, since our refuge belongs to the type that is dependent on right view and faith, we stop being Buddhist when our view is wrong or we lose our faith.
For example, when one wrongly believes that persecution of non-Buddhist is being a good Buddhist. Or we look upon Buddha as a wish fulfilling fairy godfather responsible for our every mundane wish and fancy.
Therefore, being Buddhist is a rather personal thing. What we think and what we do determines if we are Buddhist or not. If we examine ourselves under such criteria, we may find ourselves being Buddhist sometimes only.
Are we Part Time Buddhist or Full time?