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?
Great post, can you tell me are you writing from a Theravada or Mahayana approach?
I wrote a similar piece from the Vajrayana perspective https://quantumawareness.net/refuge/
You covered some of the dangers or traps quite well, that one can fall into.
Are you interested in a dialogue?
Thank you for taking time to write. My article is inspired from a passage in the book chronicles of Buddha.
I guess the source is therefore Theravadian.
Personally, I believe Buddha and Dharma cannot be self contradictory. Therefore I try to reconcile differences in the various traditions whenever I can.
Dialogue is good and welcome.
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Great, I am curious about how the Theravadan schools see taking refuge in the three roots, lama, yidams and protectors? Perhaps similar ideas exist there as well but I don’t know?
In our relative world there is no literal similarity of refuge in the 3 roots in Theravadian (i think) However I am inclined to reconcile it in the following manner. The ultimate root lama of all root lamas is the Buddha. I mean, if there is no Buddha then there is no teachings, then no root lama. So I would think the root lama of theravadian would be sakyamuni Buddha. Yidam is the qualities of enlightenment that we want to super impose on our psychic.( hope I understand correctly what I read from your blog) again I would think that qualities of enlightenment is Buddha. Protectors keep us safe from the unfavourable conditions preventing us from enlightenment. ( hope I got this right too) I think that will be Buddha too. I mean he spent his entire career teaching us how to avoid pitfalls so that we gain enlightenment.
So all 3 root refuge are about Buddha!
I had fun thinking about this question. So thank you, but I can be awfully wrong.
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I can tell you had fun, thanks. Your point is well placed, I surmised it as the Lama being the centre of it all or the uniting factor but you are correct the Buddha is the original Lama I would add that ones present Lama should be a good reflection of the Buddha’s qualities and in that light the two should not be far apart at all. Might one say that for all the three jewels and the three roots, that they are all a slightly different way of looking at the same thing? If so this is really a skilled way of making a complex system such as Buddhism to clear and meaningful to as many people as possible?
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Again a great post, Jamyang. Myself I don’t think in how much of a Buddhist I am, it’s not relevant to me, yet I feel I am a full hearted Buddhist, living with compassion for others and often to myself, the latter is the harder , I experience. What do you think about living in compassion with yourself?
Thank you for sharing Cornelia, I think compassion towards ourselves is also important. Our precious human body including our mind, is a great tool to gain enlightenment. We need to be aware of its suffering to take care of it well. Then we can hopefully help others too.
Yes , Jamyang, that’s so true. Thank you for your kind response.
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