Teachings on Refuge

I’m going to teach about Refuge. Refuge is very important in Buddhism, it is the foundation of Buddhist methods. Refuge is like a door into Buddhism, without the Refuge it is not possible to enter the Buddhist path. In Buddhism you take Refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Why do we take Refuge in this way? Samsara means suffering of many different kinds, associated with karma and impermanence of everything around us including our possessions and bodies. Who can really help us to reduce or eliminate this suffering?

At the time of great difficulty and death we realize that all worldly samsara help is very very limited. Only Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha can helps us during such times.

When you do practice, you become confident that the Buddha is a great teacher that helps you. You become confident that the Dharma is the path of liberation from suffering and that you are taking the right path. Sangha are your Dharma companions on this path, supporting you in your practice.

Taking refuge is like a promise asserting your strong belief that only Buddha, Dharma and Sangha can ultimately help you during most difficult times.

An example might be helpful here. You can think of a good country with a good leader who is like a Buddha. He shows the right way of liberation from suffering to his people. The laws of the country are aimed at supporting everybody’s well-being and liberation from suffering are like the Dharma. People who correctly follow the example of the leader and successfully cultivate their well-being and progress on the path of liberation from suffering are the Sangha.

When you take Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, you clearly express your wishes and your beliefs in what can be helpful to you in this life. You say ‘yes’ to some aspects and ‘no’ to anothers. When you say “I take Refuge in Buddha”, this is the ‘yes’ – “Yes, I take refuge in Buddha!” I take Refuge in Shakyamuni, Amitabha or other liberation Buddhas. Then you say ‘no’: “I don’t take refuge in samsara things like worldly gods, institutions and ordinary people because these don’t help my ultimate liberation. Only Buddha can help me to become liberated.”

In the same way, a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ also apply to taking Refuge in the Dharma. Saying ‘yes’ means: “I take Refuge in the Dharma. I am taking the right path, I trust this path and I am going to focus on liberation”. The ‘no’ is, I will not practice non Dharma paths, they don’t lead to liberation. You decide not to follow other teachings that could distort your views.

Third, I take Refuge in the Sangha. You understand that your Dharma brothers and sisters can support you in your path. The Sangha also means the Enlightened Sangha of Bodhisattva’s and masters who have completed the path before you. You recognize that the Sangha as a group of Dharma brothers and sisters and Enlightened Sangha can help you on the path, whereas other worldly groups can’t support you in this particular goal.

In taking Refuge, you are also agreeing to engage with Buddhism in a certain way. In taking Refuge in Buddha, you decide to respect Buddha’s teachings, sacred objects and temples. Secondly, by taking Refuge in Dharma, you decide to respect Dharma texts and take care of these. And when you take Refuge in the Sangha, you choose to be kind to your Dharma brothers and sisters and you take care of each other.

You are not taking Refuge in the lama or Master but in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. For example, I’m teaching Refuge, I am showing you how to do Refuge practice, but you do not take Refuge in me. You take Refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha inside yourself carefully with your body, speech and mind.

Sometimes in Buddhism in the West and in Asia, people are given a Refuge booklet or card. You don’t take Refuge in this booklet or card. This is not true Refuge. Sometimes you are also given a Dharma name. You remember your name but you are not taking Refuge in your Dharma name.

Sometimes the lama cuts a bit of your hair. This is to help you remember the significance of taking Refuge, but this is not true Refuge. The card, name and cutting of hair is only to create a memory of this commitment. Again, this is not true Refuge.

It is important that you know that you are taking Refuge in Buddha from now until Enlightenment. In understanding this, now you really are able to take Refuge ‘inside’ yourself and you know: “I only take Refuge in Buddha, he is my teacher, he is my heart.”

Secondly, Dharma is what Buddha taught. He showed kindness, patience and care in body, speech and mind. By taking refuge you are choosing to take care of yourself and others through the ten good virtues. You also understand non-virtue and decide not to engage in non-virtue. You decide that you will not kill, steal, hurt others and engage in negative activities and behavior…

Now you understand Refuge and Refuge Vows.

Today I am only doing a short teaching on Refuge. It is important that you learn more through studying The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche and Shantideva’s Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. H.H. Dalai Lama and other great Masters have also written about Refuge and Refuge Vows. They are very clear in their discussions on Refuge.

To take Refuge you say the following:

“In the Sugatas of the Three Roots (Guru, Yidam and Dakini), the true Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha)
In the Bodhicitta, nature of the channels, energies and essences,
And in the mandala of essential nature, natural expression of wisdom and compassion,
I take Refuge until I reach the heart of Enlightenment”

This is true Refuge. You take Refuge and follow the same path that Buddha did to reach liberation. If we take Refuge like this, we will reach liberation like Buddha Shakyamuni. This is a short practice and teaching but it is very meaningful.

Then you dedicate this practice to all sentient beings. You recognize that most of them have no Refuge. You strongly aspire to complete the path of liberation and become a Buddha so that you can truly take care of sentient beings.

In Dharma Blessings, Khenchen Lama