If we want to take Buddhism as our path and base our life on Buddhist principles, then we have to make some kind or form of commitment. The “commitment” is more like a resolution to study, to learn an understanding of how things are seen through the principles of Buddhism. “Taking Refuge” in itself is a serious commitment. It is not something we should do casually because we are in a certain place or certain mood. In order to carry out a trust connected with anything in our life, we need some sort of faith. The refuge is common to all major schools of Buddhism. “Taking refuge” makes the difference between Buddhists and non-Buddhists.
The first step in entering the Buddhist path is going for refuge to the Triple Gem (Sanskrit: triratna): the Buddha, his teachings (the Dharma) and the spiritual community (the Sangha), The first of the three gems is the Buddha, the Enlightened One. The going for refuge to the Buddha is not a single action which occurs only once and is then completed with absolute finality. Taking refuge in the Buddha it is, or should be, a continually evolving process which matures in tandem with our practice and understanding of the Dhamma.
To go for refuge does not imply that at the outset we already possess a clear grasp of the hindrances that make a refuge necessary or of the goal toward which we aspire. Comprehension of these matters grows gradually over time. But to the extent that we have actually gone for refuge with sincere intent, we should make an earnest effort to sharpen and deepen our understanding of the objects to which we have turned as the basis for our deliverance.
It is essential to clarify very early our conception of what a Buddha is and how he functions as a refuge. If such clarification is lacking, our sense of refuge can easily become tainted by erroneous views. We may ascribe him the status of the incarnation of a god, as the emanation of the Absolute, or as a personal savior.
A correct view of the Buddha’s nature would see him in terms of the title he assigned to himself: as a Fully Self-Enlightened One (samma sambuddha). He is self-enlightened because he has awakened to the essential truths of existence entirely on his own, by his personal practice. He is fully enlightened because he has comprehended these truths completely – in all their ramifications and implications – and the Way of ceasing the suffering.
When we take refuge in the Buddha, we rely upon this historical individual (Gautama Siddharta) and the body of instruction that stems from him. It is important to stress that taking refuge in the Buddha means that we take refuge in “the Buddha-mind within ourselves” or in “the universal principle of enlightenment.” The Buddhist tradition insists that when we go for refuge to the Buddha, we place ourselves under the guidance of one who is distinctly different from ourselves, one who has scaled heights that we have barely begun to glimpse.
In any cosmic epoch, a Buddha is that being who first breaks through the dark mass of ignorance encompassing the world and rediscovers the lost path to Nibbana, the cessation of suffering. He is the one who discovers the path and proclaims the path so that others, by following his tracks, may extinguish their ignorance, arrive at true wisdom, and break the fetters that tie them to the round of repeated birth and death. Buddha means enlightened, awakened or omniscient One. A Buddha is a person who has purified all defilements and developed all good qualities. A Buddha is totally free from obscurations and suffering after traveling the entire spiritual path. A Buddha started as an ordinary person and generated infinite compassion and equanimity to arrive at a state of highest bliss, and omniscience. But, as the Buddha himself said: “I cannot do but point the way”.
The Buddha serves as a refuge by teaching the Dhamma. The actual and final refuge, embedded within the Dhamma as a refuge, is Nibbana, “the deathless element free from clinging, the sorrowless state that is void of stain”. The Buddha as a refuge has no capacity to grant us liberation by an act of will. He proclaims the path to be traveled and the principles to be understood. The actual work of walking the path is then left to us, his disciples.
The proper response to the Buddha as refuge is trust and confidence. Trust is required because the doctrine taught by the Buddha runs counter to our innate understanding of ourselves and our natural orientation toward the world. When we place trust in the Buddha we open ourselves to his guidance. Confidence in the Buddha as our refuge grows through our undertaking of the training. At first, our confidence in the Buddha may be hesitant, punctured by doubts and perplexity. But as we apply ourselves to the practice of his path, we find that our defilements gradually lessen, that wholesome qualities increase, and with this comes a growing sense of freedom, peace, and joy.
Take refuge in the Three Jewels, do not seek the source of your happiness and problems outside yourself. Never lose faith in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
Photo credit sonima
Source: Thanissaro Bikhu Teachings