The Three Jewels of Buddhism
What it means to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
BY: Robert Thurman
Ultimately, we take refuge in reality itself, because that is the only secure refuge. If we took refuge in any unrealistic thing, it could be blown down by this-and-that howling wind-but when we take refuge in reality, that is what endures. It is uncreated. It is not made by anyone. It lasts. It is there, and therefore it can give refuge. The final taking of refuge is embodying reality in our being, realizing that reality is our body and breath and thought and mind. Therefore, the final refuge is only being Buddha ourselves. But meanwhile, to whatever extent we can open to reality, we take refuge in reality, the second jewel.
The third jewel is the Sangha, the community of those who enjoy the jewels of refuge, who learn that teaching, seek that understanding, and work to embody that Dharma. They are consciously evolving toward being buddhas, sharing their understanding and bliss with others, as teachers of freedom to other beings, helping them discover these jewels. This includes all Buddhists everywhere and through time, in Sri Lanka, in Thailand, in Burma, in Tibet, in China, Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Vietnam, in ancient time and still now in India.
Namo buddham sharanam gacchami. Namo dharmam sharanam gacchami. Namo sangham sharanam gacchami.
All Buddhists say this, each in his own language. Namo means "I bow," meaning by bowing to express trust and faith and respect, to throw yourself on the mercy of another. Buddham is "to the Buddha." Sharanam means "refuge," a safe place of renewal, a resort. Gacchami means "I go." So, "I bow to Buddha and resort to him as refuge." Resort has a good double meaning, both "refuge" and "vacation resort," not just some pious act of going someplace and bowing to someone and then entering some sort of prison cell. It's like going for a rest, to relax, restore your energy, enjoy, to get some peace. A shramana is "one who goes to refuge" from suffering. We sometimes translate it as "ascetic." But I like to translate it as "vacationer," one who goes away and takes a break. Dharmam sharanam gacchami, "I take refuge in reality." I go there for a refuge. Sangham sharanam gacchami, "I take refuge in the community." I go there to join those friends who are taking a break.