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.

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