On Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem

The Triple Gem is a potent refuge for those who have firm faith in it and make it arise in their thoughts, words and deeds—i.e., for those who make the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha actually appear in their hearts. Most people at present take refuge only in the shadow of the Buddha, by worshipping a Buddha image. The Dhamma they take refuge in is simply the thought of the scriptures, with hardly any notion of practicing to the point of attainment. The Saṅgha they take refuge in is simply the sight of shaven heads and yellow robes. If this is the extent of our refuge, it won’t be able to protect us from falling into the realms of deprivation. Thus those who really believe in the Triple Gem should make its qualities reach their hearts if their faith is to be firm and not blind.

Most people at present tend to overlook the virtues of the Triple Gem because their ears are pricked for the latest news of amulets and protective charms. At the drop of a hat, they forget the Triple Gem, their eyes light up, their hair stands on end, and they get all excited like the rabbit who went running around because he thought the sky was falling.

Those who have firm and proper faith in the Triple Gem, though, will truly be able to ward off the dangers that cause them worry and dread. In terms of the future, those who have brought the qualities of the Triple Gem firmly into their hearts will have a superior refuge that will absolutely insure them against rebirth in any of the four realms of deprivation, as stated in the verse from the Mahāsamaya Sutta that reads: “Those who have reached the refuge of the Buddha (in the virtues of their hearts) will not go to the realms of deprivation (i.e., rebirth as a denizen of hell, as a hungry shade, a demon, or a common animal). When they have abandoned the human body, they will fill the ranks of the gods.”

If we are truly convinced of the Triple Gem, we shouldn’t give credence to external objects that are assumed to be sacred without any basis in reason. If we close our eyes and simply follow the crowd, we could very well make our inner refuge in the Triple Gem corrode away. Our hearts will have no principles to serve as a firm foundation and so will be prey to doubts and distraction, easily deceived and led astray.

Those who depend on the Triple Gem as their refuge will be gentle in word and deed. Their thoughts will refer to their refuge as a constant theme, at the same time pondering the truth of their condition: “We are born because of our actions, live because of our actions, die because of our actions. If we do good we will meet with good; if we do evil, we will meet with evil. No one else can come and provide for our fate.” When we develop this theme constantly, convinced of its truth, it is as if we were repeating an invincible protective spell. This qualifies as one kind of foundation that Buddhism provides for the heart.