Going For Refuge
The triratna community is part of the Buddhist tradition, and its central teachings are those that are at the heart of the tradition as a whole. That is to say, it is devoted to following the Buddhist path. But the triratna community’s relationship to the Buddhist tradition is governed by several founding principles:
- the central role of what is called ‘Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels’ in the Buddhist spiritual life,
- concentrating on the fundamental Buddhist teachings, and
- drawing inspiration from the whole of the Buddhist tradition.
Outward forms of the triratna community vary in the differing cultures where its members live, and they have developed over time, but these principles unify the movement and underlie its particular manifestations.
Going For Refuge To The Three Jewels
The purpose of all Buddhist schools is to teach a path to Enlightenment that will enable practitioners to become like the Buddha. What makes someone a Buddhist is their commitment to this endeavour, and all the doctrines, practices, institutions, and schools of Buddhism are useful to the extent that they help people to follow the Buddhist path. The traditional way in which Buddhists of all schools express this commitment is to say that they ‘go for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha’ (the Three Jewels).
Our founder, Sangharakshita, emphasizes that the Buddhist tradition is united by the defining act of Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels. This is the key to being a Buddhist, though some schools may well have lost sight of its full significance. Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels is the central principle or orientation of the triratna community, and all its activities are understood in relation to it.
The whole Buddhist tradition derives from the Buddha, and all Buddhist traditions regard him as their ultimate founder, guide, and inspiration. Going for Refuge to the Buddha means seeing the historical Buddha and one’s ultimate teacher and spiritual guide. It also means committing oneself to achieving Buddhahood – Enlightenment for the sake of all beings – which is the goal of the Buddhist spiritual life. In other words, Going for Refuge to the Buddha means taking the Buddha as a guide and exemplar, deciding that he is one’s personal spiritual ideal, and that one’s life will be devoted to becoming Awakened like him.
‘Dharma’ means the teachings of the Buddha, the path to Enlightenment, and also the truth the Buddha himself realized. It is the content and expression of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. So regarding the Dharma as a Refuge means seeing these teachings as the best guide to reality, and committing oneself to practicing them.
If we are to practice the Dharma we need the example of others who have done so before us – especially those who have gained insight into reality themselves. These people are collectively known as the ‘Aryasangha’, or spiritual community of the noble ones. More broadly, sangha also refers to the people with whom we share our spiritual lives. We need the guidance of personal teachers who are further along the path than we are, and the friendship of other practitioners.
The Three Jewels are not refuges in the sense that they enable us to avoid life’s difficulties. The point is that worldly values cannot be relied on, but the ultimate aim of Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels is that one becomes the Three Jewels, one ultimately reaches Buddhahood, and one also realizes the Dharma and joins the Aryasangha. Then one is free from the fear and craving that are the causes of suffering. So Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels is not about believing in things that are external to oneself so much as orienting one’s life in relation to ideals that go far beyond ordinary experience, and drawing one’s values from them.
Sangharakshita emphasizes that Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels is the central and defining act of the Buddhist spiritual life. In a tradition that goes back to the Buddha, reciting the verses of Going for Refuge is the act by which one becomes a Buddhist, and every day around the world millions of Buddhists reassert their devotion to them.
Sangharakshita also emphasizes that Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels is not something one does once. It is how one orients one’s life, not a single event or action. So one can say that the Buddhist spiritual life consists in Going for Refuge more and more deeply. Whatever stage one has reached, the task is always to take the next step in transforming one’s actions, thoughts, and values into those embodied by the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
The Three Jewels represent ideals that are true for all people at all times, so they embody the dimension of Buddhism that transcends culture. Therefore they provide a way of identifying what in the Buddhist tradition is relevant to today’s practitioners. Practicing Buddhism means going more and more deeply for Refuge to the Three Jewels.
Stressing Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels is a way of emphasizing the purpose of the Buddhist path and the spirit that animates it. For the individual Buddhist, Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels means seeing one’s life in a mythic context, in which one acts against the backdrop of these timeless truths abd strives to realize them for oneself. This contrasts with the materialist and historicist world-view offered by secular society. So far as the tbc is concerned, all its practices, teachings, and institutions are intended as aids on the path and the means by which to go for Refuge more deeply.