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Interview Questions from Lay-friends

What does it mean to take refuge in the Three Jewels? What are the steps involved?


Before Taking Refuge

We become Buddhists through participating in a ceremony where we take refuge in the Three Jewels. Taking refuge in the Three Jewels brings us to the core of why we practice Buddhism. It guides us on how to live in harmony with higher principles. We seek shelter from pain and suffering (birth, death and rebirth) and from the fear of death. Deciding to take refuge in the Three Jewels must be done with total sincerity and commitment to oneself, which stems from our great love of humanity.   

Before taking refuge, one should ask the following questions and seek the answers with deep understanding and clarity:  Why do I need to take refuge? What do I know about the Three Jewels? What are the qualities of the Three Jewels?


Steps to Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels:

During the ceremony to take refuge in the Three Jewels, you pledge to uphold the Five Precepts, which are to abstain from killing, to abstain from stealing, to abstain from sexual misconduct, to abstain from lying and to abstain from all intoxicants.

One may begin by taking the refuge vow and recite these statements three times:


I take refuge in the Buddha.

I take refuge in the Dharma.

I take refuge in the Sangha.

The statement, “I take refuge,” means that we are entrusting the Three Jewels to be dependable guides that we can rely on in life. With this action, we establish a solid foundation as the Three Jewels become the primary focus of our lives.

The Buddha

We commit ourselves to the path that was designed and strategized by Buddha and the followers of his teachings almost 2,600 years ago. I take refuge in the Buddha. The Buddha is "the Fully Enlightened one or Fully Awakened one" and sees things as they truly are. “Buddha” is a title that is applied to those who have perfect wisdom and universal compassion. The Buddha has also put an end to the three poisons: greed, hatred and delusion. By taking refuge in the Buddha as our spiritual teacher, we are relying on the inspiration of the Buddha’s life. We have the potential to pursue the Buddhist path toward wisdom, compassion and enlightenment and achieve the same state of being “Fully Awakened” as the Buddha.


The Dharma

I take refuge in the Dharma. The Dharma is the Buddha’s teachings that provide the method to end suffering. The Dharma reveals to us the “cosmic law and order,” which is the law of cause and effect or Karma. It is simply the nature of reality regarded as a universal truth by the Buddha. You can end suffering by following this path. Taking refuge in the Dharma means studying the Buddha’s teachings. Once you learn the Dharma and practice it through regular mindfulness meditation, chanting, and being in the present moment, your level of comfort with your practice will grow as will your conviction in the teachings and in your own experiences.


The Sangha

I take refuge in the Sangha. The Sangha is “the community,” and the ordained monastics of Buddhism who practice the Dharma. The Sangha also includes those who have achieved great realization and spiritual understanding by following the Buddha’s teachings.


Spiritual Teacher (Master)

The Spiritual teacher is important in all levels of Buddhist practice. The Spiritual teacher or Master transmits the liberating teachings of the Buddha directly to us and advises us on the path to enlightenment. By taking Refuge, we start to travel the Buddhist path and make a connection with the fundamental reality of the awakened state of mind. All of this is conveyed to us by the Spiritual Teacher and the Three Jewels (The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha).


The Refuge Ceremony

The refuge ceremony begins when we enter the shrine room making three prostrations to the Three Jewels and the Spiritual Teacher (Master). The Spiritual Teacher recites various prayers while we sit before him, and perhaps gives a brief explanation of why we take refuge. We repeat after the Spiritual Teacher three times and recite the verses of taking refuge in the Three Jewels (The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha) and ask to be accepted as a lay follower from this day forward.


The Spiritual Teacher will ask three times, “Have you understood the method of taking refuge?” and we answer, “Yes,” each time. The Spiritual Teacher will give us a Refuge Dharma name. The ceremony concludes with prayers for dedication of merit and for the increase of auspicious conditions. These prayers of dedication express the wish that all the benefits that arise out of taking refuge will spread outwards to those around us and ultimately to all sentient beings. We make an offering to the Spiritual Teacher (in a variety forms such as a bow, flowers, money, or a promise to practice the precepts) before we leave the shrine room.

Having taken refuge, we repeat the verses of taking refuge in the Spiritual Teacher and the Three Jewels at the start of each Dharma session, chanting session, and meditation session. We recite prayers of dedication of merit at its conclusion.

Before we take refuge, we are secure in the knowledge that the Three Jewels consisting of the Buddha (the Enlightened one or Fully Awakened one), the Dharma (the Buddha’s Teachings) and the Sangha (the Buddhist Community) provide the best means of refuge, since Buddha’s Teachings surpass that of any other religious teacher. For this reason, once we have taken refuge in the Three Jewels, we do not take refuge in any other religion.

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