Going for refuge

The more lofty aspects of the teaching often, quite fairly, attract lot of attention; their details given a lot of technical scrutiny. Though I fully understand the interest, I myself generally prefer to stay on the periphery of all that, feeling there is only so far one can fruitfully probe into deep, supra-linguistic existential truths with even the sharpest intellectual powers.

Where, however, I feel there’s a lot of scope and use for detailed intellectual exploration and study is in the fundamentals—the more every-day aspects of the teaching, that belong more (but not entirely) to the intellectual realm.

One point I’ve been quite interested in recently is the most basic detail of them all: taking refuge. Taking refuge is the absolute foundation for everything else right the way to nibbana, but what does it even mean? What is it in practice terms? How is it technically engaged with by practitioners?

Intrigued as to what the suttas have to say about it, I did the most sketchy, non-comprehensive survey of suttas containing a refuge declaration:

search terms

saraṇaṃ gacchantānaṃ; saraṇaṃ gacchantīnaṃ; saraṇaṃ gacchāmi; saraṇaṃ gatanti; saraṇaṃ gato; saraṇaṃ gacchāma; saraṇaṃ gate; saraṇaṃ gatā; saraṇaṃ gataṃ; saraṇaṃ gaccheyya; saraṇaṃ gatāni; saraṇaṃ gacchati; saraṇaṃ gatāse; saraṇaṃ gateti; saraṇaṃ gaccha; saraṇaṃ gatoti; saraṇaṃ gata = 145 results

Whizzing through it, a couple of points stood out to me, but I haven’t really formulated my impressions yet.

Results
Sutta No. Sutta Name Refuge ‘type’
an1.248-257 Foremost who have gone for refuge
an1.258-267 -"-
an2.11-20; an2.32-41; an3.53; an3.54; an3.55; an3.56; an3.58; an3.59; an3.60; an3.63; an3.65; an3.72; an4.100; an4.111; an4.184; an4.195; an4.197; an5.192; an5.193; an5.194; an6.38; an6.47; an6.48; an6.52; an6.53; an7.47; an7.50; an8.11; an10.119; an10.167; an10.176; an10.177; an10.220; dn2; dn3; dn10; dn12; dn13; dn31; mn4; mn27; mn30; mn41; mn42; mn54; mn55; mn58; mn60; mn72; mn74; mn80; mn91; mn93; mn96; mn98; mn100; mn107; mn135; mn150; sn3.1; sn7.11; sn7.12; sn7.13; sn7.14; sn7.15; sn7.16; sn7.17; sn7.18; sn7.19; sn7.20; sn7.21; sn7.22; sn12.18; sn12.46; sn12.47; sn12.48; sn15.8; sn35.127; sn35.132; sn35.133; sn36.21; sn42.1; sn42.2; sn42.3; sn42.4; sn42.5; sn42.6; sn42.8; sn42.9; sn42.12; sn42.13; sn45.10; sn46.6; sn46.55; sn47.25; sn51.15; sn55.7 Concludes in going for refuge for life as a lay follower: “Excellent, Master Gotama! Excellent! As if he was righting the overturned, or revealing the hidden, or pointing out the path to the lost, or lighting a lamp in the dark so people with good eyes can see what’s there, just so have you made the Teaching clear in many ways. I go for refuge to Master Gotama, to the teaching, and to the mendicant Saṅgha. From this day forth, may Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge for life.” (GRLLF)
an3.24 Bahukārasutta Someone who leads a person to taking refuge is one of three of the most helpful people
an3.79 Gandhajātasutta The fragrance of one who has gone for refuge and is virtuous spreads in every direction
an4.23 Lokasutta Those have have gone to the Buddha for refuge revere him thus: ‘Tamed, he is the best of tamers, peaceful, he is the seer among the peaceful, liberated, he is the foremost of liberators, crossed over, he is the most excellent of guides across.’
an4.193 Bhaddiyasutta Bhaddiya goes for refuge for life as a lay follower & the Buddha stresses he did not ask for Bhaddiya to become a disciple, he did not use any magic trick to get him to convert. Bhaddiya notes that this particular ‘conversion magic’ is excellent.
an5.32 Cundīsutta Princess Cundī asks the Buddha what kind of teacher, teaching and Saṅgha should a person have confidence in so as to be reborn in a good place, not a bad place.
an5.196 Mahāsupinasutta Before the Buddha’s awakening he had five great dreams. One was that white caterpillars with black heads crawled up from his feet and covered his knees and was fulfilled when many white-clothed laypeople went for refuge to him for life.
an8.12 Sīhasutta Sīha, a Jain, goes to see the Buddha after thinking, “That Blessed One must certainly be a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha. For several very prominent Licchavis are praising the Buddha, his teaching, and the Saṅgha in many ways.” After talk with the Buddha, Sīha asks to take refuge as a lay follower, but the Buddha encourages him towards careful consideration before taking refuge. On Sīha’s third request the Buddha taught Sīha step by step to stream entry.
an8.25 Mahānāmasutta Mahānāma asks the Buddha how a lay follower is defined and the Buddha replies that one who has gone for refuge in the Triple Gem is a lay follower.
an8.26 Jīvakasutta Jīvaka -"-
an8.39 Abhisandasutta Refuge in the Triple Gem are three of eight kinds of overflowing merit.
an8.46 Anuruddhasutta Refuge in the Triple Gem are three of eight factors that will lead a woman to be reborn among the Gods of the Loveable Group.
an8.48 Nakulamātāsutta -"-
an9.20 Velāmasutta Taking refuge in the Triple Gem with a confident heart would be more fruitful than building a dwelling for the Saṅgha of the four quarters (or giving several gifts before that).
dn4 Soṇadaṇḍasutta “Many thousands of deities have gone for refuge for life to [the Buddha]. … He has this good reputation: ‘That Blessed One is perfected, a fully awakened Buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, holy, knower of the world, supreme guide for those who wish to train, teacher of gods and humans, awakened, blessed.’ … He has the thirty-two marks of a great man. … He is welcoming, congenial, polite, smiling, open, the first to speak. … He’s honored, respected, revered, venerated, and esteemed by the four assemblies. … Many gods and humans are devoted to him. … While he is residing in a village or town, non-human entities do not harass them. … He leads an order and a community, and teaches a community, and is said to be the best of the various religious founders. He didn’t come by his fame in the same ways as those other ascetics and brahmins. Rather, he came by his fame due to his supreme knowledge and conduct. …” King Bimbisāra, King Pasenadi and the brahmin Pokkharasāti have gone for refuge. Concludes with Soṇadaṇḍa going for refuge as a lay follower, although he explains that he cannot pay the Buddha homage in public in the normal way for the fear of loss of reputation and agrees some discrete shows of respect.
dn5 Kūṭadantasutta “Many thousands -”- the brahmin Pokkharasāti have gone for refuge." Taking refuge in the Triple Gem with a confident heart has fewer requirements and yet is more beneficial than building a dwelling for the Saṅgha of the four quarters (or regular gifts as an ongoing family sacrifice, or a king’s great sacrifice accomplished with three modes and sixteen accessories before that). Kūṭadanta goes for refuge as a lay follower.
dn8; mn7; mn73; mn75; sn7.1; sn7.2; sn7.10; sn12.17 Mahāsīhanādasutta Concludes in going for refuge, taking ordination and awakening (GROA)
dn9 Poṭṭhapādasutta Poṭṭhapāda goes for refuge life as a lay follower. Citta Hatthisāriputta goes for refuge, takes ordination and awakens.
dn14 Mahāpadānasutta An account of Khaṇḍa and Tissa taking refuge in Buddha Vipassī, ordaining and awakening.
dn16 Mahāparinibbānasutta “Ānanda, be your own island, your own refuge, with no other refuge. Let the teaching be your island and your refuge, with no other refuge. And how does a mendicant do this? It’s when a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. They meditate observing an aspect of feelings … mind … principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world.” Three months before his death the Buddha said, “I’ve reached a ripe old age, and little of my life is left. Having given it up, I’ll depart; I’ve made a refuge for myself. Diligent and mindful, be of good virtues, mendicants! With well-settled thoughts, take good care of your minds. Whoever meditates diligently in this teaching and training, giving up transmigration through rebirths, will make an end to suffering.” Pukkusa goes for refuge life as a lay follower. Subhadda (coming from another sect) goes for refuge, takes ordination and awakens.
dn18 Janavasabhasutta Then Brahmā Sanaṅkumāra tells that those who have gone for refuge and are virtuous are born in all variety of deva realms. At the very least they swell the hosts of the fairies.
dn20 Mahāsamayasutta A deity says, “Anyone who has gone to the Buddha for refuge won’t go to a plane of loss. After giving up this human body, they swell the hosts of gods.”
dn23 Pāyāsisutta The Buddha declares the names of the heavenly hosts to a gathering of mednicants and deities, “… But the dragon kings remained fearless, for the Buddha kept them safe from the phoenixes. Introducing each other with gentle words, the dragons and phoenixes took the Buddha as their refuge …”
mn56 Upālisutta After talk with the Buddha, Upāli asks to take refuge as a lay follower, but the Buddha encourages him towards careful consideration before taking refuge. On Upāli’s third request the Buddha taught Upāli step by step to stream entry. Upāli delivers verses of reverence towards the Buddha in front of Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta.
mn57 Kukkuravatikasutta Puṇṇa Koliyaputta GRLLF, Seniya GROA
mn79 Cūḷasakuludāyisutta Sakuludāyī asks for refuge and for ordination, but his assembly prevent him from doing so saying, “You have been a teacher; don’t live as a student.”
mn81 Ghaṭikārasutta An account from the time of Buddha Kassapa: "‘Great king, there is a market town named Vebhaliṅga, where there’s a potter named Ghaṭīkāra. He is my chief attendant. Now, great king, you thought, “The Buddha does not accept my invitation to reside for the rains in Benares,” and you became sad and upset. But Ghaṭīkāra doesn’t get upset, nor will he. Ghaṭīkāra has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha. He doesn’t kill living creatures, steal, commit sexual misconduct, lie, or take alcoholic drinks that cause negligence. He has experiential confidence in the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha, and has the ethics loved by the noble ones. He is free of doubt regarding suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation. He eats in one part of the day; he’s celibate, ethical, and of good character. He has set aside gems and gold, and rejected gold and money. He’s put down the shovel and doesn’t dig the earth with his own hands. He takes what has crumbled off by a riverbank or been dug up by mice, and brings it back in a carrier. When he has made a pot, he says: “Anyone may leave bagged sesame, mung beans, or chick peas here and take what they wish.” He looks after his blind old parents. And since he has ended the five lower fetters, Ghaṭīkāra will be reborn spontaneously and will become extinguished there, not liable to return from that world.’ "
mn84 Madhurasutta King Avantiputta seeks to take refuge in Master Kaccāna, to the teaching, and to the mendicant Saṅgha, but Mahākaccāna tells he should take refuge in the Buddha. “Master Kaccāna, if I heard that the Buddha was within ten leagues, or twenty, or even up to a hundred leagues away, I’d go a hundred leagues to see him. But since the Buddha has become fully extinguished, I go for refuge to that fully extinguished Buddha, to the teaching, and to the Saṅgha. From this day forth, may Master Kaccāna remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge for life.”
mn85 Bodhirājakumārasutta Prince Bodhi is confronted: “Though Master Bodhi [says, ‘Oh, the Buddha! Oh, the teaching! Oh, how well explained is the teaching! For someone could be instructed in the evening and achieve distinction in the morning, or be instructed in the morning and achieve distinction in the evening.’], you don’t go for refuge to Master Gotama, to the teaching, and to the mendicant Saṅgha.” Prince Bodhi replies that his mother took for refuge on his behalf when he was in the womb, as did a nurse when he was a child and now also he GRLLF. (having attained stream entry). He dies is reborn spontaneously and will reach nibbana from there.
mn94 Ghoṭamukhasutta Ghoṭamukha seeks to take refuge in Master Udena…[as MN 84]
mn95 Caṅkīsutta “Many thousands of deities have gone for refuge as DN4 the brahmin Pokkharasāti have gone for refuge”. Concludes with a list of factors (in decending order of dependence) that help one awaken to truth: striving, scrutiny, making an effort, enthusiasm, acceptance of the teachings after consideration, reflecting on the meaning of the teachings, remembering the teachings, hearing the teachings, listening, paying homage, approaching a teacher, faith. After this Caṅkī says, “I’ve asked Master Gotama about the preservation of truth, and he has answered me. I approve and accept this, and am satisfied with it. I’ve asked Master Gotama about awakening to the truth, and he has answered me. I approve and accept this, and am satisfied with it. I’ve asked Master Gotama about the arrival at the truth, and he has answered me. I approve and accept this, and am satisfied with it. I’ve asked Master Gotama about the things that are helpful for the arrival at the truth, and he has answered me. I approve and accept this, and am satisfied with it. Whatever I have asked Master Gotama about he has answered me. I approve and accept this, and am satisfied with it. Master Gotama, I used to think this: ‘Who are these shavelings, fake ascetics, riffraff, black spawn from the feet of our Kinsman to be counted alongside those who understand the teaching?’ The Buddha has inspired me to have love, confidence, and respect for ascetics!” and GRLLF.
mn99 Subhasutta Subha GRLLF. Afterwards he meets the brahmin Jāṇussoṇi who asks, “What do you think of the ascetic Gotama’s proficiency in wisdom? Do you think he’s astute?” Subha replies, “My good man, who am I to judge the ascetic Gotama’s competence in wisdom? You’d really have to be on the same level to judge his competence in wisdom.”
mn142 Dakkhiṇāvibhaṅgasutta “When someone has enabled you to go for refuge, it’s not easy to repay them by bowing down to them, rising up for them, greeting them with joined palms, and observing proper etiquette for them; or by providing them with robes, alms-food, lodgings, and medicines and supplies for the sick.”
sn1.37 Samayasutta A deity says: “Anyone who has gone to the Buddha for refuge, won’t go to a plane of loss. After giving up this human body, they swell the hosts of gods.”
sn2.9 Candimasutta The Moon God had been seized by Rāhu, lord of demons. Then the Moon God, recolleced the Buddha, saying, “Homage to you, Buddha, hero! You’re freed in every way. I’ve wandered into confinement: be my refuge!” Then the Buddha addressed Rāhu in verse concerning the Moon God: “The Moon God has gone for refuge to the Realized One, the perfected one. Rāhu, release the Moon! Buddhas have compassion for the world!”
sn2.10 Sūriyasutta The Sun God -"- in the presence of Master Bhāradvāja in the presence of Master Kaccāna in the presence of Venerable Udāyī
sn42.7 Khettūpamasutta Asibandhaka’s son asks the Buddha why he teaches thoroughly to some, but not to others. The Buddha give an analogy to a farmer planting seeds good, average and poor fields: “To me, the monks and nuns are like the good field. I teach them the Dhamma that’s good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, meaningful and well-phrased. And I reveal a spiritual practice that’s entirely full and pure. Why is that? Because they live with me as their island, protection, shelter, and refuge. To me, the laymen and laywomen are like the average field. I also teach them the Dhamma that’s good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, meaningful and well-phrased. And I reveal a spiritual practice that’s entirely full and pure. Why is that? Because they live with me as their island, protection, shelter, and refuge. To me, the ascetics, brahmins, and wanderers who follow other paths are like the poor field, the bad ground of sand and salt. I also teach them the Dhamma that’s good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, meaningful and well-phrased. And I reveal a spiritual practice that’s entirely full and pure. Why is that? Hopefully they might understand even a single sentence, which would be for their lasting welfare and happiness.” Asibandhaka’s son GRLLF. in the presence of Master Ānanda
sn55.24 Paṭhamasaraṇānisakkasutta Sarakāni the Sakyan passes away and the Buddha declares he was a stream-enterer. The locals complain and wonder the even someone so weak for the training and who used to drink alcohol could be declared a stream-enterer. The Buddha explains, “when a lay follower has for a long time gone for refuge to the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha, how could they go to the underworld? And if anyone should rightly be said to have for a long time gone for refuge to the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha, it’s Sarakāni the Sakyan. Sarakāni the Sakyan has for a long time gone for refuge to the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha. How could he go to the underworld?”. He goes on to list various kinds of followers of various attainments and notes they are exempt from rebirth in the underworld, concluding, “If these great sal trees could understand what was well said and poorly said, I’d declare them to be stream-enterers. Why can’t this apply to Sarakāni? Mahānāma, Sarakāni the Sakyan undertook the training at the time of his death.”
sn55.25 Dutiyasaraṇānisakkasutta [similar to above with variations]
sn55.37 Mahānāmasutta “Sir, how is a lay follower defined?” “Mahānāma, when you’ve gone for refuge to the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha, you’re considered to be a lay follower.” … “But how is a faithful lay follower defined?” “It’s when a lay follower has faith in the Realized One’s awakening: ‘That Blessed One is perfected, a fully awakened Buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, holy, knower of the world, supreme guide for those who wish to train, teacher of gods and humans, awakened, blessed.’ Then they’re considered to be a faithful lay follower.”
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I’m really interested in this topic, and especially - what does it mean to take refuge in the Buddha. I recently had someone present an argument to me as follows - “The Buddha would not have asked anyone to take refuge in something outside themselves, so this really means taking refuge in one’s own Buddha Nature.”

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what does your acronym mean?
gorilla rolling on the floor laughing?

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I think it’s “going for refuge for life as a lay follower”

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What’s the triple gem good for, as a refuge? :slightly_smiling_face:

With metta

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You might be interested in reading A Note on Refuge in Vedic and Pāli Texts by Brett Schults. It’s an interesting article from Volume 11 of the Journal of the Oxford Center for Buddhist Studies.

Here’s the abstract:

In this exploratory note I consider a few examples of refuge motifs in vedic and Pāli texts, including examples of the vedic motif of triple refuge. Concerned more with questions and suggestions than with defini-tive answers, the following is an attempt to think through some of the implications of “refuge” and “going for refuge” as these ideas appear in a selection of ancient and more recent texts.

:anjal:

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See also Dhp 188 - 192:

Driven only by fear, do men go for refuge to many places—to hills, woods, groves, trees and shrines.

Such, indeed, is no safe refuge; such is not the refuge supreme. Not by resorting to such a refuge is one released from all suffering.

He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Teaching and his Order, penetrates with transcendental wisdom the Four Noble Truths—suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of suffering.

This indeed is the safe refuge, this the refuge supreme. Having gone to such a refuge, one is released from all suffering.

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You know I had almost exactly this question formulating/bubbling in my mind just the other day and thought of posting it here.

My question was also: what does going for refuge really mean? (Followed by a deeper, more internal question: am I really a Buddhist? (The very minimum qualification, according to my understanding of the EBT-context, being one having gone to refuge in the triple gem))

I imagine that it must have been more meaningful in the time of the Buddha. I get the impression it was a more formal act (that we only imitate now), something like taking on that person as a teacher and following their teachings (and only their teachings, in a more exclusive sense). Now, we can only follow the teachings as they were preserved. Although, even in the teachings (as they’ve been passed down) the figure of the Buddha seems to have held the teachings over himself and over the sangha.

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We all go for refuge in some form or another unless you are an Arahant.
As children we seek refuge of our parents, family. As adults we seek refuge in friends, our employer, drugs and in sensual pleasures. Then we take refuge in in seen objects or people such as trees, rocks, rituals etc.
According to Buddhist teaching the best refuge is the triple gem. This now used as a substitute for the initiation in other religions,

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Going for refuge means for me to become still and be awareness

when you see the Buddha, you see the Dhamma - when you see the Dhamma, you see the Buddha

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Your shared search is a great resource. :pray:

Question: are ‘going for refuge’ and ‘taking five precepts’ synonymous or not?

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Not The way I understand .
Observing five precepts is the result of taking refuge. Ie: Follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

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I asked because, as I’ve experienced in a non-Buddhist dominant environment, the ceremony of taking refuge includes asking for the five precepts eg You may take Refuge and take the Five Buddhist Precepts anytime right here from this page..

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Yes, refuge and training in virtue appear to be two discrete steps (although I would not collapse the precepts and the NEP, myself - again it contains several steps).

A good outline of how things are defined might be taken from here:

Saying this,

as much it appears possible to separate their definitions in the suttas, training in virtue strikes me as so fundamentally central to everything, that there’s a clear implication that if you go for refuge you’re signing up to the precepts.

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It does to me too; to take refuge without attempting the ethical training would seem either vacuous or to be magical thinking. - & thank you for that sutta.

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:thinking:

Saying that, thanks a lot for raising the point, Gillian. It gives a opening to reflect on just how … I don’t know, something like ‘accepting’ the Buddha’s teaching is.

As I understand it, virtue, in Buddhism, is a training, a skill. That is to say something we can be bad at (but trying to get better at). With reference to AN8.25 (and also SN55.37), by distinguishing between going for refuge (that is, recognising the Buddha is likely on to something) and being an ethical lay follower (that is, actually fulfilling the precepts) it (by one reading at least) admits there is room to flounder with the precepts, but that does not disqualify a person from subscribing to the Buddha’s teaching.

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I think taking refuge also an act of faith. You find five precepts in other religions too. Taking five precepts only will not enter the path as there is no right view.

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That’s also my impression of how it was seen at that time: “I don’t take refuge in sensual pleasure, cattle, children and rituals. I take refuge in the teachings of the ascetic Gotama…”

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If refuge in awareness is strong and stable enough, then all the rulles is of no importance because there is no body there needing to be controlled anymore

But one can observe the five precepts without taking refuge too, right? I guess there are many people in the world who know nothing of the Buddha and still observe the five precepts. And according to my understanding of AN9.20 that would be more fruitful than taking refuge.

I guess this also goes for taking refuge along with taking the precepts. Taking refuge with the precepts there is no right view either. I guess it’s only when there is the development of perception of impermanence that right view starts. That’s at the end of AN9.20

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