Going for refuge

I came across this comment by Thanissaro Bhikkhu which is related to the refuges:

At Snp 3.4 we have this verse from the Buddha:

“If you say you’re a brahman
and I’m not a brahman,
I ask you the three lines of the Sāvitti
and its twenty-four syllables.”4

Thanissaro’s comment is (emphasis mine):

"This is apparently a reference to Ṛgveda iii, 62, 10, an invocation addressed to
Sāvitrī, or the Sun:

tat savitur vareṇ(i)yaṁ
bhargo devasya dhīmahi
dhiyo yo nah pracodayāt

“Let us meditate on the glory
of the excellent deva Sāvitrī,
that he may inspire our thoughts.”

This verse, in the Gāvitrī meter, is recited during the upanayana ceremony, when a
young brahman is invested with the sacred thread that initiates him into the status of
a “twice-born” brahman and he begins his study of the Vedas.
SnA also asserts that the Buddhist equivalent to the Sāvitti—three lines, 24 syllables—is the expression of homage to the Triple Gem: Buddhaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi, Dhammaṁ saraṇaṁ
gacchāmi, Saṅghaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi.

So according to the commentary of the Sutta Nipata, the homage to the Triple Gem was modelled on the Savitti verses - both being a sort of initiation in a tradition… (e.g. see SN 55.37 as highlighted by @Aminah in the OP where the Blessed One defines a lay follower as somone who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha).

It sure looks like a pretty hypothesis, and the Blessed One did indeed re-use many Brahmanical motifs in his teachings (often by redefining them)… But how likely is that explanation from SnA? Is it widely believed to be so or rather controversial?

(now… this makes me want to chant the triple refuge using the Gayatri mantra tune! I’m not sure this is very orthodox :sweat_smile:)


Thanks so much for this, Yasoj!

I find this a really splendid pulling together of things; and also a helpful reminder that at some point I wanted to check out the A Note on Refuge in Vedic and Pāli Texts article Polarbear kindly linked to in post #6 and Gabriel also highlighted (time! :sob:).

Peculiarly enough, for me, I think one of the vedic lines you quoted aptly sums up the practical significance of the whole refuge thing:

that [it] may inspire our thoughts

I think practising/dwelling on these things—if a person is that way inclined—may by used in such a way as to generate some kind of positively charged emotion, or energy to invest in the practice (my reading thus far is that the faith spiritual faculty is as much to be actively cultivated as any of the others - in fact, I’m starting to wonder if it’s one of only two of the five that a person can directly work on with any great, direct results).

At the same time, it’s so good to have the likely historical context of going for refuge set out. At least in my mind it amplifies the point that it is a pragmatically adopted, practical tool.


I don’t think too many people have dwelled on this, but I’m afraid I have to disagree a bit with Thanissaro Bh. on this one.

What is certainly correct is that when brahmins initiated a new student (a brahmacarya) in the upanayana ritual they used the Sāvitrī mantra.

What is special about the upanayana is that Brahmins and Kṣatriyas were initiated differently - brahmin students were taught the Sāvitrī in the Gāyatrī meter, and Kṣatriyas in the Tṛṣṭubh.

Since this was supposedly secred/sacred knowledge only a true brahmin could know the Sāvitrī in the Gāyatrī meter - and this is what the Buddha refers to, he shows to the brahmin that he was on the same formal footing as brahmins are, that he has knowledge of the highest form of initiation.

SnA’s & Thanissaro’s argument can still make sense in that the Gāyatrī meter was considered the most prestigious one, so that it makes sense to model a buddhist upanayana verse after it.

What makes it a bit doubtful is that by doing that the anyway haughty brahmins would have been acknowledged to be the superior class within the Sangha, which leaves open two possibilities in my mind: either the Gāyatrī meter was generally accepted as the best one (not specifically connected with brahmins), or it was brahmin bhikkhus that started spreading this theory that the ‘saranam…’ was modeled after a brahmin structure.

The latter wouldn’t surprise me much as we have hints that even within the Sangha the former brahmins thought of themselves to be better, and many of the verses in the suttas might go back to a brahmin buddhust composition anyway - so that the form in which dhamma was spread could have well been molded in brahmin words and structures.


No doubts the form in which dhamma was spread could have well been molded in brahmin words and structures.

The way bhikkhus in Sri Lanka chant suttas is very close to the way the texts are memorised, recited in Vedic oral tradition until nowadays!


Dear Aminah,

May I just say that this has been a most inspiring thread to read. And I want to applaud all the initial work you layed out as part of the OP!!! :clap:

I just wanted to add something that I don’t think has been mentioned…

Specifically it’s in regard to the taking of refuge in Sangha.

First, as I understand it, in the EBTs, the word Sangha refers to the community of monastics. Laity were referred to by another term…I think it might have been Parisa (?)

While I agree that the Recollection of the Sangha encourages a deeper refuge in the Ariya Sangha, I also believe a refuge in the actual living community of monastics is relevant for the following reasons:

Primarily: it is a life of utmost Renunciation. I view the entire 8FP as an act of Renunciation and even the final ending as an act of Renunciation. Let alone, the fact that Renunciation is the first facet of Right Intention.

I don’t know any other form of existence where you give up money, control, ego and the world of the 5 senses, to the degree that a monastic has to.

I can’t think of any other form of Livelihood that goes beyond the basic definition of Right Livelihood, and actually pro-actively cutlivates all aspects of the 8FP in an intensive, gentle and thorough manner.

I have been fortunate to have witnessed and lived with such Sanghas. So I know it can be done. But only, only, if the laity supports it. Without the lay support, there can be no deep, world renouncing Renunciation.

As I understand it, in the Suttas, when Enlightened lay people go for refuge, they go for refuge to either the Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni Sangha - even if it’s members are not Enlightened themselves. Because, their Awakened minds, realise the importance and presence of a deep, true, “lived” Renunciation in the world.

Symbolically: The Sangha being made up of ordinary folk is sometimes an idea or ideal that represents what the Path can be. They become a source of inspiration.

Literally: They also become a source of the teachings. First, by teaching us from their experience of living a truly Renunciate life. Secondly, by being intimately concerned with the preservation of the Teachings; they are still being chanted today and monastics like Ven Analayo, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ajahn Brahm, Ayya Vimala, Ajahn Brahmali and Bhante Sujato have made it a major part of their monastic life to preserve these teachings. To this work they bring their unique perspective born of utter Renunciation and a life that gives you the time to devote your every waking moment to your Practise. If it wasn’t for the Sangha of chanters, writers and translators, we wouldn’t even have D&D or Sutta Central available for us to peruse at our leisure.

Finally, and also literally, they create a community that we can join ourselves and live that life of Renunciation too.

Anyway…here’s my two cents :slight_smile:

Thanks so much for this thread…it’s been a pleasure to peruse. :slight_smile:


Very well said. I live in an area in the United States where there are several Buddhist communities made up mostly of Westerners who have come to practice Buddhism. While I would certainly have an easier time communicating with the people in these communities, I have chosen instead to attend a Thai Wat where there are monks in residence. Despite the language barrier, or perhaps because of it, I spend much of my time silently observing the monks in their daily routines. I think it is too late in my life to choose that way of life, but it inspires me to be observe the Sangha and take refuge in what they teach.


Dear Kay,

Over on one of those other threads you offered the very excellent advice to make much out of the moments of everyday metta. You’d better believe I’m wringing every drop of jolliness out of your kindness here! Much thanks to you! :anjal:

In yet another thread you beautifully advocated permitting happy, easeful, loving disagreement, so here I’m well aware I have the great gift of plenty of room to comfortably disagree. The only trouble is, I don’t!

You’ve drawn out such incredibly valuable details that I certainly don’t have any will to counter. In my own terms, the points you’ve set out are worth a whole lot of reflection (not least—coming from the pragmatic view point I’m ever fond of—as they are all excellent means, if a person is willing, to help cultivate the joy I believe is foundational to go further with the practice).

I have a very keen sense of all three key points you mention, and, as an aside (so long as you don’t tell anyone because in a way it’s a bit embarrassing), funnily enough when I first came to Buddhism and first had to puzzle over this “Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha” thing and how on earth I could relate to it, between the Buddha and the Sangha I actually found it much easier to generate meaningful, joyful feelings around the Sangha (I never had to do any work to recognise the brilliance of the Dhamma).

This was because of exactly that ‘carrier of the teachings’ point you mentioned (I’m a “go to the source” kinda gal, so very quickly headed over to the suttas and immediately feel in love with them—almost a little bewilderingly so—and then started thinking about the technical feat of preserving them through the ages and the diligence and care it required and naught but gleeful gratitude to the Sangha resulted).

The reason, however, I wanted to make clear how very much I do not disagree at the start (not merely for the sake of politeness, but—again, with that practical interest—for recognising and wanting to emphases the great value of the perspective you’ve contributed) is to stress that when I make the following note, I put it forward as companion rather than contradicting thought.

When thinking of taking refuge in the triple gem as a practice of sorts, for me personally, I feel the need to “keep the bar high”, so to speak. I should probably have to mention that in terms of sensing places of true ease in this world, I’m pretty resolutely untrusting (with all sorts of qualifications) and this psychological background undoubtedly heavily influences the way in which I orient the notion of refuge.

To me, when I consider the act of taking refuge in the Buddha, my feeling is that the Buddha’s accomplishment is perfect. Likewise, I feel that the Dhamma is perfect. Both of these things offer perfect security.

However, when I consider the conventional Sangha (the worldly Sangha governed by rules bound to and concerned with a deeply imperfect, delusion-led world and further that is pretty much guaranteed to breakdown and completely fall apart at one—hopefully, very distant—point or another), I find that it is the very best of the best supports, but it is imperfect, it is corruptible (witnessable from the Buddha’s day to this), it does not meet the same standard as the other two aspects of the triple gem.

I’m not quite convinced that the Buddha would invite me to take refuge in that which is unstable. By my reading of the suttas, very, very clearly, the Buddha encourages seeing the extraordinary benefit of supporting the worldly Sangha (which in turn naturally entails reflecting on its immense value); but I hesitate over the idea that the Buddha would promote seeking ultimate security in that which is inherently insecure.

The timeless Ariya Sangha does offer a perfect security, on par with that offered by the Buddha and the Dhamma. It is an unshakably reliable refuge. I’d be entirely willing to concede that mine may be an excessively quirky reading, but at least one aspect I feel is present in the security offered by the Ariya Sangha isn’t only that there are these brilliant people in the world to help inspire and carry the teaching forward, but it is just for the demonstration of the idea that people really can, have and do realise this path. To put it in a yet more quirky way, one can dwell completely safe in the notion that, “as it has done for others, the possibility of freedom applies to me, too.”


do you have any audio links? I’m curious to hear what that sounds like, the Gayatri mantra structure.

Well, just some recordings from Youtube such as this one:

And when listening to some other versions, it always seems to be the same tune which is used…

But be careful, this tune kind of stuck in one’s head…

(tradition added the first line (Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha), hence it has now 4 lines and 32 syllables, so not in the Gayatri meter anymore, but in the Anushtubh meter… if I understood well?- which is ironic for a mantra called Gayatri!)


Most of the videos found in YouTube nowadays have an accent or tone which is not necessarily the original, a bit musical, the video below gives a sample of how in reality vedic chanting is done and passed down the generations:

And this is how Suriya paritta is changed in Sri Lanka:


Lol…and I in yours :slight_smile:

Actually, I’d like to take the opportunity to say to you that I really admire the way you go about disagreeing with folks. And I really, really mean it with utmost sincerity when I say that lately, I’ve taken your way of approaching disagreement as something to learn from and copy. You’re a brilliant role model Aminah :pray:t5: Thank you.

Yes, I understand.

I agree.

I think when I (mentally/emotionally) take refuge in the idea of the Ariya Sangha, it is as if I’m taking refuge in the Buddha and Dhamma also. Because the Ariya Sangha have realised the Dhamma and their very way of being human is perfectly aligned with it - as was the Buddha’s.

And then there have been times when I have strong reasons to believe that I’m in the presence of someone in the Sangha who is an Ariyan. And even then, it is not their personality or their mannerisms or idiosyncracies that I’m taking refuge in. It’s in the consistency with which they represent, live and speak the Dhamma and the quality and depth they bring to this.

When I consider myself allowing a sort of faithful, emotional letting go feeling around the notion of the Sangha as an institution - well, that is never about the individuals either. It becomes much more about what the institution itself is capable of accomplishing in the real world and also what it means to me on a symbolic level.

So in either case, it’s never really about the people themselves as human beings and certainly, these days I find myself treating the Sangha respectfully, but with ease and in a relaxed sort of fashion. Just as I would any human being - well… :slight_smile: on a good day anyway! :wink: (And somehow, so far :wink: , just being around the Sangha makes it a good day!)

However, sometimes, if they’ve done something or said something that has inspired me silly, I can’t help but bow lower than normal, or place my hands in anjali and grin foolishly. Or if I’m observing them and I start thinking about what the Sangha means to me, well, again, you might find me looking like one of those folks who do a bunch of gentle nodding whilst keeping their palms together!! Sometimes it just brings me to tears, because it can just be so beautiful and inspiring.

It’s never, even in the old days when all this was new, been about individuals or specific people. It was always greater than that. It was always about the meaning and intention behind the robes, the structures and so on.

Today I went down to the Entry to Rains at Bodhinyana. There were so many people there from so many places. It was beautiful and felt like everyone was there because they wanted to support goodness. I truly don’t think anyone there would think any differently to me; I don’t think it’s ever about individuals.

Sure, you might get a little starry eyed about a particular teacher or whatever. Or form an attachment to a monastic you relate to, especially if they’ve helped you. But that is no different to how you might feel about a layperson.

And yes, you might get to know some monastics and they might become more like friends than someone on a higher plane than you. But then even in lay life we have friends.

Also, the lay community has a freakish grapevine… Some how we seem to, eventually, find out what’s going on with the monks and nuns! We know they’re flawed!! But we’re okay with that. As long as they’re doing their best and being kind as best they can be - I truly think that’s what we want; because that’s what keeps the entire Sangha going, in the end.

I’ve been offering the rice pindapat for about 25 years now, on and off over the years. It still makes me smile like an idiot, builds a glow inside me and causes my heart to sing. Sometimes it brings me to tears. I feel like I’m supporting something rare and precious. As the monks and nuns come around, and I drop some rice into their bowls, I feel like I’m part of any progress they make, I feel mudita for them and in my heart I’m thinking: “may you be well and happy”! I have heard monastics talk about gratitude towards the laity who go up and support them everyday. But today as I was placing the rice in the alms bowls, I was the one feeling gratitude. Gratitude for their presence, their practice, their renunciation; without all these things, I wouldn’t have the chance to stand in a place that reeks of peace and love and good will!!

Dear darling Aminah,

I do love the care and love you demonstrate in making such points. It is a mark of your care and love that you would go to such trouble in your writing, to craft such words, to think of them, perhaps to edit them and get them just right… The time taken for this is a mark of how much you care for harmony and goodwill and consideration and truly, I’ve not come across anyone else who has come close to the standard you’ve set. You’re my role model and I hope I will remember this often.

May I say that my reply here is also as a companion to your comments, and not in contradiction. :slight_smile: Indeed, I offer thanks and gratitude for I feel you have drawn out of me some rather pleasant reflections which have sort of tumbled onto the page as a result of the wonderful, completely honest and true comments you made.

Anumodana :anjal:



The regular icon just isn’t big enough.

First prize for breaking my ability to use words goes to you dear, Kay! :medal_sports: Suffice to say, I’m too overcome with a beaming, wordless happiness for your description of engaging with the Sangha and the true refuge it affords. Just so! Just so!


Yes, but “a picture is worth a thousand words”… :slight_smile:

So you’ve gone and broken my ability to use words too!!! I’m just smiling so broadly here (that even my chest feels like it’s expanded) and in a thoroughly foolish and happy manner.

I have to fall back to my favourite emoji: :heartpulse: :heartpulse: :heartpulse:


Oh…!!! :hugs:

That’s just so lovely…


Yup, that sounds about right!

Ma’am, it most surely is.

You know, this is really wrecking my street cred! How on earth can I maintain my identity as a stony cynic if you’re so relentless at pulling me into this love-fest‽ :grin:

Oh alright then… :heartpulse: :heartpulse: :heartpulse:

Most seriously though, bowing thanks to you for sharing all this wonderful stuff (I will have to turn it over to your ability to pull out the specifics from the wordless, as well I trust you can). :anjal:


Thank you for this thread and this intelligent discussion. After almost 3 years of learning meditation , this year I committed to going to retreats more often and reading the suttas. This lead me to wanting to cement my mental commitment to be on The Path by taking refuge.I feel very happy today!


Marvellous! Marvellous! Much happiness for your happiness!


Thanks! :hugs:


That is fabulous!


:pray: :pray: :pray: