Going for refuge

When I initially investigate three refuges, my question was how can I take refuge in Buddha who had already passed away.


This Jataka has several interesting uses of ‘refuge’ outside the context of taking refuge in the Tiratana. It looks like maybe the English version includes material from the commentary that isn’t present in the Pali verse form?

The four elements, food, and a son and daughter (in law) are all described as types of refuge in certain circumstances, as well as circumstances in which they can then become someone’s undoing. The role of a king in protecting his people is also described as his providing refuge.

In the formula for a layperson taking refuge in the suttas, people often ask to be ‘remembered’ as a lay follow- this might suggest that they are offering the Buddha or his monks to call on them, or that they might petition him in some way in the future.

There was also a Therapadana verse where the elder describes that taking refuge in the past with a previous Buddha prevented undesirable rebirths until a future Buddha manifested. Having asked for refuge in the past is a kind of ‘trigger’ that helps him recognize his previous birth.


By standing under your own awareness, which is also your Buddha nature, or refuge if you prefer that word - isness doesn’t come and go, and with awareness you can see things for what they really are … like Buddha did 2600 years ago

Buddha means awareness in this context, and by relying and using this abilty in your mind you become a lamp onto your self


@awarewolf This would seem to be the endpoint of the path (there’s nothing left to take refuge from - unfluctuating samadhi, no more contact from consciousnesses, etc) … but methinks this only applies to a tiny percentage of people. The rest of us are slogging away down in the foothills. :slight_smile: and can certainly do with supports and assistance while working towards that goal. IMHO That’s the role of the tripple gem :smiley:



But as a real refuge to take in order to see and realise the truth, you can look at the Buddha as that which is mindful, the pure intelligent awareness. Taking refuge in the Buddha is not a sentiment of the mind but a recollection, a remembrance that right now that which is aware and knows the truth is Buddha. It is not something that is mine, but when I am mindful, when I allow my life to be increasingly more mindful, that is refuge in Buddha; and that is a conscious experience within a form, a human form, such as we all have.


Good point. This is my understanding of taking refuge in Buddha.


I think it is strange to go for refuge in a mental state when ‘Buddha’ clearly refers to a person (or subsume enlightened mental states under dhamma). More specifically as @Aminah said it is about accepting the enlightenment of the Buddha, (not my enlightenment) as the source of the Dhamma. If I go for refuge in my two minutes of mindfulness the only thing I’m going for refuge in is my own Ego and conceit. It’s just watered down…

It’s healthy to actually go to a traditional setting and try to truthfully go for refuge, if only to develop humility. The selfish bit is it helps reduce ego and therefore suffering.

The Velama sutta AN9.20 says keeping the five precepts is more beneficial than going for refuge in the triple gem.

You could argue that the descriptions of the triple gems used when taking refuge can only be truly known by stream entrants, but other suttas find people taking refuge after all kinds of teachings. I think true refuge is when someone finds a refuge from Suffering. But many take refuge without knowing much about suffering so it cannot be too restrictive in its definition, but is acknowledging a teacher, a teaching and a group of practitioners of those teachings, as their source of support… and much more.

Stream entry gets rid of the fetters of doubt and the fetter of self view overcomes the belief of a Soul and by extension God. Therefore unshakable faith in the Triple Gem is constant feature of all Ariyas. They are part of the Ariya sangha. No other religion I know allows someone to become one with that you have faith in, in this lifetime.

The Velama sutta (AN9.20) states that developing loving-kindness is more fruitful than keeping precepts or going for refuge in the Triple gem. It also says that watching impermanence (anicca) is the most fruitful of all, keeping it in mind that this doesn’t undermine the other practices but is because of the other practices that enables observing the anicca Sanna, in conjunction with the other practices.

With metta


On the topic of refuge, I believe we need to abstract ourselves a little from what it means in concept and practice nowadays to make sense of what is recorded in the suttas.

To my understanding, the formula saranam gacchami is not as generic as the namo used across hindu and Jains traditions.

I have just learned that some of the Jains chant a Fourfold Refuge formula, known as catuh-sarana (aka char sharana):


Venerable Bodhi covers this subject as well as the precepts quite comprehensively in his essay, Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts. As you might expect, it’s very good. Here is the Table of Contents:


How strange is going to emptiness for refuge if you don’t think about it?

Yes but that isn’t ‘going for refuge’, Nibbana (emptiness is different) is the end ‘goal’.

With metta

Iv’e read or heard by some Ajahn that Lord Buddha himself took refuge in the fourth gem “Sunyata Vihara saranang g…”, and that sounds true to me since the teaching is timeless and to be experienced here and now directly. The end goal is here and now!

One experience directly the same phenomena countless times - that by going or relaxing into emptiness makes the suffering cease, and hopefully one sunny day it won’t stick at last …

Or, that’s the way i have made use of the mantra, and it works fine, or i might also be deluded, but at least quite happy with that state to

Thanks for drawing out this detail, SarathW1. I’ve been reflecting on it and feel it has really substantive, practical application. :pray:


I was contemplating on three refuges too.

“who is the Buddha in three refuges”


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In all honestly, I have to ask in what sense the Theravada sangha is a “refuge” for the average lay practitioner. I can understand the refuge appeal for the monk. They leave the everyday world and join a place where they get fed and housed by others for free, don’t have to hold a job, and can devote themselves to peaceful spiritual pursuits.

But the lay Buddhist doesn’t get to live in that refuge. They have the burden of supporting it. Granted, it might give them a peaceful place to visit. But if they are able to have any other quiet and peaceful place in their lives, that will serve just as well. And it will serve without all the fussy etiquette and ritual, the cultural baggage and the oppressive air of ideological rigidity and enforced holiness.

I am happy to be a sangha of one these days, if that counts.

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It sounds like you may have had some bad experiences with ordained individuals?

No one should consider supporting the sangha a “burden”. I’ve personally never been petitioned to give a donation against my will. And although I am supportive (more in spirit than anything else because of my meager financial condition) of monks and nuns, when I go for refuge (and I do this in my mind/heart) I think of the sangha of the buddhist disciples that have realized a state of nobility/enlightenment, whether as a lay person, a nun/monk, or a deva for that matter.

I can understand being suspicious of ceremonies and liturgies and rituals - incense, statues, shrines, robes and bowls etc…In fact, you have to understand clearly that these things in themselves do not lead to mental purification or liberation. It is a fetter to think otherwise. But going for refuge really doesn’t have much of anything to do with these external things IMO.


In some way, but nothing major. I would say, though, that my overall impression of institutional monastic and religious Buddhism and the social, economic and teaching role of the bhikkhu sangha has grown more negative.

I am trying to get back to simple basics in my own practice: an attempt to live peacefully and harmlessly, to work toward true liberation of the heart and genuine happiness, and an avoidance of doctrine and intellectual proliferation.

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For me, it’s a lot more than just a peaceful place to visit. I have shared my experience discovering Buddhist practice in these forums previously so won’t I repeat the details. But for those who have been kind enough to read my posts, you know that I encountered Buddhist teachings in the throes of a recent life crisis and, combined with other things I have done to recover from that crisis, my Buddhist practice has contributed mightily to my recovery.

The fact is, I do take refuge in my local Wat. I live in the United States in a region where, unbeknownst to me prior, there is a large Thai immigrant community. I have lived here for almost 25 years, and I did not realize that for the last 20 of those years there has been a Thai Wat 30 minutes from where I live. It is there that I have been welcomed by the monks and laypeople who have been nothing but kind towards me from the first day I wandered onto the premises unannounced.

I really can’t express how important the Sangha has been for me. There are a small handful of Westerners who attend the Wat on a regular basis. I suppose it would be easy for the monks to focus on serving the Thai immigrant community and for the laypeople to simply tolerate my presence. I speak hardly any Thai and the English of both the monks and the laypeople is not always fluent (in many cases, far from it).

And yet in barely four months I have been fully accepted into the Wat. I attend services on Sunday, meditation on Monday (geared towards Americans who want to learn about Buddhism), and I now meet weekly with the head monk to help him practice his English. The monks have reached out to me to teach me the Dhamma and the laypeople have made me a part of the community. In return, I help out to the best of my ability and give back to the Wat in any way I can.

This post is getting long, but the point is that when I started attending the Wat I was a wreck. I had been through one of the worst experiences in my life. The Wat has become a refuge for me. Frankly, I probably would not be where I am today were it not for the guidance provided me by the monks and laypeople and their unquestioning loving kindness towards me.


My experience is slightly different. I also attend a vihara in the US that is in a Thai lineage, and mainly supported by Thai immigrants. Although I wasn’t going through an extreme crisis when I started going, I suppose things were enough in need of improvement that I found the experience very positive. There were always frustrating or off-putting parts, but they were outweighed by the good. I lived about an hour drive away, so I couldn’t just hang there routinely, but I did go for uposatha days about twice a month for a couple of years.

The monks I knew there were pretty chill, I thought. My growing negativity really didn’t come mainly from experiences there, but more from what I have learned about Theravada Buddhist culture and monasticism from my experiences discussing it here and elsewhere. That ended up coloring my personal, first hand experiences, and made things that had always somewhat bothered me acquire increasing importance in my mind.

I had also noticed that my personal practice, in which I thought I had made very rewarding and steady progress for several years, started to stagnate. I attributed that to my overinvolvement with the social, community and “religious” aspects of Buddhism, which did not give me the freedom to pursue the path to the end of suffering by my own inner lights, which I trusted, but which erected a frustrating new set of obstacles involving cultural codes, hierarchies, proprieties, dogmas and sensibilities to negotiate and navigate.


The lay buddhist gets to hang out on Sutta Central, listen to Dhamma talks, go on retreats, have buddhist teachings available on line or in text, translated into many languages, visit monasteries, ask questions etc… Just to name a few things