Is the same Pali word for "refuge" used in each reference to "Take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha"

Is one Pali word for “refuge” consistently used in the phrase “…Take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha”… And which Pali word, or words, is that?
(Is it nātho or dīpa?)

And what’s the difference between the term “refuge” in that sentence above and “refuge” (nātho or dīpa) in the 2 sentences below…(I’m wondering because the sentence above seems to contradict the message in the sentences in the Dhammapada and DN 16, below).

Perhaps the notion of taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha was a later development–which occurred after the Buddha’s passing??

Dhammapada 12, Verse 160

Kumāra kas sapa mātut their vatthu Attā hi attano nātho, ko hi nātho paro siyā; Attanā hi sudantena, nāthaṃ labhati dullabhaṃ.
nātho / nātha = to support, protector,refuge,help
(anātha = helpless,unprotected,poor )

“One indeed is one’s own refuge; how can others be one’s refuge? With oneself thoroughly trained, one can attain a refuge (i.e. arhatship), which is so difficult to obtain”


DN.16/(3) Mahāparinibbānasutta

Evaṃ kho, ānanda, bhikkhu attadīpo viharati attasaraṇo anaññasaraṇo, dhammadīpo dhammasaraṇo anaññasaraṇo
atta:[m.] soul; oneself.dīpa:[m.] 1.a lamp; island;; support. at-tadīpa:[adj.] relying on oneself.paṭisaraṇa:[nt.] shelter; help; protection

Sujato translation: Be your own island, your own refuge, with no other refuge. Let the teaching be your island and your refuge with no other refuge.

Is one Pali word for “refuge” consistently used in the phrase “…Take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha”… And which Pali word, or words, is that?

I think the Pali word for refuge is saraṇaṃ – see for example here: Pali Chanting in the Theravada Buddhist Tradition

Perhaps the notion of taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha was a later development–which occurred after the Buddha’s passing?

There are suttas where, having talked with the Blessed One, someone takes refuge in the three jewels – for example this one of the Cunda Suttas (AN 10.176):

Esāhaṃ, bhante, bhagavantaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi dhammañca bhikkhusaṅghañca. Upāsakaṃ maṃ bhagavā dhāretu ajjatagge pāṇupetaṃ saraṇaṃ gata nti.

I go in refuge to the Bhagavā, to the Dhamma, to the Sangha. From this day onward, may the Bhagavā remember me as a lay follower having gone to him in refuge for the life.

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Thank you! Do you know how that term for refuge differs from n

ātho / nātha = to support, protector,refuge,help
(anātha = helpless,unprotected,poor )
(as in Dhammapada 12, Verse 160–see above)
dīpa:[m.] 1.a lamp; island;; support.
at-tadīpa:[adj.] relying on oneself.
paṭisaraṇa:[nt.] shelter; help; protection
in DN 16

I guess I’m asking if you have a sense as to whether the possible denotations and connotations of those words just above are quite different from saraṇaṃ …?

If they are all very similar it could well be that the Buddha asked people to rely on themselves and the Dharma but after his death members of the sangha added the directives that one should also rely on the Buddha and the Sangha… That does seem to be the message in DN 16…

Check out the entry on the prefix paṭi- here.

It looks like paṭi- has a lot of diverse meanings, though.

I don’t.

Here are some dictionary entries if that helps:

So I’d guess the literal (rather than metaphorical) meanings are …

  • nātha is a person: a patron or protector

  • dīpa is a place, geographically separate[d] from elsewhere

  • saraṇa is “cp. Vedic śaraṇa protection, shelter, house”

  • paṭisaraṇa must be similar – the PTS dictionary entry for the paṭi prefix suggests it’s used variously, maybe meaning “near” or “towards” (alternatively sometimes “against” or “in opposition to”; or “protecting against”; or “comparing with”; or “close contact with”; etc. etc.).

I don’t know.

If you are asking a personal (rather than a historical) question, maybe you’re asking whether you can take refuge in the Dhamma, without taking refuge in the Buddha and the Sangha.

And if that’s your question I would hesitate to answer “no”.

But I would really hesitate to answer “yes”, though, see SN 45.2 for example, and more.

Or if you’re asking a historical question, maybe this is an example of faith – and/or of a beginning not being evident (i.e. that there is no historical record except the text[s], the doctrine[s] transmitted by the Sangha, and perhaps your own conscience).

There are other bits in DN 16 (e.g. “the four great references”) which imply that the Sangha was meant to continue, and the Vinaya; and lots of examples in the Suttas, of people learning from Arahants and not only from the Buddha; and so on. So.

Thank you so much! This is very helpful!

As in the case of quite a number of teachings / views in the Tripitaka (such as attitudes toward women), there seem to be contradictions on whether or not one should take refuge in the teacher and sangha …or what that might mean… Lots of warnings about false teachers and corrupt/misinformed sangha members… and a number of passages where practitioners are encouraged to rely on what they know for themselves…not on anyone or anything else…or what they know after putting the dharma through various tests/analyses…

Oh here’s one of those passages:

“For that which I have pointed out and formulated as the Dhamma and the Disci-pline, that shall be your Teacher when I am gone”

That is a translation of:

Yo vo, ānanda, mayā dhammo ca vinayo ca desito paññatto, so vo mamaccayena satthā.

“The Discipline” there is “Vinaya”. I expect that must be a reference to the monastic rules: so, “your teacher will be the Dhamma and the monastic rules” – an indication that the monastic order would (and should) continue.

Given that dīpa means “island”, I wonder whether that’s a metaphor for, “you all should stay, living somewhere secluded from lay society, in the sangha, governed by the vinaya (whose minor rules you can change if you want to), preserving the dhamma (according to the four great references)”.

And just a few lines beyond the one you quoted, there’s …

Perhaps even a single mendicant has doubt or uncertainty regarding the Buddha, the teaching, the Saṅgha, the path, or the practice. So ask, mendicants! Don’t regret it later, thinking: “We were in the Teacher’s presence and we weren’t able to ask the Buddha a question.”

… i.e. there it is again: the “Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha” formula.

I think you suggested earlier that maybe that was added/developed later? Well, I hadn’t heard that theory before. Anyway it is in the suttas, in many of the suttas.

I have always assumed that when referring to taking refuge in the Sangha, it was the Sangha of enlightened beings (sotopanna upwards) that we take refuge in rather than the monastic Sangha. And further it is the teachings and discipline of enlightened beings which are to be our teacher.

It seems that I have made quite a big mistake by the look of it?

Thanks for the thread.

Actually, I think that your idea…that such passages refers to taking refuge in the sangha of enlightened beings is one possible legitimate interpretation… That’s pretty much the Dzogchen/Mahamudra view in Tibetan Buddhism (where the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are recognized as inseparable, different aspects/manifestations of Buddha/the ultimate reality) …and given that living beings and phenomena are interconnected and interdependent the view that the Dharma, Sangha and Buddha are not separate makes sense.

In a sense your interpretation is the safest interpretation if one is EXTREMELY cautious about who/what one identifies as fully enlightened… and examines and test any “candidates’” teachings and practices very, very carefully. The real danger with taking refuge in anyone or any group or anything is that you may be misled or harmed or set off on a fruitless path by a person or group or belief system that is false/misguided/corrupt/uneffective, etc…

If you’re interested in learning about the teachings (attributed to the Buddha) on how to assess spiritual teachings and teachers, check out:

"When you know for yourselves…’ The Authenticity of the Pali Suttas"
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

and “Right View, Red Rust and White Bones: A Reexamination of Buddhist Teachings on Female Inferiority”

also Analayo’s work - especially on the Foundations of the Nuns’ order, and Alan Sponberg’s “Attitudes Toward Women and the Feminine in Early Buddhism” will give you a good sense of just how very unreliable the sutras can be.

As Rita Gross once said, “There are so many contradictions in the sutras you could make pretty much any kind of religion you want out of them.” Best to see them (like all spiritual texts) as collections of the accounts of a VERY diverse group of followers who disagreed about many, many things… some of whom were enlightened, and some of whom were downright cruel, hateful, small minded, etc. Some of the negative teachings on women are shocking.

One takes refuge in the sangha. If a monk is in the sangha but isn’t really a monk for X or Y reason, maybe they are deceptive about their practice or whatnot, then just don’t support them, or take refuge in them.

To not take refuge in the sangha at all is throwing the baby away with the bathwater. One bad egg doesn’t ruin the carton.

As for taking refuge in the āryasangha, IMO that is the same as taking refuge in the sangha while knowing you don’t mean to take refuge in bad practitioners. Sure one can say “I take refuge in the āryasangha” to be specific, but it doesn’t seem necessary, to me at least.


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Please do read the articles that I mentioned earlier in this thread …by Analayo, Alan Sponberg, Allison Goodwin and Thanissaro. Also I forgot to mention that Bhante Sujato has some very good work (a book and articles) on this issue and on early Sects and Sectarianism…

The negative teachings on, and special limiting rules for women attributed to the Buddha are incredibly harmful and have been one of the main reasons for misogyny and the low status and oppression of women throughout most of Asia… as well as the wide ranging consequences of that oppression. Same for negative teachings about non-Buddhists, the laity, people who experience misfortune, etc.

Given that the vast majority of nuns and monks continue to perpetuate some or all of these hateful ideas, and enforce the discriminatory rules–and to look down on the laity, people of other religions and sects, the poor, handicapped etc. as inferior…and given that the majority of those who know those views/behaviors are wrong (including many Western Buddhists) do nothing to try to change things… it is very dangerous to take refuge in the sangha unless you understand the term “refuge” as being a kind of support that under no circumstances involves blind following, relying on texts/others’ opinions and interpretations/traditions etc. without questioning and testing them.

Sadly, most “Buddhists” I know (in Asia and the West) tend to either blindly follow along when the sangha engages in harmful, irresponsible behavior–or they do little or nothing to try to change things and so are complicit in that behavior.

The Kalama sutta and other teachings on how to analyze the sutras and all spiritual teachings and practices are in part warnings about the dangers of just following along…

If you’re going to take “refuge” in the sangha and the dharma it’s essential to have a VERY questioning attitude, to examine and test all teachings and practices carefully, and insist on doing what is right, good and non-harmful.

Most people seem to take “refuge” to mean a kind of blind acceptance and respect… it’s an important reason why what is conventionally referred to as “Buddhism” has actually become its antithesis.

Going by the above and coming from living in a Buddhist community, I would liken taking refuge to getting membership at a Library.

I set the bar low because it is your initial subscription. From that point onwards hopefully there is further understanding to develop saddha in the triplegem.

Its not like joining a cult.