The four jewels in Theravada?

Continuing the discussion from Best motivation for actions and non-actions?:

Which I gather is motivated by:

“Mendicants, live as your own island, your own refuge, with no other refuge. Let the teaching be your island and your refuge, with no other refuge.
DN 26

How widespread is it in Theravada for reciting the four jewels of refuge as described above? It was my understanding that taking refuge in the triple gem was common to all extent traditions of Buddhism. Before this comment above I was not aware that some traditions might take refuge in a quadruple gem? How widespread is this? Is this common in Theravada?

Also, how does the Theravada generally square the above quote:

“Mendicants, live as your own island, your own refuge, with no other refuge. Let the teaching be your island and your refuge, with no other refuge.

With taking refuge in the Buddha and Sangha which is not mentioned in the quote?


I think taking Refuge in oneself and Refuge in the Triple Gem can be seen as different types of Refuge. Ultimately, to attain Enlightenment you will have to highly rely on your own faculties and your own Buddha-Nature, and the potential future Buddha within. I think relying on oneself for practice is the strong rigorous Refuge that got Gautama Enlightened under that Bodhi tree, including His striving before. After all, He was the One who developed the Triple Gem, and as the Buddha leading the Sangha, He still had to strongly rely on Himself.

With regards to the Three Jewels of Refuge, the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, that is a given, and importantly taught by Shakyamuni, as well as the modern Sangha, where taking Refuge is going to help you with your practice as you also take refuge in yourself if you are going to seriously walk the Path to Enlightenment. Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem is taught in the Buddhist Teachings quite extensively. Refuge in oneself is done when one understands the fullness of their own potential for Enlightenment.

The meaning of statement “live as your own island” is explained in DN16 itself as practising the four foundations of mindfulness culminating in arahantship. I very very quickly checked the commentary but it doesn’t add much, apart from maybe clarifying that it is in fact arahantship which is meant.

I don’t know what “Theravada” normally does, but a surprising number of my contacts seem to think this line indicates that Buddhism will be preserved in Sri Lanka. A brief reading of the text itself will confirm this is not the case.

Some groups do have a tradition of including this line in regular chanting. However, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that it constituted a separate fourth refuge as much as a summary of the Buddha’s teaching career. I.e. clarifying what was already taught rather than adding or negating anything.

It’s a very meaningful statement as “other refuge” could be all the wrong paths of externalists such as the theists and eternalists, as well as the nihilists, etc, so I think these are the refuges which should be avoided, not the Buddha and Sangha.


Just in addition to what the venerable wisely said above, I take it that refuge in the triple gem is something separate.

“No other refuge but oneself” I take to be saying that only oneself can purify oneself; we cannot be purified by another.

If a person were granted purity through what is seen, or if by a notion they could give up suffering, then one with attachments is purified by another: their view betrays them as one who asserts thus.
The brahmin speaks not of purity from another in terms of what is seen, heard, or thought; or by precepts or vows.
Snp 4.4

So the idea being that we should practice meditation and develop our minds, because our actions and practice are our heritage and ultimate refuge. A similar statement is repeated in the frequent recollection:

‘I am the owner of my deeds and heir to my deeds. Deeds are my womb, my relative, and my refuge.

Our deeds and practice are ultimately all we have.

On the other hand, I take the ‘three refuges’ to refer to where we seek spiritual guidance and where we turn to for examples and good friends. We look to the Buddha for guidance and we should try to follow his instructions and example. We look to the Dhamma and Sangha for instruction, guidance, and nourishment. But we shouldn’t expect the Buddha, hearing his teaching, or other Sangha members to purify us. For that we should rely on our own deeds.

Just another potential angle on it. (And BTW I have never heard of or seen this taken as a ‘fourth refuge’ in the same sense as people take the three refuges. I think it being part of regular chanting for some makes sense though.)

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Thanks, but do you have any information on the practice of taking refuge in the four jewels mentioned in the OP via chanting or prayer? How common or widespread is this practice?

These 4 refuges formulas are repeated: Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha and oneself, with no other refuge repeated for each individually.

I’m looking for information on that ^^^. Is that a common or widespread practice in Theravada? It is the first time I’ve heard of this so I’m looking to understand how common it is.


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I just edited the post to clarify this. Short answer, I have not ever seen them that way. I see them as separate categories of things, and that is how I feel others I’m familiar with would take it as well.


SBS one just uses the one from the sutta above, just oneself and dhamma.

But you don’t say it like:
“Buddham … Dhammam … Sangham … Attam Saranam Gacchāmi” I assume? And you don’t give lay followers the four refuges?

Just chanting the passage doesn’t make it a fourth refuge in a list of 3. It seems there may be some semantic confusion here.

Ok faulty memory. It seems that I matched up both. SBS one has this

Atta-dīpā bhikkhave viharatha atta-saraṇā anañña-saraṇā
Dhamma-dīpā dhamma-saraṇā anañña-saraṇā

Bhikkhus dwell with yourselves as an island
With yourselves as a refuge ’ with no other refuge
With the Dhamma as an island ’ with the Dhamma as a refuge
With no other refuge
[SN 22.43]

Brahmavihara one has this: (only one example here, it appears 3 times).

natthi me saraṇaṃ aññam | buddho me saraṇaṃ varaṃ |
etena saccavajjena | hotu te (me) jayamaṅgalaṃ |

No other refuge do I seek, the Buddha is my supreme refuge.
By the speaking of this Truth, may peaceful victory be yours (mine)!

(10) natthi me saraṇaṃ aññam | dhammo me saraṇaṃ varaṃ |
etena saccavajjena | hotu te (me) jayamaṅgalaṃ |

No other refuge do I seek, the dhamma is my supreme refuge.
By the speaking of this Truth, may peaceful victory be yours (mine)!

(11) natthi me saraṇaṃ aññam | saṅgho me saraṇaṃ varaṃ |
etena saccavajjena | hotu te (me) jayamaṅgalaṃ |

No other refuge do I seek, the saṅgha is my supreme refuge.
By the speaking of this Truth, may peaceful victory be yours (mine)!

I didn’t memorized Na Uyana’s one, so maybe it could have all 4 or maybe not.

Philosophically it can be combined that the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha can be found within. After all it is from within that we experience this world. So taking Refuge in oneself can also possibly be a Way of not seeking Enlightenment outside of oneself. This may be a difficult philosophy to grasp, but it may be accurate.


“Mendicants, live as your own island, your own refuge, with no other refuge. Let the teaching be your island and your refuge, with no other refuge.

From this saying, it can be directly inferred that your self (body, feelings, mind, phenomena) is the island of refuge.

Why not the Buddha and the Sangha, but the Dharma?

I think the Dharma here is not the written teachings. The Dharma here is the natural law that you can hear in your present life. And the Dharma does not depend on whether the Buddha or the Sangha exists, so you can always rely on the Dharma.