The term "refuge" in translations of Dhammapada and DN 16 (and any parallels)

Does anyone have an opinion about the meaning of (or the use of) the term “refuge” in the following translations of Dhammapada 12.160 and Mahāparinibbāna Sutta DN 16, Part 2.33? (Also, if you know of any parallels to these passages I would also be grateful for any information about them.)

Specifically, I am wondering, do these passages contradict Mahayana and Vajrayana (and perhaps some Theravada) practices that call for taking refuge in the Teacher/Guru? Or in the Dharma, the Buddha and the Sangha?

Or is each of the above just one potential interpretation of the passage?

I’m referring to the following translations: “One indeed is one’s own refuge; how can others be one’s refuge? With oneself thoroughly tamed, one can attain a refuge (i.e. arhatship), which is so difficult to obtain” (Dhammapada 12, Verse 160/Yamakavagga 1.12, Khuddaka Nikāya (KN) and its parallels), translator, Daw Mya Tin,

“[B]e islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge” (DN 16, Part 2.33).

(The following passage (and the larger discourse in which it is found) does seem to discourage taking refuge in any teacher: “For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Teacher when I am gone” (Mahāparinibbāna Sutta DN 16 Part 6.1, Vajira and Story, Access to Insight).

Any other thoughts about other passages that stress the importance of relying on oneself or taking refuge in oneself (as opposed to the Teacher/the Sangha/other sources of authority etc.) would be appreciated.


Dhp 160

Attā hi attano nātho,
ko hi nātho paro siyā;
Attanā hi sudantena,
nāthaṃ labhati dullabhaṃ.

One truly is the protector of oneself; who else could the protector be? With oneself fully controlled, one gains a mastery that is hard to gain.

nātho → nātha

Nātha,[Ved.nātha,nāth,to which Goth.nipan (to support),Ohg.gināda (grace)] protector,refuge,help A.V,23,89; Dh.160 (attā hi attano n.),380; Sn.1131 (Nd2 has nāga); DhA.IV,117; PvA.1.lokanātha Saviour of the world (Ep.of the Buddha) Sn.995; PvA.42.-- anātha helpless,unprotected,poor J.I,6 (nāthânāthā rich & poor); PvA.3 (°sālā poor house) 65.Cp.nādhati.(Page 349)


Thank you! Do you know how this word choice compares to the word choice in passages that relate to “taking refuge” in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha? (or to the “Three Treasures” or anything else? )

I am wondering if the Dhammapada 12 verse and “[B]e islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge” (DN 16, Part 2.33) contradict other sutras that urge one to take refuge in the Buddha/the Guru/the Teacher/the Sangha…

(…Or if anyone knows of any good articles on that subject please do let me know)

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  1. Saraṇattaya

Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa.

Buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi,
Dhammaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi,
Saṃghaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi.

Short Readings 1
Going for Refuge

I go to the Buddha for refuge.
I go to the Dhamma for refuge.
I go to the Sangha for refuge.

saraṇaṃ → saraṇa

Saraṇa,1 (nt.) [cp.Vedic śaraṇa protection,shelter,house,śarman id.; śālā hall; to Idj.*kel to hide,as in Lat.celo,Gr.kalu/ptw to conceal,Oir.celim,Ohg.Ags.helan,Goth.huljan to envelop; Ohg.hella=E.hell; also E.hall,and others] shelter,house Sn.591; refuge,protection D.III,187; Sn.503; J.II,28; DA.I,229; especially the three refuges-the Buddha,the Dhamma,and the Brotherhood-A.I,56; D.I,145; J.I,28; usually combined with verbs like upeti Vv 532; Sn.31; gacchati D.I,116; A.III,242; Vin.I,4; Dh.190; Sn.p.15,25; It.63; or yāti Sn.179; Dh.188; asaraṇa,asaraṇībhūta without help and refuge Miln.148.See leṇa 2.

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DN.16/(3) Mahāparinibbānasuttaṃ

Evaṃ kho, ānanda, bhikkhu attadīpo viharati attasaraṇo anaññasaraṇo, dhammadīpo dhammasaraṇo anaññasaraṇo

Therefore, Ānanda, live with yourself as an island, yourself as a refuge, with no other refuge, with the Teaching as an island, the Teaching as a refuge, with no other refuge.

attadīpo → attadīpa

atta:[m.] soul; oneself.

dīpa:[m.] 1.a lamp; island;; support.

attadīpa:[adj.] relying on oneself.

attasaraṇo → attasaraṇa

atta and saraṇa, see above.

attasaraṇā = attappaṭisaraṇā = atta + paṭisaraṇā

paṭisaraṇa:[nt.] shelter; help; protection

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Thank you!!!

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