Entry through the gate of Buddhism is usually formalized by taking refuge in the Three Jewels, i.e., the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha (monastic community). The meaning of taking refuge is to have clearly recognized the suffering of cyclic existence in the six realms, to have understood that the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha are the guides and protectors to lead us from cyclic existence to ultimate happiness, therefore to earnestly wish to rely on the Three Jewels in order to proceed on the path to liberation, and thereby eventually to bring about the emancipation of all beings from suffering toward the joy of Bodhi.
In Vajrayana, taking refuge in the Guru is added with the understanding that the Guru is the embodiment of all Three Jewels because the Guru is a representative of the Buddha, an exponent of the Dharma, and the direct, personal teacher among the members of the Sangha.
Although practitioners have taken refuge in the Three Jewels, there might still be troubling issues. Usually beginners can hardly appreciate the Buddha's omnipresent light of blessings, hence taking refuge in the Buddha may be just a transient belief. The Dharma is very profound, difficult to comprehend, and it is even more difficult to infuse it thoroughly into daily speeches and activities. Hence, taking refuge in the Dharma could deteriorate into rigid adherence to wordings and formalities. The monastic community is a huge and complex group with many sects; some sects are even disputing with one another. Therefore, taking refuge in the Sangha could deteriorate into blind following of an idol or sorrowful engagement in worldly strifes.
Based on my experiences of many years of devoted Buddhist practice, I
recognize that there is a need to advocate "Taking Refuge in the Bodhicitta."
The Bodhicitta is the aspiration that all sentient beings will attain complete
liberation, ultimate joy, and perfect unification of wisdom and compassion. The
Buddha is one who has realized the Bodhicitta, the Dharma consists of teachings
on practicing the Bodhicitta, and the Sangha consists of those who dedicate
their lives to the propagation of the Bodhicitta. Taking refuge in the
Bodhicitta completely includes taking refuge in the Three Jewels and the Guru.
On the path of practice, whenever one is troubled by inconsistencies between
theory and actuality, the decision on what to do or not to commit, and which way
to pursue or not to follow, should be made only in accordance with the
Bodhicitta. Taking refuge in the Bodhicitta amounts to making the Bodhicitta the
supreme guidance on the path of practice. May all who have dedicated their lives
to genuine Buddhist practices enjoy the supreme benefit of taking refuge in the
Written on September 24, 1997
A Study for the Cultivation of Harmony
Translated on November 29, 1997
Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada