Dharma Wheel by Bob Jacobson
Site Contents
The Three Jewels
The Buddha
The Teachings
The Sangha
Three Vehicles
Tibetan Buddhism
F.A.Q.- sheet
4 Noble Truths
Death & Rebirth
4 Immeasurables
58 Meditations
Other Delusions
Funny stories
Advised Books
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Namo Dharmaya !

Hail to the Teachings


Why Take Refuge?
The Buddha
The Dharma
The Sangha
Refuge Vows
Refuge Advice
Refuge Prayer

"Taking refuge" makes the difference between Buddhists and non-Buddhists. It is not really necessary to take refuge in a formal session with a teacher, but it may help to clarify your choice.

The idea behind taking refuge is that when it starts to rain, we like to find a shelter. The Buddhist shelter from the rain of problems and pain is threefold: the Buddha, his teachings (the Dharma) and the spiritual community (the Sangha). It means that when we have some understanding about suffering, and we have confidence that the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha (the "Three Jewels") can help us. We should however not be taking refuge in Buddhism to avoid problems in this very life, there are many non-religious organisations for that, but we should take refuge to avoid problems in future lives.

We like to be free from suffering, now and in future lives. When we understand the frustrating nature of all life, we like to be freed from cyclic existence in general. The best reason would be the wish to free all living (sentient) beings from suffering.

The analogy of sickness is often used; Buddha is the doctor; Dharma is the medicine; Sangha is the nurse; we are the patient; the cure is taking the medicine, which means practising the methods. Taking refuge is like unpacking the medicine and deciding to follow the doctor's advice.


Buddha means enlightened, awakened or omniscient One. A Buddha is a person who has purified all defilements and developed all good qualities. A Buddha is totally free from obscurations and suffering after travelling the entire spiritual path. A Buddha started as an ordinary person and generated infinite compassion and equanimity to arrive at a state of highest bliss, and omniscience. But, as the Buddha himself said:  "I cannot do but point the way" - if we don't take the medicine, the doctor is helpless, but what better doctor could we have than an omniscient one?


Dharma is a Sanskrit word, meaning doctrine, law or truth. The word Dharma has many different connotations, but in the Buddhist sense, it refers to "what holds back the mind from suffering", or the Buddha's teachings. In this sense, the Dharma is the ultimate medicine against all suffering.

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The Sangha refers to the spiritual community. It is defined in various ways, like:

- Whole community of  ordained and lay Buddhists. This is however not the traditional use.
- More restricted: ordained Buddhist practitioners (monks and nuns).
- Most specific: persons who have direct perception of emptiness (ordained or lay).

The Sangha, are like other travellers on the same spiritual path, but we need their help like nurses with the correct medicine of good advice. They are our spiritual friends who can help us stay on the right path and can share their own experience.

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If we decide to go for refuge in the three jewels, we should also commit ourselves to the path we choose by keeping vows.
The one mandatory vow is not wanting to harm other sentient beings.

Optional other vows are:

1. Not killing: refers usually to humans, killing animals would of course still be harming sentient beings.
2. Not stealing: not taking what is not given; (this includes paying taxes).
3. No sexual misconduct: refers usually to committing adultery (having sex with others when married).
4. Not lying: refers usually to not lying about spiritual attainments, but can include all lying.
5. No intoxicants; refers traditionally to alcohol, but anything robbing clarity of mind (like drugs) is usually included.

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 1. Primary guidelines

 a. To actualise refuge in:
- Buddha: commit yourself to one master, the Buddha
- Dharma: listen, study and practice Dharma to overcome your own delusions
- Sangha: respect Sangha and train in accordance with their example

 b. Try to:
- subdue the body, speech and mind, instead of letting our senses rule us, do not speak harsh, sceptical and avoid being judgmental.
- practice ethics and vows.
- be kind and considerate to any living being.
- make special offerings on two special days of the year: the 15th of 4th lunar month (around May), to celebrate birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha, and on the 4th of 6th lunar month (around July) to celebrate the first turning of  the wheel - or the first teachings of the Buddha on the 4 Noble Truths in Sarnath.

2. Secondary guidelines
Referring to the refuge in the:
- Buddha: do not follow other, lower beings as ultimate spiritual guides.
- Dharma: do not harm or upset humans or animals.
- Sangha: do not be negatively influenced by any extremists or others opposing our beliefs

To show respect to the:
- Buddha: respect all images of the Buddha, treat these as if they are Buddhas.
- Dharma: respect texts, treat them with utmost care.
- Sangha: respect even piece of robes and all who wear robes (despite behaviour)

3. Six points of training:
1. Take refuge in the Three Jewels, do not seek the source of your happiness and problems outside yourself.
2. Offer the first part of food or drink to the triple gem, by blessing it before eating or drinking by reciting "Om Ah Hum".
3. Encourage others to become inner beings (Buddhists) and to take refuge; but only when one is asked for advice.
4. Recite the refuge prayer 3x in the day and 3x in the night.
5. Follow the example of the Three Jewels, rely on them as the only trustworthy refuge objects.
6. Never lose faith in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

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Namo Buddhaya
Namo Dharmaya
Namo Sanghaya

I go for refuge to the Buddha,
I go for refuge to the Dharma,
I go for refuge to the Sangha.

or, the Tibetan (Mahayana) version:

Until I am enlightened,
I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Through the virtue I create by practising giving and the other perfections,
may I become a Buddha to benefit all sentient beings.

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Last updated: April 18, 2001