To officially become a Buddhist, people need to take refuge in the Three Jewels (“Triratna” in Sanskrit). Taking refuge means that we return to a place of shelter and protection. So what are the Three Jewels that we should find shelter from? They include three precious entities: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
The Buddha—The great Teacher and Father of all sentient beings
The first Jewel is the Buddha, who attained ultimate enlightenment and understands the utmost essence of everything in the universe. He is the One with complete virtues and boundless compassion towards every sentient being.
The Dharma—The precious teachings of the Buddha
The Dharma represents what the Buddha taught through all His life. The Buddha was born in Nepal over 2500 years ago. He was a crown prince and abandoned His throne to become an ascetic. After reaching ultimate enlightenment, He disseminated His great and enormous teachings that have been kept until today as Sutras in the Tipitaka- The compilation of Buddhist scriptures. His teachings give people the wisdom to realise the origin of their sufferings and approaches to overcome them.
The Sangha—The harmonious assembly of ordained practitioners
They are people who renounced the worldly life to live an ascetic life and practise Buddha Dharma. The Sangha idealizes the Buddha’s vows and wills, which are to cultivate themselves according to the teachings of the Buddha and spread what they have learned and experienced. In this way, the Sangha can maintain the existence of Buddha Dharma.
The meaning of taking refuge in the Three Jewels
In the ritual of taking refuge in the Three Jewels, Buddhists would vow that:
“I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.”
Consequently, taking refuge in the Three Jewels provides a Buddhist with a spiritual and mental place to resort to. It helps keep our practice path well-oriented when we place our pure belief in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Thay Thich Truc Thai Minh said:
“According to the Sutra, a man will grow his blessings by a thousand times after taking refuge in the Three Jewels.”
Those who have taken refuge in the Three Jewels need to gradually conform to the five precepts of lay Buddhists, namely no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no false speech and no addiction. This also shows the will of Buddhists to learn and practise the wisdom that the Buddha achieved through the teachings of His living disciples—the Sangha—to purify their minds and behave in a more benevolent way in daily life.
By taking refuge in the Three Jewels, Buddhists have taken their first step on the path to attain full enlightenment of the Buddhas.