A Matter of Life and Death The Importance of Taking the Three Refuges

Based on the Commentaries (µAtthakatha³) of Ven Buddhaghosa, 5th century C E
Lee Yu Ban, Sept 2010

Buddham saranam gacchami I go for refuge to the Buddha; Dhammam saranam gacchami I go for refuge to the Dhamma; Sangham saranam gacchami I go for refuge to the Sangha.

Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami Dutiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami Tatiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami

What I ll cover
1. Why Take Refuge 2. The Existence of a Refuge 3. The 3 Jewels as the Supreme Refuge 4. The Act of Going for Refuge 5. Corruptions and Breach of Refuge

Dhammapada verses 188-192
‡ 188. Driven by fear, men go for refuge to many places to hills, woods, groves, trees and shrines. ‡ 189. Such, indeed, is no safe refuge; such is not the refuge supreme. Not by resorting to such a refuge is one released from all suffering. ‡ 190-191. He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma and his Sangha, and penetrate with wisdom the Four Noble Truths suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of suffering. ‡ 192. This indeed is the safe refuge, this the refuge supreme. Having gone to such a refuge, one is released from all suffering.

1. W y Take ef ge
‡ B dd ag osa says t at t e 3 ef ges offers protection from s ffering arising from:
± T e dangers in t e present life ± T e dangers in f t re lives ± T e dangers in o r general co rse of existence in Samsara

Dangers pertaining to the present life
We all want happiness, but this is threatened by: ‡ The uncertainty of life
± we are subject to disease, accident, and injury ± disasters such as earthquakes and floods ± Society problems like business failure, loss of job, crime, social unrest, war ± Ultimately, death

‡ Even when they are unrealised we live in constant, stress, anxiety, fear ‡ When our fears are realised, we experience depression, grief, despair
Our lives are like the ³woodcutter in the well´

The First Reason for Going For Refuge
‡ How then do we rid ourselves of this fear, stress, suffering? ‡ Since we cannot alter the nature of the world to make it harmonize with our will, we must change ourselves, by putting away attachment and aversion towards the world. We have to stop our clinging, to stop wanting things to go our way, to learn to view events with a detached equanimity. ‡ We cannot change the realities of this world but we can change our attitude towards it. Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional.

This is the first reason for going for refuge the need for protection from reaction to the dangers in this life.

The Dangers Pertaining to Future Lives
‡ Our liability to harm and danger does not end with death. ‡ With death comes another birth and a new round of suffering. ‡ can take place in any of the 31 planes of existence ± Hell, animals, petas, asuras, humans, devas and above

The Six Realms of Rebirth

You are here, ..

for now

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Devas - live in splendor and happiness. Yet even the Devas grow old, die and are reborn Asura - marked by their fierce envy. The karma of hate and jealousy causes rebirth as Asuras. Petas- A hungry ghost always looking outside himself for things that will satisfy the craving within. Hungry ghosts are characterized by insatiable hunger. Hell Realm - the most terrible of the Six Realms. Everything makes them angry. Animal Realm - conditioned by ignorance and dullness. Human Realm - the only realm of the six from which beings may escape samsara. Enlightenment is at hand in the Human Realm, yet only a few open their eyes and see it.

What determines our rebirth?
Beings are owners of their kamma, heirs of kamma, they have kamma as their seed, kamma as their relatives, kamma as their home.

It is kamma that differentiate beings according to inferiority and superiority. ~ Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta

We need to protect ourselves from the danger of low rebirths
‡ Protection from a falling into the plane of misery cannot be obtained from others. ‡ It can only be prevented by avoiding the causes leading to an unfortunate rebirth. ‡ The cause for rebirth into any specific plane of existence lies in our kamma ‡ Thus we need instruction on doing wholesome kamma and avoiding unwholesome kamma

± By purifying our actions of our body, our speech and mind

The second reason for going for refuge
‡ To avoid committing unwholesome kamma we need help, for two main reasons. - To choose correctly, we require guidance Clear teachings from one who knows the results of all actions, and the causes leading to rebirth in the different planes of existence. - even when we can discriminate right from wrong, our weaknesses often drive us to pursue the wrong. The second reason for going for refuge the need to master our actions so as to avoid falling into the lower rebirths in future lives.

Dangers pertaining to the general course of existence in samsara
‡ More dangerous than the dukkha that is experienced in this life and in the next life is the unending round of rebirth in samsara. ‡ Samsara is the cycle of becoming, the round of birth, aging and death, which has been revolving through beginningless time.

The third reason for going for refuge
‡ The causes for birth in samsara are within ourselves ‡ To put an end to our existence in samsara, we must put an end to the craving for existence (bhava-tanha). ‡ Bhava-tanha has its roots in our minds - the so called 3 poisons ( greed, hatred and delusion ) ‡ The Buddha, in the 4 Noble Truths describes the way how we can uproot Delusion and put an end to Rebirth

This is the third reason for going for refuge deliverance from Samsara.

the need for

"Why do we need a refuge?"
‡ Protection from: ± Dangers pertaining to the present life ± Dangers pertaining to future lives ± Dangers pertaining to existence in samsara. ‡ Benefits ± Happiness in the present life ± Secure future lives ± Eventual Liberation from samsara

2. The Existence of a Refuge
‡ A refuge must be secure, beyond danger and distress ‡ The refuge must be accessible to us. ‡ When people have gone for refuge, then by that very going for refuge it crushes, dispels, removes, and stops their fear, anguish, suffering, risk of unhappy rebirth and defilement. ~ Khuddakapatha-Atthakatha

3. Identification of the Objects of Refuge The Supremacy of the 3 Refuges
Salutation To The Buddha Such indeed is the Blessed One, Exalted, Fully Enlightened, Endowed with knowledge and virtue, Well-gone, Knower of the worlds, a Guide incomparable for the training of individuals, Teacher of gods and men, Enlightened and Holy. Salutation To The Dhamma Well-expounded is the Dhamma by the Blessed One to be self-realized; with immediate fruit; inviting to come and see; capable of being entered upon; to be realised by the wise each for himself. Salutation To The Sangha Of good conduct is the Order of the Disciples of the Blessed One. Of upright conduct is the Order of the Blessed One. Of wise conduct is the Order of the Blessed One. Of dutiful conduct is the Order of the Blessed One.
Itipiso Bhagava Araham Sammasambuddho vijjacaranasampanno Sugato Lokavidu Anuttaro purisadamma-sarathi sattha Devamanussanam Buddha Bhagavati Svakkhato Bhagavata Dhammo Sanditthiko, Akaliko, Ehipassiko Opanayiko, Paccattam veditabbo vinnuhiti Supatipanno Bhagavato savakasangho Ujupatipanno Bhagavato savakasangho Nayapatipanno Bhagavato savakasangho Samicipatipanno Bhagavato savakasangho

4. The Act of Going for Refuge
Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what had been overturned, were to reveal what was hidden, were to show the way to one who was lost, or were to hold up a lamp in the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way Master Gotama has -- through many lines of reasoning -- made the Dhamma clear. I go to Master Gotama for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha. May Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge, from this day forward, for life. " ~ Abhaya Sutta, (Discourse to Prince Abhaya).
Commitment, Centrality, Certainty


ire e ts i Taki g Ref ge effectively

‡ The for al co it e t to the Triple Ge is expressed by reciti g the for la of f lly e braci g the B ddha's teachi g. st be acco pa ied by faith, devotio a d a fir ‡ To be effective, it i te tio . ‡ Taki g the Ref ge i the 3 Jewels the provides access to the whole body of teachi gs that gives s safety
Buddham saranam gacchami I go for refuge to the Buddha; Dhammam saranam gacchami I go for refuge to the Dhamma; Sangham saranam gacchami I go for refuge to the Sangha.

5. Corruptions and Breach of the Refuge
‡ According to the commentaries there are three factors that defile the going for refuge: ± ignorance ± doubt ± wrong views ‡ Even though the refuge act is defiled by these corruptions, as long as a person regards the Three Jewels as his supreme reliance his going for refuge is intact and he remains a Buddhist follower. ‡ But though the refuge is intact, his attitude of taking refuge is defective and has to be purified.

Breach of Refuge
‡ If he comes to regard another spiritual teacher as superior to the Buddha, or as possessing greater spiritual authority than the Buddha. ‡ If he comes to regard another religious teaching as superior to the Dhamma, or resorts to some other system of practice as his means to deliverance. ‡ If he comes to regard some spiritual community other than the ariyan Sangha as occupying a higher spiritual level than the ariyan Sangha.

± then his going for refuge is broken.

The beneficial teachings of others
‡ Are there spiritual truths in other religions?- This question was answered by Ven Sariputta. ‡ "Friends, just as the footprints of all legged animals are encompassed by the footprint of the elephant, and the elephant's footprint is reckoned the foremost among them in terms of size; in the same way, all skillful qualities are gathered under the Four Noble Truths.
~ Ven. Sariputta in the Maha- hatthipadopama

Sutta: The Great Elephant Footprint Simile

Natthi me saranam aññam Buddho (Dhammo, Sangho) me saranam varam "For me there is no other refuge, the Buddha, (Dhamma, Sangha) is my supreme refuge.
² traditional devotional stanza

If you can say this with firm conviction, then only can you count yourself as a disciple of the Buddha.