Refuge in Buddhism

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Veneration of the Three Jewels, Chorasan, Gandhara, 2nd century AD, schist – Ethnological Museum of Berlin

In Buddhism, refuge or taking refuge refers to the prayer or recitation performed at the beginning of the day or of a practice session. Refuge is taken in the Three Jewels (also known as the Triple Gem or Three Refuges). These are the three supports in which a Buddhist takes refuge.

The Three Jewels are:

  • The Buddha, the fully enlightened one
  • The Dharma, the teachings expounded by the Buddha
  • The Sangha, the monastic order of Buddhism that practice Dharmas.
Alms giving to several thousand monks in Bangkok, in an organized event
In the Pāli Canon, the Buddhist monk is given a significant role in promoting and upholding faith among laypeople.[1][2]

Since early Buddhism, devotees expressed their faith through the act of taking refuge, which is threefold. In this, it centres on the authority of a Buddha as a supremely awakened being, by assenting to a role for a Buddha as a teacher of both humans and devās (heavenly beings). This often includes other Buddhas from the past, and Buddhas who have not yet arisen. Secondly, the taking of refuge honours the truth and efficacy of the Buddha's spiritual doctrine, which includes the characteristics of phenomenon (Pali: saṅkhāra) such as their impermanence (Pali: anicca), and the path to liberation.[3][4] The taking of refuge ends with the acceptance of worthiness of the community of spiritually developed followers (the saṅgha), which is mostly defined as the monastic community, but may also include lay people and even devās provided they are nearly or completely enlightened.[5][6] Early Buddhism did not include bodhisattvas in the Three Refuges, because they were considered to still be on the path to enlightenment.[7]

Early texts describe the saṅgha as a "field of merit", because early Buddhists regard offerings to them as particularly karmically fruitful.[5] Lay devotees support and revere the saṅgha, of which they believe it will render them merit and bring them closer to enlightenment.[8] At the same time, the Buddhist monk is given a significant role in promoting and upholding faith among laypeople. Although many examples in the canon are mentioned of well-behaved monks, there are also cases of monks misbehaving. In such cases, the texts describe that the Buddha responds with great sensitivity to the perceptions of the lay community. When the Buddha sets out new rules in the monastic code to deal with the wrongdoings of his monastics, he usually states that such behavior should be curbed, because it would not "persuade non-believers" and "believers will turn away". He expects monks, nuns and novices to not only to lead the spiritual life for their own benefit, but also to uphold the faith of the people. On the other hand, they are not to take the task of inspiring faith to the extent of hypocrisy or inappropriateness, for example, by taking on other professions apart from being a monastic, or by courting favours by giving items to the laypeople.[1][2]

Thus, taking refuge is a form of aspiration to lead a life with the Triple Gem at its core. Taking refuge is done by a short formula in which one names the Buddha, the dharma and the saṅgha as refuges.[9][6] In early Buddhist scriptures, taking refuge is an expression of determination to follow the Buddha's path, but not a relinquishing of responsibility.[4] Refuge is common to all major schools of Buddhism.

Recitation in Pali[edit]

Translations of
Sanskritशरण (śaraṇa)
(Pinyin: Guīyī)
(Rōmaji: kie)
(RR: gwiui Tamil : Saranam / saran சரணம்)
Thaiสรณะ, ที่พึ่ง ที่ระลึก RTGSsarana, thi phueng thi raluek
VietnameseQuy y
Glossary of Buddhism

The most used recitation in the Pali language goes:[10]

Buddham saranam gacchami.
      I take refuge in the Buddha.

Dhammam saranam gacchami.
      I take refuge in the Dharma.

Sangham saranam gacchami.
      I take refuge in the Sangha.

Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami.
      For the second time, I take refuge in the Buddha.
Dutiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami.
      For the second time, I take refuge in the Dharma.
Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami.
      For the second time, I take refuge in the Sangha.

Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami.
      For the third time, I take refuge in the Buddha.
Tatiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami.
      For the third time, I take refuge in the Dharma.
Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami.
      For the third time, I take refuge in the Sangha.

Except this there are various recitations mentioned in Pali literature for taking refuge in the Three Jewels. Brett Shults proposes that Pali texts may employ the Brahmanical motif of a group of three refuges, as found in Rig Veda 9.97.47, Rig Veda 6.46.9 and Chandogya Upanishad 2.22.3-4.[11]


Gautama Buddha delivering his first sermon in the deer park at Sarnath, Varanasi with his right hand turning the Dharmachakra, resting on the Triratna symbol flanked on either side by a deer. Statue on display at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai

Faith is an important teaching element in both Theravada and Mahayana traditions. In contrast to perceived Western notions of faith, faith in Buddhism arises from accumulated experience and reasoning.

In the Kalama Sutra, the Buddha explicitly argues against simply following authority or tradition, particularly those of religions contemporary to the Buddha's time.[12] There remains value for a degree of trusting confidence and belief in Buddhism, primarily in the spiritual attainment and salvation or enlightenment. Faith in Buddhism centres on belief in the Three Jewels.


Lay followers often undertake five precepts in the same ceremony as they take the refuges.[13][14] Monks administer the precepts to the laypeople, which creates an additional psychological effect.[15] The five precepts are:

  1. to refrain from killing;[16][17][18]
  2. to refrain from stealing;[16][17][18]
  3. to refrain from lying;[16][17][18]
  4. to refrain from improper sexual conduct;[16][17][18]
  5. to refrain from consuming intoxicants.[16][17][18]

In Early Buddhist Texts, the role of the five precepts gradually developed. First of all, the precepts were combined with a declaration of faith in the triple gem (the Buddha, his teaching and the monastic community). Next, the precepts developed to become the foundation of lay practice.[19] The precepts were seen as a preliminary condition for the higher development of the mind.[20] At a third stage in the texts, the precepts were actually mentioned together with the triple gem, as though they were part of it. Lastly, the precepts, together with the triple gem, became a required condition for the practice of Buddhism, as lay people had to undergo a formal initiation to become a member of the Buddhist religion.[21] When Buddhism spread to different places and people, the role of the precepts began to vary. In countries in which Buddhism was adopted as the main religion without much competition from other religious disciplines, such as Thailand, the relation between the initiation of a lay person and the five precepts has been virtually non-existent, and the taking of the precepts has become a sort of ritual cleansing ceremony. In such countries, people are presumed Buddhist from birth without much of an initiation. The precepts are often committed to by new followers as part of their installment, yet this is not very pronounced. However, in some countries like China, where Buddhism was not the only religion, the precepts became an ordination ceremony to initiate lay people into the Buddhist religion.[22]

A layperson who upholds the precepts is described in the texts as a "jewel among laymen".[23]

Vajrayana refuge formulations[edit]

In Tibetan Buddhism there are three refuge formulations, the Outer, Inner, and Secret forms of the Three Jewels. The 'Outer' form is the 'Triple Gem', (Sanskrit:triratna), the 'Inner' is the Three Roots and the 'Secret' form is the 'Three Bodies' or trikaya of a Buddha. These alternative refuge formulations are employed by those undertaking deity yoga and other tantric practices within the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition as a means of recognizing Buddha Nature.[citation needed]

Recitations in other languages[edit]

In Sanskrit[edit]

The most used recitation in the Sanskrit language goes:

Ahamittham (name) nama yavajjivam Buddham sharanam gacchami dvipadanamagram.
Ahamittham (name) nama yavajjivam Dharmam sharanam gacchami viraganamagram.
Ahamittham (name) nama yavajjivam Sangham sharanam gacchami gananamagram.

Dvitiyamapi ahamittham (name) nama yavajjivam Buddham sharanam gacchami dvipadanamagram.
Dvitiyamapi ahamittham (name) nama yavajjivam Dharmam sharanam gacchami viraganamagram.
Dvitiyamapi ahamittham (name) nama yavajjivam Sangham sharanam gacchami gananamagram.

Tritiyamapi ahamittham (name) nama yavajjivam Buddham sharanam gacchami dvipadanamagram.
Tritiyamapi ahamittham (name) nama yavajjivam Dharmam sharanam gacchami viraganamagram.
Tritiyamapi ahamittham (name) nama yavajjivam Sangham sharanam gacchami gananamagram.

In Chinese[edit]

The most used recitation in the Chinese language goes:

自 皈 依 佛 當 願 眾 生 體 解 大 道 發 無 上 心
zì guī yī fó dang yuàn zhòng shēng tǐ jiě dà dào fā wú shàng xīn

自皈 依 法 當 願 眾 生 深 入 經 藏 智 慧 如 海
zì guī yī fǎ dang yuàn zhòng shēng shēn rù jīng cáng zhì huì rú hǎi

自 皈 依 僧 當 願 眾 生 統 理 大 眾 一 切 無 礙
zì guī yī sēng dang yuàn zhòng shēng tǒng lǐ dà zhòng yī qiē wú ài

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Wijayaratna 1990, pp. 130–1.
  2. ^ a b Buswell & Lopez 2013, Kuladūșaka.
  3. ^ Harvey 2013, p. 245.
  4. ^ a b Kariyawasam, A.G.S. (1995). Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka. The Wheel Publication. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. Archived from the original on 28 March 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2007.
  5. ^ a b Harvey 2013, p. 246.
  6. ^ a b Robinson & Johnson 1997, p. 43.
  7. ^ Buswell & Lopez 2013, Paramatthasaṅgha.
  8. ^ Werner 2013, p. 39.
  9. ^ Irons 2008, p. 403.
  10. ^ "The Three Treasures". The Pluralism Project. Harvard University. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  11. ^ Shults, Brett (May 2014). "On the Buddha's Use of Some Brahmanical Motifs in Pali Texts". Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. 6: 119.
  12. ^ "Kalama Sutta: The Buddha's Charter of Free Inquiry". 4 February 2013. Archived from the original on 4 February 2013.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ Getz 2004, p. 673.
  14. ^ "Festivals and Calendrical Rituals". Encyclopedia of Buddhism. The Gale Group. 2004. Archived from the original on 23 December 2017 – via
  15. ^ Harvey 2000, p. 80.
  16. ^ a b c d e "The Eight Precepts: attha-sila".
  17. ^ a b c d e "Uposatha Sila: The Eight-Precept Observance".
  18. ^ a b c d e Sāmi, Dhamma. "The 8 precepts".
  19. ^ Kohn 1994, pp. 173–4.
  20. ^ Terwiel 2012, p. 178.
  21. ^ Kohn 1994, p. 173.
  22. ^ Terwiel 2012, pp. 178–9, 205.
  23. ^ De Silva 2016, p. 63.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]