Verfasst von: Enrico Kosmus | 20. Februar 2021

Buddhist Refuge

As Buddhists, whether we practice Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, or all three – in this case, Vajrayana – it is necessary for us to know the main focus. The term „Buddhist“ in the Tibetan language is „nangpa,“ which literally translates into German as „one who devotes himself to inner affairs.“ It means „going within.“ It is a religion, a tradition, that says to turn inward more than outward, to look inward into one’s own mind. Our original teacher, Buddha Shakyamuni, first developed the mind of enlightenment. In his mind he left incredible compassion for all living creatures. Then he took rebirth as a prince and progressed through the experiences in his life as a Buddha, all of which were teachings from which we can learn. In fact, he was an enlightened being long before he came into this world. He manifested in our world to show us the path of renunciation through the example of his life. What we basically need to renounce is our compulsive enthusiasm and attachment to cyclical existence. You all know the story of when the Buddha, as a young prince, ventured out of the palace and saw old age, sickness, death and renunciation for the first time. He also saw birth. And he also saw that although all these things appear externally, in fact they arise from within. Based on the inner nature, there is birth in the cyclic existence, there is the process of aging, there is sickness, and there may be death. Based on what he glimpsed, remembering that everything arises only from an internal condition, he renounced attachment to worldly life.


What should one strive for now? What is it that provides sufficient guidance? In ordinary life, we take refuge in all kinds of things. When it rains, we take refuge under an umbrella or a roof. When it is too hot, we take refuge in the shade. When it’s too cold, we seek the warmth of the fire. When we feel threatened, we seek protection from a higher authority. This list could go on, but all this offers us only temporary protection from the ailments of life. Only when we turn away from clinging to externals and turn our attention inward, moving back to ourselves, do we find reliable orientation. Perhaps at first we are still clumsy and awkward in spirit, so we still look for help in something external. Spiritual teachers, teachings – liberating information – and fellowship with others who are also searching offer a way to find our way back to our true nature at first. In the Buddhadharma, one speaks in this context of taking refuge in the Three Jewels, which represent the outer refuge. Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are called these. But what can help us a person who lived more than 2,500 years ago, whose words we can no longer hear directly, in whose community we cannot live precisely because of the historical separation? Therefore, Guru, Deva and Dakini form the immediate refuge, as they represent the Three Roots of Realization or Knowledge. Guru is that person who transmits the teachings and practices to us, who introduces us to the path and brings us to maturity through his blessings and skillful means. Deva is the embodiment of the potential of enlightenment, which appears as a meditation deity or spirit connection. Dakini is the dynamic expression of the nature of mind, the illusory play of the void nature. Finally, refuge also has an inner – energetic – aspect, where the trinity is seen as the interplay of energy channels, inner winds or energies, and the drops – the spirit-energetic points of alignment. The ultimate refuge then is the realization that these different levels of understanding are nothing other than one’s own primordially pure spirit nature, its clear lightness and its unhindered, compassionate expression. However, since we are still beginners on the path here, we first begin by taking refuge in the Three Jewels and try to visualize them through daily practice. Finally, if we can keep the Three Jewels present so that we never feel separated from them, this is a sign of being taken by the compassion of the highest refuge.

Taking Refuge

First, one takes refuge vows from a spiritual friend who is a pure object. Subsequently, one then takes refuge six times a day – three times during the day, three times at night – before the visualized objects of refuge. The refuge vows can be divided into two categories: 1) resolutions regarding what to give up, and 2) resolutions regarding what to accept or perform. These are respectively related to taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Refuge commitments

After taking refuge in the Buddha, one should not place one’s hopes in or take refuge in, rely on, etc., worldly gods. However, one can make offerings to them and commission them to perform actions related to the Dharma. Further, one should refrain from taking refuge in the Dharma all actions that harm other beings – whether in thought or deed. Instead, one should develop loving-kindness toward them.
After taking refuge in the Sangha, one should not unnecessarily associate with those who cultivate a wrong view (even if they call themselves „Buddhists“), who have negative views, and who have no faith in the Three Jewels. After taking the vows of refuge, one should cherish every image of a Buddha – even if it is only a fragment. One should also treat with respect every yellow scrap of cloth of the robe of an ordained Sangha member. So one should appreciate the images of the Three Jewels accordingly.
After taking refuge in the Dharma, one should treat all books containing the Buddha’s teachings and also their commentaries (including the practice texts) with respect, and should not put sectarian thoughts on them. After taking refuge in the Sangha, one should respect not only the monks and nuns of the Arya Sangha and holders of the Tripitaka, but also those who merely keep the marks of ordination. These are the special refuge vows. The general refuge vows are: never to forget the Three Jewels, even if one could gain a great deal in return; not to seek refuge elsewhere, no matter what; to constantly remember their virtue and make offerings; and to remember the benefits of taking refuge daily.

Damaging and/or stopping taking refuge

According to the name, refuge is terminated by attaining enlightenment as a Buddha, as this also terminates the time limit in the verses of refuge („Until the heart of enlightenment is attained…“). However, the causes of giving up taking refuge are literally: allowing wrong views to arise and giving up the Three Jewels, as well as being unable to keep the refuge vows and returning the vows. However, to fulfill only some of the refuge vows poorly or to break them, such as worshipping any gods, is seen as damaging or degrading the refuge vows. While this also has countless negative consequences, it does not constitute a final cessation.

Benefits of taking refuge

Taking refuge brings sevenfold benefits: 1) one enters the path of Dharma, i.e., one becomes a follower of Buddha; 2) one does not fall into the lower realms; 3) one receives support for all vows; 4) one is not harmed by any obstacles caused by humans and non-human beings; 5) one has few diseases and a long life; 6) obscurations performed by past action are purified; and 7) one will quickly attain Buddhahood through meditation of their cause, the two accumulations. One could go on and on about the subject of taking refuge, but taking refuge creates the interdependent relationship through which one will gradually realize ultimate Buddhahood, turn the Dharma wheel, and create a vast sangha of non-returners around oneself.

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