In order to become a Buddhist it is not necessary to go through any set ceremony or any form of “baptism” or to shave one’s head or adopt any special type of clothing. The followers of some religions require the male members to wear beards and dress their hair in a certain style. Still other religions require their followers to wear coloured marks on their foreheads and dress in a distinctive way. We have none of this in Buddhism. The only real way to be a Buddhist is to know Lord Buddha’s teaching and to follow it. But, as a rule, most people who decide to follow the Buddha’s teaching like to have some sort of simple ceremony to indicate that they have made this important decision. The ceremony we usually employ is known as “taking the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts.” This lesson will be about the Three Refuges and what they mean to us. It is not important whether the little ceremony is all in Pali, or Sanskrit or Chinese or English. What is in the heart is the important thing. There is a very deep meaning in the refuges and they can be explained in several ways, but each of these several ways only add to the meaning and makes them have more value for us. Here is the commonest translation into English:
I TAKE MY REFUGE IN THE BUDDHA
I TAKE MY REFUGE IN THE DHARMA
I TAKE MY REFUGE IN THE SANGHA
But we find that these refuges mean a lot more to us if we think about this other translation:
I GO FOR GUIDANCE TO THE PERFECTLY ENLIGHTENED ONE
I GO FOR GUIDANCE TO HIS HOLY TEACHINGS
I GO FOR GUIDANCE TO HIS HOLY ORDER OF DISCIPLES.
Still another way of adding deep meaning to the refuges is to think of them in this way:
I FIND THE TRUTH IN LORD BUDDHA
I FIND THE TRUTH IN HIS DOCTRINES
I FIND THE TRUTH IN HIS HOLY BROTHERHOOD
Always we must remember that no matter how right the words may be, they have no real meaning that is of value to us, unless what we have in our hearts is right. A person who lives far from any Buddhist land and who has never even seen a wearer of the yellow robe, can become a true follower of the Lord Buddha simply by having a real desire in his heart to be the Buddha’s true disciple and follow the Dharma-teachings.
The Buddha is our teacher, the Dharma is medicine for unhappiness by showing us how to overcome the cause of unhappiness and the Sangha is our friend. Every Buddhist boy and girl ought to know some form of devotion to use every day, especially on waking up and at bedtime. Anyone can easily learn the Three Refuges and they make an excellent devotion for anyone, young or old, to be used at any time of the day or night, but all over the Buddhist world, it is rather generally agreed that it is a wise and holy plan to start the day with thoughts of “the Three Jewels”, as the Three Refuges are often called, and also to make them our last thought before we go to sleep. Even though this devotion is a short one, it really covers the entire Buddhist teaching, if we stop to consider that the Buddha is our supreme teacher and guide through life, the Dharma is the teaching he left us to be our “road map” on our way through the world, and the Sangha, or Brotherhood of Monks, represents the keeper of the Dharma and is our friend.
Once, a long time ago in Korea, there was a poor family that made its living by cutting wood in a great forest and making charcoal. There were two small children in this family, a boy and a girl. They helped their parents to make charcoal and, although their life was a hard one, they were happy. But one day sickness came to their hut and the mother and father were both unable to get out of bed. The sickness continued for many days and soon there was no food in the house and the parents were greatly worried. It was many miles over rough mountain trails to the nearest neighbour where help could be obtained. At last when there was not even a grain of rice and no medicine at all in their little hut, the parents decided to send the two children to seek help. They carefully taught them how to follow the path over the steep mountains and, before they left, the family paid its devotions to the Lord Buddha. They began and ended their devotions with the Three Refuges. Then the two little children set out to get help for their sick parents. Finally, after many long hours of walking and when they were very tired, they reached the village and told their story. The kind people of the village gave them rice and medicines and an old woman offered to go back with them to nurse the two sick parents. When they were about halfway back home, there suddenly appeared before them a fierce robber, sword in hand, threatening to kill them. The old woman was so frightened that she ran off and hid herself. The little children were frightened too, but they were too small to run very far, so they fell on their knees and recited the Three Refuges. When the robber heard this devotion he threw away his sword and began to weep. Suddenly he remembered when he was a happy little boy his mother had taught him the refuges. This thought changed his heart and he decided to become a good and honest man. He found the poor frightened old woman and then he helped her and the children to take thee heavy bags of rice and the medicines to their hut. He remained and helped to cut wood and make charcoal until the parents were well. Later on, this one time fierce robber entered a monastery in the Diamond Mountains of Korea and, in his old age, became famous for the holiness of his life. To this day there is a huge granite stone with these words engraved on it: “In memory of the robber who became a saint.” But let us remember that all this good came about because the little children knew how to utter the Three Refuges.
THE BLESSED REFUGES
O, Blessed One! The greatest of mankind
Thou gracious Master, filled with love divine.
Glorious Thy life, so sweet, so great, so pure,
Thou might Light, Thou Blessed One so dear.
Lord, at Thy feet I seat myself to learn
The wisdom of Thy Life and Law.
Plainly I see the Truth which Thou dost teach;
Sorrow and pain and self shall be no more.
Into my heart there comes a lasting peace;
Within my mind there glows a wondrous Light.
All tears and sorrow, doubts and worries cease,
For Truth and Joy Thy Glorious Teaching brings.
I take my refuge in The Glorious Lord,
No other shelter shall I need,
I take my refuge in the Law and Sangha,
Which freedom bring and Light forevermore.
THE ETERNAL REFUGES
How glorious is Thy Dharma,
O, Buddha, Blessed Lord,
How wonderful Thy Sangha,
That spreads Thy word abroad.
We, too, will surely follow
The road that Thou didst find,
The perfect Road of Knowledge
And never look behind.
And, walking in Thy footsteps,
We’ll find the truest wealth
Lies in the full surrender
Of that we call the self.
Thine Infinite Compassion,
Thy pure and holy life,
At length shall lead the nations
From bloodshed, hate and strife.
And so we take our refuge
In Thee, our Lord Benign,
Thy Holy Law the beacon
That in our hearts shall shine.
How glorious is Thy Dharma
O Buddha, Blessed Lord;
How wonderful Thy Sangha,
That spreads Thy word abroad.