By THICH HUYEN VI
THE THREE REFUGES (TRISARANA-TISARANA)
In this world, there are so many sufferings and desires. We are living in the midst of desire (lobho), hate (do so) and stupidity (Moho). We cannot find any good means in order to be free from the above sufferings. It is very pity for human beings’ life on this Jambudvipa world.
But we do not pessimists! We have “Buddha a” for a long time, every person has the true nature, the fundamental nature of each individual, i.e. Buddha-nature. But it is due to at one thought the work completed, so that we have to eddy around in the births-and-deaths, transmigrate in the three realms i.e. world of sensuous desire, form and form-less world of pure spirit, and the six ways i.e. the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, male violent nature spirits human existence and Devas existence.
We would like to free ourselves from the darkness of this world, and return to the way of the enlightenment. But how can we know the right path? Who can guide us on this path? Which doctrine can help us to go out of the fiery pit of three ill destinies; the hell, animals and hungry ghosts.
The Blessed One was strong enough to guide us to go to the enlightenment, that is, the Shakymuni Buddha who attained “the neither to be born nor ended”, and His Doctrines may save us in the present and future time and free us from transiency, sorrowfulness and soullessness.
Nothing was more natural, therefore, than that Buddhism, even during the lifetime of the historic Buddha, was considered as a synonym for the “three values” (Sanskrit Triratna, Pali Tiratana), Buddha, the doctrine and the society. Ordination and the daily worship in Buddhism, therefore, came to be connected with the well-known triad which, in simpler or more complicated form, has been repeated again and again: Kuei-i-Fu, kuei-i-Fa, kuei-i-Seng”. That is, “I dedicate myself to Buddha, to the doctrine, to the society”. (1)
We, therefore, must take refuge in the “three values”.
I. TO DETERMINE THE MEANING
1) What is the meaning of refuge? (Sarana/Sarana)
The meaning of the word refuge translated from Sarana or Sarana. According to Chinese in Kuei, that means to return to; to rely on. That is, to return to and to rely on. There is a general act of surrender performed by all Buddhists. For example, the stupid child leaves his parents and wanders here and there. He gets so many troubles on the way. Now he returns to and relies on his parents, Kuei-I also another meaning is respect or obeys.
2) What is the meaning of Triratna or Tiratana?
Triratna or Ratnatraya is a Sanskrit word, which means the three Precious Ones: Buddha (Enlightened One), Dharma (the Law), Sangha (the Ecclesia or Order) Tiratana is the Pali word; the meaning is same as Triratna. In Chinese it is called San-Pao, which means three values: Blessed One, Doctrine and Society.
In this world, gold, silver, gem, reputation are very precious. But really speaking these things cannot save mankind from the sufferings of birth, age, disease and death. It sometimes makes trouble for men more and more! On the other hand, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are strong enough to guide mankind and get emancipation from the above sufferings. Therefore, people really venerated three Precious: The Enlightened One, Doctrine and Community.
a) Buddha is Sanskrit or Pali word. Chinese translation is Kioh-Che, i.e. An Enlightened One. French translation is L’illumine. Three words, Buddha, Kioh-Che, and L’illumine are of the same meaning that is the Enlightened One, completely conscious, Enlightened and came to mean the enlightener.
There are three meanings of the enlightenment, according to the Chinese texts: (1) Enlightenment for self; (2) for others, Perfect enlightenment and accomplishment.
b) Dharma is Sanskrit word, Pali word is Dharma. Chinese translation is Doctrine, Law. Dharma is from dharma holding, bearing, possessing, etc. and means “that which is to be held fast or kept, ordinance, statute, law usage practice” “anything right”. Tripitaka are called the Doctrine.
c) Sangha is a Sanskrit word, too. Sangha means an assembly, collection, company, society. The corporate assembly of at least three (formerly four) monks under a chairman, empowered to hear confession, grant absolution, and ordain. The church or monastic order, the third member of the Triratna. The term Sangha used alone has come to mean a monk of monks in general. Chinese translation is Shen-Chia that means harmonious and compliant from spirit to material.
3) What is the meaning of Trisarana?
Trisarana means three Surrenders to the Precious Ones. The surrender is to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha/ why we take refuge in the Buddha? Because Lord Buddha is the Enlightened One, his great compassion is immeasurable, his blessedness and wisdom is limitless. He is completely the adornment of blessedness and virtue, i.e. of good deeds. Because Lord Buddha is one great Man can guide is to go to the Nirvana. His experience has liberated men from births-and-deaths. Why we take refuge in the Dharma? Because only Buddha’s Doctrine which is strong enough to help us to cross over the ocean of sufferings and go to the way of liberation. Why we take refuge in the Sangha? Because the Sangha which forsook family, wealth, reputation, etc. in order to take vow representatives of Lord Buddha to guide mankind on the right path.
Herein we can understand the great generosity of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha:
“Such, indeed, is that Blessed One; Exalted, Omniscient, Endowed with knowledge and virtue, Auspicious, Knower of worlds. A guide incomparable for the training of individuals, Teacher of gods and men Enlightened, and Holy”.
“Well expounded is the Dharma (Doctrine) by the Blessed One; to be self-realized with immediate fruit, to be but approached to be seen, capable of being entered upon, to be attained by the wise, each for him”.
“Of good conduct is the Order of the Disciples of the Blessed One, of upright conduct is the Order of the Blessed One, of dutiful conduct is the Order of the Disciples of the Blessed One. This Order of the Disciples of the Blessed One, namely, these Four Pairs of Persons, the Eight Kinds of Individuals is worthy of offerings, is worthy of hospitality, is worthy of gifts, is worthy of reverential salutation, is an incomparable field of merit to the world”. (2)
According to Majjhima Nikaya, in Bhayabherave Sutta, it mentions the story of Brahmin Janussoni who became a Buddhist; we read it for understanding about the Tisarana. “After listening to the Buddha’s Discourse called “Fear and Dread”, the Brahmin Janussoni becomes a lay follower of the Buddha, by taking the threefold Refuge. The words used by him differ slightly from the usual formula in so far as in the latter the words “The Lord Gautama is replaced by the Buddha”. Buddha-ghost’s comment, here slightly Abridged runs as follows:
“I go for refuge to the Lord Gautama” (bhavantam Gotama Sarana gacchami). This means, The Lord Gautama is my refuge and my guiding ideal. I am going for refuge to the Lord Gautama. I resort to him, follow and honor him, in the sense of his being the Destroyer of Affliction and the Provider of Weal. Or, I know and understand him to be of such a nature”.
“I go for refuge to the Dharma”. The word “dharma”, i.e. the Doctrine or the Law, is derived from the verb “dharati”, to keep or to bear. In accordance with that derivation, the dharma may be regarded as refuge, because it keeps, upholds and supports the beings by way of preventing their fall into the states of war, by way of enabling a life according to instruction (as given by the Dharma) by way of attainment of the Path and by realization of the Extinction (of suffering).
“I go for refuge to the Sangha”. The Sangha is (here) the community of (holy) monks which is united by the communion of right view and virtue (ditthi-Sila-Sanghatena samhato’ti Sangho). That is to say, the Sangha (meant in the formula of refuge) is the Group of the eight Noble Beings (ariya-pug-gala), those in possession of (1) the Path of Stream-Entry, (2) the Fruition thereof, etc. (3)
This is the meaning of refuge in the Pali texts.
II. THE THREE KINDS OF TRIRATNA, TIRATANA
According to Mahayana Buddhism there are three kinds of the three Precious Ones:
a) One underlying essence – three Precious Ones;
b) To go out of the world – three Precious Ones;
c) The world to dwell and control – three Precious Ones.
III. TO REFUGE TRIRATNA IN PHENOMENON (ON PRACTICE)
After we understand the meaning of ‘to refuge Triratna’, of course the Buddhists have to practice what they know. Practicing ‘to refuge Triratna’ through the phenomenon or affair, that is, the respectful, to follow orders. It is called ‘to refuge Triratna in phenomenon’
1) Practicing of the refuge Buddha:
Every Buddhists must remember Lord Buddha always, study the doctrine of Buddha, to look up to with reverence the Buddha’ images, and follow the footstep of the Buddha for the whole life.
2) Practicing to refuge Dharma:
Every day, Buddhists must recite Sutta, vinaya and Abhidhamma. In the morning and in the evening Buddhists have to pray for them and for others, search for the Buddha-Dharma of the Blessed Ones. Every Buddhist has three resolves of the Awakening of Faith:
a) To perfect the Bodhi of faith, i.e. in the stage of faith;
b) To understand and carry into practice this wisdom;
c) The realization, or proof of or union with Bodhi.
3) Practicing to refuge Sangha:
It is said that, “following footstep Lord Buddha, Buddhists ought to respect Sangha”. Person practiced to refuge Sangha, whenever they see all Bhikkus who embodies Buddha’s teaching; they must respect them, as representatives of the Buddha.
In brief, worship Lord Buddha, recite Sutta, practice Vinaya, study Abhidhamma, and respect the pure Sangha that is called to refuge Triratna in phenomenon.
IV. TO REFUGE TRIRATNA IN NOUMENON (OR THE OBSOLUTE):
The noumenal in essence and in knowledge, ‘to refuge Triratna in noumenon’ is returning in our Buddha-Dharma-Sangha. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is explained that if Buddhists go for refuge to the outside Triratna only, and forgetting goes for refuge to the inside Triratna. Like that, Buddhists cannot become the enlightenment.
1) I go refuge to myself Buddha that means, I return to and rely on my Buddha-nature. Yes! Every person has ‘Buddha’ and can become the Buddha. That is what Shakymuni taught. Erroneous thinking like the sky was overclouded, whereas Buddha-nature likes the full moon. The cloud can cover but it cannot annihilate the moonlight.
2) I go refuge to myself Dharma; it means every person must come back to the Dharma-nature. In our mind, there is the Dharma-nature: compassion, wisdom, equality, patience, zeal and progress. We should manifest these natures and follow them. That is we return to and rely on our Dharma-nature.
3) To go refuge to myself Sangha. Here is obeying the master in our consciousness. That is the character of pure and concord of every person. The outside Sangha group is the incarnation of the concord inside. For a long time we were blindfolded, we did not know the master of us. Lord Buddha taught, “One’s own body is Buddha”. Each person has own characteristics, i.e. the Order purity.
In fine, we must return in our Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, that means, the enlightenment, knowledge, compassion, equality; pureness, concord. Thus, it is called, “To refuge Triratna in Noumenon”.
V. THE CEREMONY OF TAKING REFUGE;
According to the Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, the refuge-taking ceremony is very important. After people understand the meaning and benefit of the refuge Triratna, they must know the rite of them:
1) First of all people have to clean their body and mind. To take refuge is the important rite of Buddhists. It is the beginning to go on the right way, therefore, they cannot do simple. When man wanted to take in refuge Triratna, before the days to start the refuge-taking ceremony, that man keeps the body and the mind very clear. Afterwards he goes to the abbot and asks permission to take the vow and be ordained. This takes place in the reception room of the abbot, where temporary seats have been arranged for him (in the middle) and the two assisting elders, the confessor and the examiner on each side
2) To resolve: The time to coming to refuge, all Buddhists kneel down in front of Triratna heartily the will of the resolve:
Buddha Saranam gacchami: I go to the Buddha as my refuge.
Dharma Saranam gacchami: I go to the Dharma as my refuge.
Sangha Saranam gacchami: I go to the Sangha as my refuge
Second time, they recite:
Dutiyam pi Buddha Saranam gacchami. For the second time, I go to the Buddha as my Refuge.
Dutiyam pi Dharma Saranam gacchami. For the second time, I go to the Dharma as my Refuge.
Dutiyam pi Sangha Saranam gacchami. For the second time, I go to the Sangha as my Refuge.
Third time, they recite:
Tatiyam pi Buddha Saranam gacchami. For the third time, I go to the Buddha as Refuge.
Tatiyam pi Dharma Saranam gacchami. For the third time, I go to the Dharma as Refuge.
Tatiyam pi Sangha Saranam gacchami. For the third time, I go to the Sangha as Refuge.
Then, the Teacher of the discipline says, “Tisaranaggahanam Paripunnam” i.e. taking in refuge Tiratana is complete! Buddhists says, “Ama Bhante”, Yes, Venerable!
Thus, the ceremony of taking refuge was complete, from then, the Buddhists must remember the vows in front of Triratna (three Jewels), and they will stick to these masters with a deep and never changing reverence and affection.
VI. THE BENEFIT OF REFUGE IN TRIRATNA
As we know in the above introduction which mentions that people are living in the midst of desire, hate and stupidity. They cannot find any good means in order to be free from the above sufferings. It is a pity for human beings’ life on this Jambudvipa world.
We would like to free ourselves from the darkness of this world, and return to the way of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. That is to go to Refuge in the Triratna. On the other hand, we have to eddy around in the births and deaths, transmigrate in the three realms and the six ways. Thanks to the enlightenment of Lord Buddha, the truth of the Doctrine and the conduct of the community, we may be released from all sins in the past and the present life. As regarding the benefit of refuge, Venerable Nyanaponika Thera wrote, “The fruit of the Supramundane Refuge, in the sense of beings its karmic result (Vipaka-phala) are the four-Fruitions of Monkhood (Samanna-phala), via the Fruition of Stream-Entry, etc. The fruit in the sense of advantage or blessings mentioned in the following scriptural passage, “It is impossible, O monks that a person endowed with insight (dittisampanno, i.e. Stream-Entered, etc. should regard any conditioned thing as permanent, enjoyable, or an Ego; that he should take life of his mother, his father, or a Saint; that, with a thought of hate, he should shed the blood of the Blessed One; that he should cause a split in the community of monks; that he should choose another teacher. There is no possibility of that”.
“But the fruit of the Mundane Refuge is only the attainment of favorable rebirth and the attainment of property and enjoyment”.
It is said that, “I respect Lord Buddha as I know him who is the Enlightenment One; I venerate the Doctrine as I understand it which can help people go to on the right way; I love and admire the Buddhist Monks, as I know them, who are representative of Lord Buddha. Like that is enough meaning. What for, do I must go for Refuge to the Triratna?
Truth speaking, those who say so, they do not understand the value of psychology, the resolve in front of other men. When make a vow near a respected person, and then we forget it. At this time our mind feels sorrow and twinges of conscience. It we promise, necessarily we have to remember for a whole life. On the contrary, we scorn ourselves. In particular that promising and resolve celebrated in the serious setting in front of Lord Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Above it has to be a witness of the Buddha; below it has to understand clearly of the Sangha. There are Buddhist friends and relations who are to be present all around. The vows in those circumstances, we can never adjure.
Thus, we already know the value of the ceremony of taking refuge. For the new Buddhists, we try to celebrate that ceremony with all our might in all seriousness.
Before concluding this essay, we quote some Sutta in order to elucidate our point more clearly. “With regard to the first Refuge, in the Buddha, the Master himself said shortly after His Enlightenment:
“Like me the conquerors will be
Who have attained to the defilements’ end” (Ariya-Pariyesana Sutta).
Before his decease: “Be ye islands unto yourselves, be ye a refuge to yourselves! Take no other refuge! The Dharma be your island, the Dharma be your refuge! Take no other refuge (Mana-parininbbana-Sutta).
In the commentarial literature it is said, “The Dharma is called self (Atta) because, in the case of a wise one, the Dharma is not different from himself and because it pertains to his personal existence”. (Tika to Maha-Sati-Patthana-Sutta).
The third Refuge, the Sangha, being the Community of Holy Disciples, is the great and inspiring model for emulation. The actual foundation of that Refuge is the capacity inherent in all beings to become one of the Eight Noble Beings who form the Sangha of the Refuge. We turn now to the third subject of the knowledge implied in Taking Refuge, i.e. to the ultimate nature of the Three fold Refuge”.(5)
We have been Buddhists ought to take refuge in Triratna. But we do not forget both in Refuges that are inside and outside of Triratna as the above explanation. Those who want to take Refuge; first of all, they must try to celebrate the ceremony of Taking Refuge in order to mark the first step of them on the way of the emancipation. That ceremony like the party to bid farewell to the man who will receive a new duty. But when we go on the new way, we have to try to reach the main aim. After it is done (to Refuge), we do not follow the footsteps of the Buddha, do not practice the Doctrine, as well as do not obey the advice of the Community. If we do, thus we do cheat ourselves and others too. That is a very dangerous thing. On the other hand, we take Refuge and practice exactly as the vows. It is sure that we are certainly to reach the other shore, i.e. Nirvana.
“In making an actual and intelligent use of that threefold devotional Road of the Ancients, we shall preserve the most popular religious practice in the Buddhist world, the Going for Refuge, from becoming state and ineffective. We shall be able to turn it into a strong, life-giving current of devotion that will carry us one day to the Isle of Final-Peace, to Nibbanam where refuge and refuge are merged into one”. (6)
Hail, from us all who are on earth
Or up in the air, to Him the Enlightenment One,
Who is adored by all Gods and Men?
By this adoration may all beings be Happy and Blissful!
1. Truth and Tradition in Buddhism by Karl Luving Reichelt, p. 182.
2. In Dhajagga Sutta from Samyuttanikaya translated by H. Saddhatissa Thera.
3. The Threefold Refuge by Nyanaponika There, p. 1 – 2.
4. The Threefold Refuge, p. 8.
5. It has been taken from the Threefold Refuge by Nyanaponika, p.13.
6. The Threefold Refuge, p. 26.
NAMO, ORIGINAL TEACHER SAKYAMUNI BUDDHA
End of chapter IV