Refuges and Precepts

  1. The Meaning of Taking Refuge          
  2. Refuge as a Ceremonial Act              
  3. The Five Precepts (Pañca Sīla)           

  1. The Meaning of Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem
  2. In the world of Buddhism, we speak of 'taking refuge' or 'going
    for refuge' in the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha).
    What does this mean? Do Buddhists look to the Triple Gem
    to protect them from harm, in the same way that followers of
    other paths look to a deity to protect them? In a word: no.

    'Taking refuge' may be understood as 'accepting guidance.' If
    we look to the Triple Gem for guidance--with the Buddha and
    Sangha as examples to follow and Dhamma as a Path to follow--
    then our lives will be lived in ways that create less suffering for
    ourselves and those around us. Therein is our protection: in the
    conforming of our lives to the Triple Gem. To quote the Blessed
    One: "Protecting oneself, one protects others; protecting others,
    one protects oneself."

    When we take refuge in the Buddha, it isn't simply the personage
    of the historical founder of Buddhism that we consider. The principle
    of Enlightenment (or Awakening) is itself our refuge. Similarly, the
    Dhamma isn't simply books of the Buddha's teachings--it is the Path
    leading to Enlightenment which is our refuge.

    Regarding the Sangha, there is a popular misconception in the West that
    the term refers to any congregation or other community of Buddhists.
    But a true Sangha functions as an inspiring example, worthy of reverence,
    in order to offer us true spiritual guidance. An ordinary group of Buddhists
    may include individuals whose beliefs and/or behavior barely conform to
    the Dhamma. Should we take refuge in those who may mislead us?

    Furthermore, the Sangha that is our refuge isn't merely a group of monks
    and nuns--it is a community of those who are following, or have followed
    the Path and have realized any of the stages of Awakening along the way.
    To quote from the well-known description of the Sangha, found in numer-
    ous Suttas, and chanted daily in temples and homes throughout the world:

    "The Disciples of the Blessed One have practiced well, are
    of upright conduct, have practiced diligently, have practiced
    properly; that is, the four pairs of persons, the eight kinds of
    individuals; these are the Blessed One’s Disciples: worthy
    of offerings, worthy of hospitality, worthy of gifts, and worthy
    of respect--an incomparable field of merit for the world."

  3. 'Taking Refuge' as a Ceremonial Act
  4. While it isn't necessary to go through a formal conversion process
    in order to be a de facto Buddhist--ie, one who follows the Path, it
    is traditional--for those who so desire--to undergo a ceremony called
    'Going for Refuge.' At the heart of the ceremony is the recitation of
    the following canonical verses: ¹

    BUDDHAM SARANAM GACCHĀMI
    DHAMMAM SARANAM GACCHĀMI
    SANGHAM SARANAM GACCHĀMI

    To the Buddha, I go for refuge.
    To the Dhamma, I go for refuge.
    To the Sangha, I go for refuge.

    DUTIYAMPI BUDDHAM SARANAM GACCHĀMI
    DUTIYAMPI DHAMMAM SARANAM GACCHĀMI
    DUTIYAMPI SANGHAM SARANAM GACCHĀMI

    For a second time, to the Buddha, I go for refuge.
    For a second time, to the Dhamma, I go for refuge.
    For a second time, to the Sangha, I go for refuge.

    TATIYAMPI BUDDHAM SARANAM GACCHĀMI
    TATIYAMPI DHAMMAM SARANAM GACCHĀMI
    TATIYAMPI SANGHAM SARANAM GACCHĀMI

    For a third time, to the Buddha, I go for refuge.
    For a third time, to the Dhamma, I go for refuge.
    For a third time, to the Sangha, I go for refuge.

    Following the affirmation of taking refuge, the 'refugee'
    then recites the Five Precepts--what one might call the
    minimum requirement or basic moral code for Buddhist
    laymen and laywomen. The Precepts aren't command-
    ments, but principles to live by. One voluntarily accepts
    the guidance of the Five Precepts, with the understanding
    that violation of them has consequences, and that each
    individual is responsible for his or her own conduct (as
    well as the consequences).

  5. The Five Precepts (Pañca Sīla) 
  6. 1. PĀNĀTIPĀTĀ VERAMANĪ SIKKHĀPADAM SAMĀDIYĀMI.

    I undertake the precept of training to abstain from taking life.

    2. ADINNĀDĀNĀ VERAMANĪ SIKKHĀPADAM SAMĀDIYĀMI.

    I undertake the precept of training to abstain from taking what is not given.

    3. KĀMESU MICCHĀCĀRĀ VERAMANĪ SIKKHĀPADAM SAMĀDIYĀMI.

    I undertake the precept of training to abstain from sexual misconduct.

    4. MUSĀVĀDĀ VERAMANĪ SIKKHĀPADAM SAMĀDIYĀMI.

    I undertake the precept of training to abstain from falsehood.

    5. SURĀ MERAYA MAJJA PAMĀDATTHĀNĀ
    VERAMANĪ SIKKHĀPADAM SAMĀDIYĀMI.

    I undertake the precept of training to abstain from intoxicants,
    which give occasion to heedlessness.
    ²

       ¹ NOTE: regarding the above Pāli words ending with an 'M': when
       pronounced, the ending should sound like an 'NG' (as in 'song').

       ² For more about the 5th Precept, click here.

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