the 3 refuges


The 3 refuges the 3 jewels Tisarana or TRIRATNA (pali)

Intensely practical: The 3 jewels are not just theory (dharma) but also practice (the community/ sangha) and example (the Buddha)


The Buddha (yellow jewel)

  • idea of Buddhahood, life of Gautama, (esp Theravada= Buddga is always human)- inspiration/ example/ role model, guide , founder, destiny.
  • Seeing the Buddha as teacher (going for refuge) committing to Buddha
  • Buddhahood- for the sake of all beings (from our current position, we can all be enlightened- the Buddha has shown us the way)


I go to the Buddha for refuge (Buddham Saranam gacchami) sarana = refuge

Ie: gain strength (not escape) refresh


Dharma (sanskrit) (blue jewel) Dhamma -pali

  • Unmediated TRUTH (as experienced by the enlightened mind)
  • The literal teaching of the Buddha beginning at SARNATH in Northern India (the “first turning of the wheel of Dharma”)
  • All the Buddhist scriptures (Buddha’s life” the pali canon, the Dhammapada, the diamond Sutra, the Tibetan book of the dead etc
  • The practices – “learning to do good; ceasing to do evil; purifying the heart” (Dhammapada)
  • (there are no higher teachings only deeper realisations- Sangharakshita)


Sangha (red jewel)

  • spiritual community /personal teachers
  • kayana mitrata (friendship thtat is beautiful)
  • Buddhism is not an abstract creed but a practical path. Its practice lies in people hence the need for the community

The Noble ones (arya Sangha) Bodhisattvas: Avalokitesvara (compassion- often shown with 4/8/1000 arms to help all living beings) Manjusri (wisdom- carries a sword to cut ignorance)


These 3 become central principles in life


More detail:

The importance of the Buddha:

The life story of the Buddha is a hagiography to guide the community

Theravada: the Buddha is human and his actions an example

“work out your own salvation with diligence”

the Buddha has supernatural powers- abhinnas which we can reach too.


Mahayana Buddhism- less interest in the life of Gautama. More about the meaning and activity of the Buddha NOW: the transcendent Buddha with 3 bodies (TRIKAYA)

Semi-spiritual (nirmanakaya)

Heavenly manifestation of the Buddha (sambhogakaya)

Ultimate expression (Dharmakaya)

we can depend on the Buddha as the vehicle of our salvation (he is divine)

In PURE LAND Buddhism the AMIDA Buddha lives in the Buddha universe.

Nembutsu (contemplation of the amida Buddha)


This contemplation is the main practice of pure land buddhism


Zen and Tibetan Buddhism: we must attain our own Buddha nature

Zen and HUA YEN Buddhism think of many Buddhas and Buddha universes- all interconnected



The importance of the Dhamma -pali (Dharma- sanskrit)

This can be confusing** It means different things for each branch of Buddhism

The Buddha constantly reminds people that it is the SPIRIT OF THE RULES that count

1) Teaching- sasana later the pali canon

3 sections: each called pitakas (baskets)

vinaya Pitaka= rules for monks (eg: patimokkha- the oral traditions & texts like: kasyapiya, dharmaguptaka, sarvastivada)

sutta pitaka teachings from the life of Gautama

abhidhamma pitaka- philosophical section


The teachings led to splinter groups forming in Buddhism right from the start

Eg: His brother DEVETTA criticized Gautama and led his own rival group

Many groups sprang up after the death of Gautama


2) Mahayana has a huge collection of texts in Prakit (the original language used by Jains) Sanskrit (the liturgical language of Hinduism), Chinese


3) Tibetan Buddhists (VAJRAYANA- “diamond or thunderbolt vehicle”)

use the Kangyur = “translation of word”(108 volume book- the words of the Buddha) and the Tengyur =“translation of text” (225 volumes)

these include stotras (hymns, tantras = esoteric traditions, word often translated as “practice”)

– the Vajrayana tradition uses the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya which has 253 rules for monks and 364 for nuns


4) zen:

Lankavatara Sutra, esp in Japan, conversation between Gauntama and Haamati (great wisdom) – the importance of consciousness

vimalakirti sutra, instruction or advice- value of silence

avatamsaka sutra, “flower garland sutra”- idea of many Buddha universes/ realms – power of meditation (books 7-12 emphasise the importance of the 4 noble truths (Dukkha, samudaya, Nirodha, magga) as the basis for enlightenment

lotus sutra, first book to use the term Mahayana/ great vehicle. All beings are potential buddhas

platform sutra, Chinese book (8-13th Century)about perceiving our true nature

koan tradition– dialogue The Zen master knows the meaning of all and every koans because (by definition) he’s enlightened. The Zen student has to meditate with hundreds of koans in order to become enlightened himself. Buddhist Koans are summaries of legends about Buddhist monks in China, created, edited and first written down in 11th century

example of koan: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?


bey 3


Author: timewilson

animator director and teacher

9 thoughts on “the 3 refuges”

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