Taking Refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha

Buddha is a great master.

Dharma is good medicine.

Sangha is an excellent friend.

Eihei Dogen


Compassionate Hope

Bodhicitta is a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment, motivated by compassion for all sentient beings. Bodhicitta is a basic human wisdom. "Bodhi" means awake, "citta" means heart or mind.

Those who wish to overcome the sorrows of their lives live by the foundational teachings of Buddhism, which emphasize the cessation of personal suffering. In so doing, we create space in which we can also see the suffering of others, and come to understand how the lessening of our own suffering leads us into skillful actions which lessen the suffering of those around us. The unbiased mind and good heart of Bodhi hold the key to happiness and peace. Those who wish to overcome the sorrows of their lives, and relieve the suffering of others, should never turn their back on bodhicitta.

We may know that there is no way to end homelessness, for instance, yet devote our lives to trying. This is the aspiration of a bodhisattva. Don't worry about results; just open your heart in an inconceivably big way, a limitless way that benefits everyone you encounter. Don't worry whether or not it is doable. The intention is vast: may everyone's physical pain be relieved and, even more to the point, may everyone attain enlightenment.

Bodhichitta is sometimes rendered as the ‘heart-mind of Enlightenment,' signifying the complete dedication of our efforts to cultivating wisdom and compassion, in line with the Buddha’s teachings, making no distinction between our own well-being and that of others.


If we develop a good heart, we will progress to true compassion, and awaken Bodhicitta. This is the way of the Buddha's method.

Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

When your body, speech, and mind are completely saturated with the wish to help all sentient beings, when your aim both for others and for yourself is perfect Buddhahood, then even the smallest action will swiftly and surely bring the fulfillment of your goal.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

The opportunity to awaken bodhicitta is so precious and so rare. To experience something that breaks us from the narrow mindedness of our biases and preconceptions is truly wondrous. What’s more, there is no one who cannot experience this.

Pema Chodren

Taking Refuge

I take refuge in Buddha.

I take refuge in Dharma.

I take refuge in Sangha.

When a person accepts the Buddhist philosophy and wants to make it part of their life, the traditional way is to say "I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha."

To take refuge in the Buddha is not to hide in the safety of a powerful being. Rather, refuge is more like moving to a new perspective, to a new awareness of the possibility for awakening within us all.

The Dharma is the path which follows the teaching of the Buddha, and which will ultimately lead to awakening. The Dharma teaches us compassion for ourselves and others through an understanding of the Four Noble Truths and leads to a release from fear and ignorance. The path involves embracing the teaching of the Buddha and applying that understanding to everyday life.

The Sangha comprises those who come together in any size group to study, discuss, and practice meditation. The Buddha saw the interaction with others who are on the path as being essential for practice. He saw this as being important for ordained monks as well as those of the general community.

When ordinary people become apprehensive over something that seems foreboding, they often seek refuge in such places as mountains or parklands, as well as in some monastery, up some tree, or in some mausoleum. These refuges are not particularly of the highest quality, nor are they the most valuable. People cannot be free from human suffering by relying on such refuges.

When people take refuge in the Buddha, as well as in the Dharma and the Sangha then, by means of their wise discernment, they continually observe everything from within the Four Noble Truths, namely being aware of suffering; being aware of how suffering accumulates; being aware of how suffering is transcended forever; and being aware of the Noble Eightfold Path. Taking this refuge is to take the most excellent refuge; it is the one to be most valued. Without fail, it is by means of taking refuge in this way that we can rid ourselves of suffering.


In the Buddhist tradition, the purpose of taking refuge is to awaken from confusion and associate oneself with wakefulness. Taking refuge is a matter of commitment and acceptance and, at the same time, of openness and freedom. By taking the refuge vow we commit ourselves to freedom.

Trungpa Rimpoche

The three treasures as one treasure are: the Buddha treasure of fully realizing reality; the dharma treasure of being pure and free of defilement; and the sangha treasure of living in accord with reality, being harmonious and free from stagnation.

Taking refuge means "returning and relying upon." The phrase implies that you are liberated by doing so. These three are the ultimate place of return.

Eihei Dogen

Taking refuge in the Buddha, dharma, and sangha involves taking a leap forward with a deep sense of trust in our own basic nature and the natural wisdom of all phenomena.

The Buddha, dharma, and sangha are the real activity of compassion that has been passed down through many generations. They point to how real people seek real truth in a particular time and place. At the same time, the three treasures are timeless: they are free of changing times and conditions; they reach everywhere.

To take refuge in the three treasures ... is to unreservedly rely on them. The only way we can do this is to have profound trust and faith in the Buddha, dharma, and sangha. To depend on them to that degree, they have to be worthy of our trust. This means that we must also have that depth of trust in ourselves, for the three treasures are nothing other than our real nature.

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold

A talk given at the North Carolina Zen Center. Includes conversation among the sangha at the end.

Audio Recording. 50 minutes

Audio Recording, talk given at a Recovery Dharma retreat at the North Carolina Zen Center, 2019

(Audio Recording. 8 minutes)

Video Recording. 4 minutes

Suggested Reading and Listening

Pema Chodron

Becoming Bodhisattvas: A Guidebook for Compassionate Care. Available on Amazon

Norman Fischer

Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong. Available on Amazon

The World Could Be Otherwise: Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path. Available on Amazon

Tara Brach

Radical Compassion. Wisdom Podcast (Link)

Jack Kornfield

Finding Refuge. Two Part Reading (Link)

Gil Fronsdal

The Refuges (Class Series). Audio Dharma, Six Talks