|1. What is the Triple Gem?
The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha constitute the Triple Gem.
“Dharma” is a Sanskrit term that connotes “the rule and its observance,” what is known as the Fourfold Dharma Gem of the Buddha’s teaching, its meaning, its practice, and its fruit.
“Sangha” is a Sanskrit term which can be translated as “harmonious community.” Here it refers to the monastic order whose members practice the Dharma and live together in harmony.
In simpler terms, Triple Gem means taking refuge in the Buddha as founder, the Dharma as truth, and the Sangha as mentor. All three constitute important causes and conditions that enable living beings to attain liberation. This is why the Buddhist scriptures give the following analogy of the Buddha as a good physician, the Dharma as profound medicine, and the Sangha as a nurse.
|2. What is “taking refuge in the Triple Gem”?
When we take refuge in the Triple Gem, we are saying that we believe in Buddhism and have become a follower of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and that we do not place our primary faith in another religion. Taking refuge is an expression confirming the object of faith. In short, we are officially declaring that we are a Buddhist.
|3. Why do we need to take refuge in the Triple Gem?
One might question the need of taking refuge saying, “I already believe in Buddhism, and I regularly worship and offer incense at the temple. Why do I need to participate in the refuge ceremony?” We all understand that if we want to join a political party but have yet to make the pledge, we cannot become a member of that political party. Serving in a public office, such as president of a country, also requires the taking of an oath of office before formally assuming the post. When a couple wishes to marry, they need to conduct a marriage ceremony and be acknowledged by society, for only then is their union legally binding. Taking refuge is very similar to this, because it formalizes and acknowledges one’s commitment to the Buddha’s path.
|4. Why is taking refuge in the Triple Gem so important to a Buddhist?
It is important because when we take refuge, we devoutly make a mind-to-mind connection with the Buddha, and the Buddha infuses our mind and body with the power of loving-kindness and compassion. It is only after this spiritual connection has been made that we can be considered a Buddhist follower. If we have not undergone this refuge ceremony, but merely worship and burn incense, we are someone who honors Buddhism, but we cannot truly be considered Buddhists.
|5. How do we take refuge in the Triple Gem?
To officially become a Buddhist, one must undergo the procedure of taking refuge in the Triple Gem, and thus, participating in the ceremony for taking refuge in the Triple Gem. In the Triple Gem Refuge ceremony, we take refuge in the Buddha, but what is the point of the Buddha having us take refuge in him? The real taking of refuge in the Triple Gem is actually to take refuge in oneself, to recognize oneself, and to discover oneself.
|6. What does “taking refuge” mean?
“Taking refuge” here means finding refuge and support. Living in this world, there are times when we acknowledge to ourselves that our strength is not enough, which leads to the hope that someone with greater power will come and be our support. But what in this world can really and truly serve as our secure refuge and support? Even if you rely upon gods and deities, you will find that they too are unreliable. This is because gods and deities themselves will one day manifest the five signs of decay and will fall away. Therefore, the Buddha repeatedly reminds us not to rely upon such divine agencies as gods and deities, fortune telling, divination, or geomancy to control our lives for good or ill. In that case, what is life’s best refuge and support?
|7. Do I need to be a vegetarian after taking refuge?
Taking refuge in the Triple Gem does not require becoming a vegetarian. Vegetarianism is a lifestyle and a moral question. Taking refuge in the Triple Gem is a confirmation of faith unrelated to vegetarianism. Taking refuge in the Triple Gem is about declaring one’s faith in Buddhism and becoming a Buddhist follower, taking Buddhism as one’s primary spiritual path. After taking refuge in the Triple Gem, we strive to elevate our character and not follow other religions. Although vegetarianism is not required after taking refuge, striving to reduce the taking of life is still an important spiritual practice. Therefore, taking refuge in the Triple Gem is not becoming a vegetarian, or taking a precept.
|8. What is the next step after taking refuge in the Triple Gem?
After taking refuge in the Triple Gem, one can sign up for Buddhism classes to learn more about Buddha’s teaching. When one is ready, one can take the Five Precepts, which are the fundamental precepts in Buddhism. In Buddhism, undertaking and observing the Five Precepts, which is the second step, expresses the spirit of freedom in the precepts, because people who have undertaken the precepts will not be violating others. As long as they can discipline themselves, they will not be breaking the laws of the secular state either. So the sanction and restraint of the law will not be imposed upon them, and they can thus enjoy a free and independent life.
|9. What qualifications do I need to take refuge?
It is quite common to express hesitation and doubt before requesting to take refuge in the Triple Gem. “Am I qualified to take refuge in the Triple Gem?” is a question frequently asked by those considering taking refuge. However, there is no need to worry. Requesting to take refuge in the Triple Gem can only offer a multitude of benefits without doing any harm. Taking refuge in the Triple Gem is about establishing one’s own faith.
|10. Do I need to follow any rules or commands after taking refuge in the Triple Gem?
No requirement is made concerning the observance of any rules or commandments in any way. However, if some rule or commandment admittedly must be observed, then there is only one, and it is that those taking refuge must be true to the pledge they made to themselves upon taking refuge.
|11. If I am a catholic, can I also take refuge in the Triple Gem?
Buddhism is very democratic. Master Hsing Yun has once said that it is okay for a person to have two religions. One can take refuge in the Triple Gem while keeping his/her original religion. Within one family, members might follow different religions. Being able to follow one teacher and one path with all one’s heart and mind is best of all, but if this is impossible for some reason, then all you can do is carry on through skillful means and respect your family.
|12. Do I need to take any Buddhism class before I take refuge in the Triple Gem?
One does not need to take any Buddhism class before taking refuge in the Triple Gem. However, it is recommended that Buddhism classes be taken after taking refuge to learn more about the Buddha’s teachings.
|13. What is the benefit of taking refuge in the Triple Gem?
Taking refuge in the Triple Gem not only enables us to attain ultimate liberation, it also presents us with many benefits in this present life. These include:
The importance of the Triple Gem––the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—is comparable to sunlight, air, and clean water. They appear quite ordinary, but in reality they are the most precious things for human life!
Sunlight, air, and water are the three precious gems of human life; The Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are the Triple Gem of the transcendent world. Without these, no spiritual life of wisdom can possibly develop; and without these, no sacred world can ever be ennobled.
|14. Is taking refuge in the Triple Gem temporary?
Taking refuge is not temporary; it should last for a lifetime. One should take refuge in the Triple Gem everyday to remind oneself is a Buddhist and to deepen one’s belief.
|15. Can we still pay respect to cultural deities after we take refuge?
If one has worshipped cultural deities after taking refuge, one can still worship them. We regularly offer our respect whenever we meet our elders, teachers, and noble worthies, and will also shake hands and nod our heads to those of other faiths as an expression of courtesy. Mutual honor and respect are necessary between people, so why can’t we express our reverence and worship towards gods and deities? We must understand, however, that reverence and worship are not the same things as taking refuge and placing faith in them. Paying homage differs from having a belief. An act of worship is something momentary; taking refuge is for a lifetime. What is important is that after taking refuge we can transcend the belief in gods and deities, so that we are no longer controlled by divine powers.
|16. Can we still pay respect to our ancestors after we take refuge?
Chinese have always valued filial piety and promoted the Confucian concept of “taking care of one’s parents until they die and offering sacrifices to one’s ancestors.” Ancestors are worshipped on festival celebrations every year. This is why people of Chinese ancestry might wonder whether if after taking refuge in the Triple Gem they can still worship their ancestors in order to fulfill the filial duties. Certainly! After taking refuge, you can still worship wholesome deities and spirits, as long as this practice is not carried into the realm of sorcery and black magic. Buddhism is a religion that promotes filial piety, thus we can continue worshipping and making offerings to our ancestors and clan elders.
|17. Does taking refuge in the Triple Gem mean we become the disciples of the presiding monk in the ceremony?
When taking refuge in the Triple Gem, the monastic in charge of the refuge ceremony is merely there to certify the pledge you are undertaking, certifying the followers of the Triple Gem, certifying that you are becoming a Buddhist. Taking refuge is not becoming the disciple of a certain teacher. Taking refuge is an expression of a sacred faith. Formally accepting someone as a teacher is a secular ceremony. Taking refuge expresses our belief in Buddhism and our willingness to accept the Dharma as a guide to life. Taking refuge in the Triple Gem is cherishing and revering the Buddhist truth, but not becoming the disciple of a certain teacher.
|18. After I have already taken refuge, but want to convert to another religion, would I suffer bad consequence?
If circumstances arose that caused one no longer believe in Buddhism or even convert to another religion, would Heaven strike the person down with lightning, as is commonly said, bringing about some terrible calamity? Not at all! Faith in Buddhism is not dominated by a divine agency. Buddhism is a religion that values freedom of belief. If for some reason a Buddhist no longer believed in Buddhism after taking refuge, at most they would only suffer some damage to their own trustworthiness, but Heaven would not strike them with lightning. The idea of punishment by a divine power has been employed by religious cults as a means to control people. This notion is not a part of Buddhism. Buddhist faith is established upon our own free will to generate aspiration to attain enlightenment and make the vow to liberate living beings.