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[Sarika at IBMC July 1996]

Taking Refuge

Every morning, upon arising, Buddhists all over the world begin the new day by taking refuge in the three jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. They say, "I go to the Buddha for guidance; I go to the Dharma for guidance; I go to the Sangha for guidance." Then they consider what this means in their daily lives.

The Buddha is the teacher, the one who discovered the path that allows us to end suffering in this lifetime. In his compassion and loving-kindness for all beings, he taught what he had discovered, knowing that he was a human being and that all human beings have the same nature, Buddha nature, the potential to become awakened.

Buddha never thought of himself as god. He allowed himself to be called Buddha, the awakened one, or Tathagatha, the thus come one. He never claimed to be extraordinary. Like my own teacher, Ven. Dr. Thich Thien-An, he was the most ordinary person alive. He was extraordinarily ordinary, fully developed in the way only human beings can be, that we all have the potential to be.

The Dharma is the teachings, the words that have come down to us, what the Buddha said during his lifetime. Dharma is also the words of other people who have followed the Buddha's path and have seen clearly.

In addition, all things, all processes in the world are dharma. When we get beyond our little self, we see how the world works, and we learn from the results of our actions. Everything is dharma.

Sangha technically refers to the community of monks and nuns, but, to me, the real sangha is the mahasangha, the community of people who follow the path, with no distinctions between monastics and householders. We all learn from each other and support each other in our practice. Sangha is family, people with whom we can connect, with whom we share values. No matter what Buddhist tradition we follow or what is our national origin, we are linked by a more important quest, the quest for inner peace and acceptance.

Sometimes people refer to the Buddha as the doctor, the Dharma as the medicine, and the Sangha as the nurses. We need lots of nurses to help people understand about taking their medicine. The Buddha may write the prescription, but until we get that prescription filled, it can't help us. We can carry that script around all over with us, but the piece of paper can't cure our ills. With the help of the sangha, the help of each other, we begin to understand that it's up to us to take our medicine and put it to use.

Sometimes Buddha is seen as the guide, the trailblazer, the one who found the way and marked it. Then the dharma is the trail. And the sangha becomes the pioneers following that path and seeing what lies along the way for themselves.

Buddham saranam gachami
Dharmam saranam gachami
Sangham saranam gachami

Gassho, Sarika

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