The Three Refuges

A recent ‘Buddhist Intellectual’ who spoke in Bangkok recently, pointed a lot of criticism at Thailand. While doing so he addressed the question of his qualification to throw blame around. He is not a meditator, and not a follower of Buddhism on anything but a scritural level. He asked ‘am I a Buddhist’, and then agreed that many could rightly say he is not. But he does know the scriptures, and then continued to pour blame on ‘Buddhists’ for not having any idea of what the teachings actually are.

In fact many have a thorough knowledge of the scriptures. Especially in Thailand. But it is a mark of intellectual-only people that they can rarely agree, and they tend to view other scriptural experts as wrong.

On the other hand, the Buddha told his followers to blend like ‘milk and water’. Those who want to argue and bicker over different points are not ‘blenders’.

On the other hand those who take the ‘Three Refuges’ of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, tend to blend very harmoniously. And this is what it means to be a Buddhist.


The ‘Buddha’ means faith that there have been and are those yogis who have discovered the ‘Unconditioned’ or enlightenment, and taught it to others. And that you yourself have the potential. It does not depend on your birth status, your money, your race, or what club you belong to. Everyone has the capacity to discover enlightenment.

The ‘Dhamma’ means the teaching that was given. The Dhamma is supposed to be universal – the laws of the universe. Even a Buddha cannot change these laws; only point them out to others so they can use it for their own progress.

The ‘Sangha’ means literally ‘community’. Traditionally this has meant the monks and nuns. But the actual texts say ‘those who have practised well’ – ss a group, and not as individuals – i.e. you don not judge who you think is worthy, but take your refuge with the community of followers. This includes the laypeople who can also gain enlightenment.

That’s it! You are a Buddhist on a ‘refuge’ level. Years of study and exams and foreign languages are not a necessity. In the suttas we see lots of instances where people are enlightened after only a few words of teaching. With just a few pointers people can progress on the path.

These are the communtiy of followers, and for the most part, when the refuge is genuine, there really is a blending like milk and water. Mahayana monks meet with Theravada without dispute. Vajrayana followers meet with warmth Zen monks from Korea or Japan. Male and female Buddhists are all recognised as contributing. Genuine meditators mix with common faith followers without problem. The ‘Intellectual Buddhists’ on the other hand, tend to dispute with anyone who will listen. And then congratulate themselves for bravery.


Marcus had some comments on the Refuges too :

2 replies on “The Three Refuges”

  1. Wish for “Intellectual Buddhists” to discover a middle way and in doing so may they relieve their suffering, with Metta Deborah.

  2. Yes. In fact there is a lot to be said for an academic approach – that is one is interested in all views rather than just ones own. And being willing to look into things properly with a view to changing yourself, instead of looking for headlines.

    In that sense the refuges are a baseline of faith that is often overlooked in the purely rationalist approach. We take it on faith that there is a goal, it can be reached, and we help each other along the way. When this baseline is missing is when contention arises.

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