What is Buddhist Refuge?

Traditionally in Tibetan refuge is expressed by saying “Chab sun chio” tib. Literally means I go for Protection. Here the protection is from suffering. As a result of the understanding that there is no lasting happiness in the world, we take refuge and this gives direction to our mind towards liberation and enlightenment and imparts our lives with great meaning lasting happiness and lasting values.

Refuge or better said confidence is a must if we are to trust mind enough to let go and stop grasping at our thoughts and relax into our minds deeper true nature. When we start Buddhist practice one of the first things we notice is that we take refuge in our thoughts. Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” For many this can be comforting, it simply explains our struggled existence, but not for the Buddhist. This is the very basis of our suffering. The constant noise and distractions that we face in our monkey minds that are so overwhelmed that when we first notice the possibility that there is even a small space between the thoughts we are again overwhelmed with what wrongly appears to be nothing but is nothing less than the great potential of space. Our refuge is our seat belt our safety device that allows us to see things how they are without letting us feel out of control.


So what ideas or concepts do Buddhists take refuge in?

First, for all Buddhist schools there are the three jewels. This is known as the outer refuge.

The Buddha or the very idea that the full recognition of one’s mind is even possible.

The Dharma or that there are teachings that we can learn and study to help us on the way.

Sangha or the ones who have gone before us and will help us. This includes friends teachers and lamas and even enlightened or highly recognized beings. All who team up to drag us kicking and screaming to enlightenment.

In the Theravadan tradition, Refuge is primarily taken for oneself, while in the Mahayana tradition taking Refuge includes all beings. In Vajrayana Buddhism, we build on the traditions of Mahayana and Theravada. Here we have the three roots in which we also find refuge, it is known as the inner refuge.

Lama or highest example the one who is so stable he cannot fall over is the root of blessing. Our root lama is the one who first shows us mind. Without this living example, it is all just a nice theory.

Yidam, or mind bond, is the root of accomplishment. That which ties us to mind. In practice, we see the form of our yidam and imagine in mind all the enlightened qualities it has and slowly we take them into ourselves and merge with them. This is one of the primary tools we use.

Lastly, we have the Protectors are the root of activity. Do they protect us from our own stupidity like if we drive too fast and have an accident, well maybe? But more so they ensure that we can have the best conditions to practice. They shape and form our lives so that we can successfully practice and develop as fast as possible.

It is possible to take this further.  “He unites blessing, methods, and protection and is needed for our fast development”  The Lama is the blessing, the methods come from him, and he is our protector. And even further, the Lama’s mind is our buddha example his teachings and his voice is the Dharma, and his body of activity is the sangha. In the case of the three roots, the lama’s body represents all the lamas, his speech represents the protectors, and his mind is representative of the yidams. He unites the entire refuge for us into one package that is easy to understand, meet with, and practice with. The lama is the union of the entire refuge. I am so thankful for my Lama I have never met anyone who so perfectly embodies such a profound experience and makes Buddhism real for me.



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