When we sit in meditation, there are three points of support: the buttocks and two knees, if sitting on a cushion on the floor, or the buttocks and two feet if sitting in a chair. This is the triangle that provides full support to sustain our practice. In Buddhism, there are three supports as well: The Buddha, the dhamma and the sangha. They work together and all are equally important. Traditionally these three are called the Three Refuges or the Three Jewels or Triple Gem. Both these feel true when you are already familiar with them. When you know the comfort and clarity they provide, you want to take refuge in them. When you are fully present with them in a balanced way, they radiate like jewels. But for beginners to understand them, I like to present them as supports because starting anything new, we need all the support we can get!
Let’s explore each a little more fully:
Buddha means awakened, and there is always some core part of us that is awake. It is often hidden under layers of dust, ignored as we chase after and run from the Eight Worldly Winds. Our buddha nature, that wise balanced presence, is accessed through regular meditation practice, where we cultivate spacious ease and compassion for ourselves and all beings.
Dhamma (aka dharma) is the wisdom shared by the Buddha and other awakened teachers throughout human history. The dhamma is also taught by the forest, the sea, the hills and all the inhabitants who live in harmony with the natural way of things. We listen to the dhamma, we observe the dhamma, and we are inspired to insights into our own nature. We come to a deeper more compassionate understanding of life.
Sangha is the community of meditation practitioners who support each other in our practice and in our lives. When everyone around us is living a distracted life, it can be very difficult for us to choose a different course. When we come together on a regular basis with people who share our intention to meditate and live mindfully, we are inspired to keep this practice of meditation a regular part of our lives and to live authentically from a sense of connection with all beings. We are reminded why we love the practice and how much it means to us. (I always extend my sangha to include anyone who supports me in my practice, even if they are not meditating themselves. In our class, most of the women have mates who do not meditate, but all are supportive of it because their wives are so much happier.)
Are you enjoying the benefits of all three of these supports of buddha, dhamma and sangha? Are you finding refuge in them? Or are you forgetting one or more of them? Perhaps you have had glimpses into your own buddha nature, but have not set the wise intention to practice meditation to cultivate spacious ease so that you are operating from that buddha nature rather than being tossed to and fro in life, trying to be all things to all people.
Or perhaps you have a regular meditation practice, but it is dry for you. Is there enough dhamma in your life? (Not drama! Dhamma!) Are you reading, listening or attending dhamma talks? Are you taking quiet strolls in nature, pausing to notice what wisdom is there?
Or perhaps you listen to talks online or read books, and are inspired to practice, but have no sense of community, no one to answer questions that come up and no feeling of support in your practice.
You can see how the buddha, the dhamma and the sangha all work together to make a balanced lifelong practice that brings joy, ease and balance to your life.
If chanting is part of your preferred practice, here is the traditional Pali chant for taking these three refuges:
Buddham saranam gacchami (I go to the Buddha for refuge)
Dhammam saranam gacchami (I go to the Dhamma for refuge)
Sangham saranam gacchami (I go to the Sangha for refuge)