Spiritual Comminity og The True Followers of The Path Shown by The Awakened One
The first two steps in the process of becoming a lay disciple of the Buddha are the going for refuge (sarana gamana) and the undertaking of the five precepts (pañca-sila samadana). By the former step a person makes the commitment to accept the Triple Gem — the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha — as the guiding ideals of his life, by the latter he expresses his determination to bring his actions into harmony with these ideals through right conduct. The following two tracts were written for the purpose of giving a clear and concise explanation of these two steps. Though they are intended principally for those who have newly embraced the Buddha’s teaching they will probably be found useful as well by long-term traditional Buddhists wanting to understand the meaning of practices with which they are already familiar and also by those who want to know what becoming a Buddhist involves.
In order to keep our treatment compact, and to avoid the intimidating format of a scholastic treatise, references to source material in the tracts themselves have been kept to a minimum. Thus we here indicate the sources upon which our account has drawn. Going for Refuge is based primarily upon the standard commentarial passage on the topic, found with only minor variations in the Khuddakapatha Atthakatha (Paramatthajotika), the Dighanikaya Atthakatha (Sumangalavilasini), and the Majjhimanikaya Atthakatha (Papañcasudani). The first has been translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Ñanamoli in Minor Readings and the Illustrator (London: Pali Text Society, 1960), the third by Ven. Nyanaponika Thera in his The Threefold Refuge (B.P.S., The Wheel No. 76.).
The tract Taking the Precepts relies principally upon the commentarial explanations of the training rules in the Khuddakapatha Atthakatha, referred to above, and to the discussion of the courses of kamma in the Majjhimanikaya (commentary to No. 9, Sammaditthisutta). The former is available in English in Ven. Ñanamoli’s Minor Readings and Illustrator, the latter in Right Understanding, Discourse and Commentary on the Sammaditthisutta, translated by Bhikkhu Soma (Sri Lanka: Bauddha Sahitya Sabha, 1946). Another useful work on the precepts was The Five Precepts and the Five Ennoblers by HRH Vajirañanavarorasa, a late Supreme Patriarch of Thailand (Bangkok: Mahamakut Rajavidyalaya Press, 1975). Also consulted was the section on the courses of karma in Vasubandhu’s Adhidharmakosa and its commentary, a Sanskrit work of the Sarvastivada tradition.
The Buddha’s teaching can be thought of as a kind of building with its own distinct foundation, stories, stairs, and roof. Like any other building the teaching also has a door, and in order to enter it we have to enter through this door. The door of entrance to the teaching of the Buddha is the going for refuge to the Triple Gem — that is, to the Buddha as the fully awakened teacher, to the Dhamma as the truth taught by him, and to the Sangha as the community of his noble disciples. From ancient times to the present the going for refuge has functioned as the entranceway to the dispensation of the Buddha, giving admission to the rest of the teaching from its lowermost story to its top. All those who embrace the Buddha’s teaching do so by passing through the door of taking refuge, while those already committed regularly reaffirm their conviction by making the same threefold profession:
Buddham saranam gacchami
I go for refuge to the Buddha;
Dhammam saranam gacchami
I go for refuge to the Dhamma;
Sangham saranam gacchami
I go for refuge to the Sangha.
As slight and commonplace as this step might seem, especially in comparison with the lofty achievements lying beyond, its importance should never be underestimated, as it is this act which imparts direction and forward momentum to the entire practice of the Buddhist path. Since the going for refuge plays such a crucial role it is vital that the act be properly understood both in its own nature and in its implications for future development along the path. To open up the process of going for refuge to the eye of inner understanding, we here present an examination of the process in terms of its most significant aspects. These will be dealt with under the following eight headings: the reasons for taking refuge; the existence of a refuge; the identification of the refuge objects; the act of going for refuge; the function of going for refuge, methods of going for refuge; the corruption and breach of the going for refuge; and the similes for the refuges.