Buddhism originated sometime between the 4th and 6th centuries BCE, when Siddhartha Gautama gained enlightenment and began teaching the Dharma. Since then his teachings have spread out from India, integrated with local cultures and belief systems resulting in many schools and traditions. However, despite their diversity, all these schools have one thing in common, the Middle Way taught by the Buddha.
Taking is refuge is the most basic practice in Buddhism. Some consider this the point at which a person becomes a Buddhist. This is also the one practice that is common to all 3 schools of Buddhism, despite their diversity.
The refuge that Buddhists refer to is the Three Jewels or Triple Gem, consisting of the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. The Buddha refers to an enlightened being, who has successfully freed himself/herself from suffering. The Dharma refers to the teachings of the Buddha. The Sangha refers to the spiritual community, usually defined as consisting of monks and laypeople who follow the teachings of the Buddha.
Once a person takes refuge, the Triple Gem will protect them as they embark on their journey towards enlightenment. On any journey, we need a guide, a path, and companions who will help us along the way. After we take refuge in the Triple Gem, the Buddha will be the guide, the Dharma the path, and the Sangha the companions, who will guide and help us along our journey to enlightenment.
Once a person has decided to commit to the Triple Gem, he or she can take refuge by repeating three lines, in the tradition of their School, three times. These three lines essentially mean:
I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha
Taking refuge can be as simple as repeating this chant three times before an altar or an image of the Buddha, or repeating it following the guidance of a monk or teacher. Others believe we automatically take refuge once we start learning and practicing the Dharma.
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