Have You Taken Refuge in the Inner Triple Gem?

Symbol of the Triratna (: Sanskrit; Tiratana: Pali), as seen in the Sanchi stupa, 1st century BCE.


– 华严经

Taking refuge in the Buddha, may all beings succeed and glorify the Buddha seed,
giving rise to the unsurpassable aspiration [for Buddhahood].
Taking refuge in the Dharma, may all beings deeply enter the treasury of sutras,
and widen their wisdom like the sea.
Taking refuge in the Sangha, may all beings unify and guide the great masses,
without any obstacles.

– Avatamsaka Sutra

In the Platform Sutra (六祖坛经), the Sixth Patriarch of Chan (Chinese Zen) Master Huineng (慧能大师) gives a radically illuminating teaching on the essence of taking the Threefold Refuge (in the Triple Gem, of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) being beyond mere forms. Instead of taking refuge in Buddha(s) only as ‘personalities’, he says that the essence of refuge in the Buddhas is ‘enlightenment’ (or ‘awakening’) itself. When we regard ‘enlightenment’ as our master (teacher), we will never take refuge in deviant (evil) demons or external paths (that seek liberation beyond oneself). With the Triple Gem of our self-nature, we should constantly awaken ourselves. When our minds take refuge in enlightenment (Buddhas), deviant confusions do not arise, craving (e.g. for sensual pleasures, wealth and such) dissipates and contentment arises. Thus is the Buddha(s) called the doubly complete (in merits and wisdom) and honourable.

Instead of taking refuge in the Dharma only as teachings, the essence of refuge in the Dharma is ‘rightness’ (in truth). When our minds take refuge in rightness, there are no deviant views from thought to thought. Thus without deviance, there is no notion of others or self to give rise to arrogance, greed, craving or attachment. Thus is the Dharma called that free of craving and honourable. Instead of taking refuge in the Sangha only as a community, the essence of refuge in the Sangha is ‘purity’ (in conduct). When our minds take refuge in purity, there is no stain (contamination) on our self-nature by all afflictions of worldly matters (such as craving for sensual pleasures). Thus is the Sangha called the most honourable among the masses. (The Buddha represents the ideal Sangha member who perfectly embodies the Dharma.)

Ordinary people who do not understand take the Threefold Refuge and precepts from day to night. But speaking of refuge in the Buddha, where is the Buddha? If we cannot see the Buddha, how can we take refuge? Such talk of refuge is absurd (and ignorant). We should examine ourselves without using our minds wrongly. The Avatamsaka Sutra clearly stated to take refuge in our own Buddha(-nature within), not in other Buddhas. If we do not take refuge in the Buddha within, there is nowhere to rely on. We should take refuge with the Triple Gem of our own minds by regulating our minds and its nature within, while respecting others (who also have Buddha-nature) without. (Only when we take refuge in the inner Triple Gem can we take refuge in the Triple Gem in all its aspects. Unless we are already excellent practitioners, refuge in the outer Triple Gem is still crucial for guiding us to realise our inner Triple Gem. Perfect refuge in the inner Triple Gem occurs only when we become Buddhas.)

皈依自性佛, 愿我觉而不迷
皈依自性法, 愿我正而不邪
皈依自性僧, 愿我净而不染

With refuge in the self-nature Buddha, may I awake and not be confused.
With refuge in the self-nature Dharma, may I be upright and not be deviant.
With refuge in the self-nature Sangha, may I be pure and not be stained.

The main article above is a paraphrased, extended and annotated translation of: 六祖坛经第六品(忏悔): 善知识,今发四弘 愿了,更与善知识授无相三归依戒。善知识,归依觉,两足尊。归依正,离欲尊。归依净, 众中尊。从今日起,称觉为师,更不归依邪魔外道。以自性三宝常自证明。劝善知识,归依自性三宝。佛者,觉也。法者,正也。僧者,净也。自心归依觉,邪迷不 生,少欲知 足,能离财色,名两足尊。自心归依正,念念无邪见,以无邪见故,即无人我贡高贪爱执著,名离欲尊。自心归依净,一切尘劳爱欲境界,自 性皆不染 著,名众中尊。若修此行,是自归依。凡夫不会,从日至夜,受三归戒。若言归依佛,佛在何处?若不见佛,凭何所归? 言却成妄。善知识,各自观察,莫错用心。经文分明言自归依佛,不言归依他佛。自佛不归,无所依处。今既自悟,各须归依自心三宝。内调 心性,外敬他人,是自归依也。

Related Articles:

What If There is No Triple Gem?
Have You Taken True & Total Refuge Yet?
When Teachers Are Not Yet One with the Dharma
Silent Encounter with a Bodhisattva

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