In the Triratna community, who I practice with, we see going for refuge to the three jewels as our central practice - the three jewels being the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. In fact the name Triratna means the three jewels. However the founder of the movement (Sangharakshita) makes the stronger claim that this is the central act of all Buddhist traditions. The Triratna movement is an explicit attempt to return to that core teaching.

However I'd really be interested in the perspectives of the different Buddhist traditions on that. Does that ring true to people in their own practices. Is going for refuge the central act of Buddhist practice?


3 Answers 3


In every single branch of Buddhism I have looked into, going for refuge is seen as the defining feature of what makes you a Buddhist. The Theravada school holds to this position, every form of East Asian Mahayana Buddhism I've read about holds this position, and Tibetan Buddhism also puts great stress on going for refuge to the point where reciting the refuge formula with Bodhichitta 100,000 times (usually combined with prostration and visualizing the refuge tree) is a central part of Tibetan Ngöndro, or foundational practice.

I think that Sangharakshita really was correct in identifying the central role of refuge in all Buddhist traditions.

  • I'd say some forms of Zen show no interest in going for refuge.
    – Caleb Paul
    Oct 3, 2014 at 22:51
  • @Traditional Zen (e.g. Soto, Rinzai, Obaku, Chan, Thien, Seon,) does see refuge as the entryway into the path. There are probably groups somewhere that don't but I think even the more secular forms of these traditions still have refuge (although they might understand it differently).
    – Bakmoon
    Oct 4, 2014 at 16:44

The Buddha and the Dharma are not very controversial, although there is some disagreement among the sects about how awesome the Buddha was (was he god-like or just a really great guy)

SGI has dispensed with the ordained, monastic sangha. This probably was a result of history-- the split between the SGI organization and the Nichiren Shu sangha, probably not so much because SGI didn't like the sangha.

For a secular Buddhist, there isn't anything special about ordaining-- it's another institution to be judged on its own merits and results. As for joining, it depends on if you see any particular benefit to that particular institution. As for supporting the sangha, it depends on if you see any particular benefit in supporting it.

As far as institutional Buddhism goes, I think Japan got the closes to laicizing the sangha with the Meiji reformations.

Once, or if you dispense with the institutionalized monastic order, then the sangha is just the "congregation", the community of other Buddhists. Finding refuge in just the community of Buddhist though seems a little insular. I'd rather feel responsible for all humanity and expect all humanity to be responsible for me in return. (As an ideal, in practice it's dog eat dog and few people give a hoot)


I think going for refuge works like a commitment and also as a devotion act, it is a way to reinforce what you believe in and what you are going to pursuit, but it is not like the Christian Baptism where you do it and the gates of heaven will open up for you.

Karma works in the same way either you took refuge or not, so it is pointless to go for refuge and keep your old bad habits, following this logic I think it is more important to keep the precepts, meditate and live a positive life than going for refuge, I'm not suggesting refuge isnt important, I'm only emphasizing that your practice is more important than anything.

Of course, listen to your teacher or guru and analyze his points, in the SE you will probably get lots of different point of views!


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