Buddhism & Daily Life: Building Our Spiritual Habits—Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem

Speaker: Venerable Jue Ji

Director of Xiang Yun Temple, Austin, Texas, U.S.A

I. Introduction

Early in the morning on January 20, President-elected Joe Biden twitted a message, “It’s a new day in America.” The inaugural address by President Joe Biden focused on the theme of “unity”. He called on Americans “bringing America together”, “uniting our people”, and “uniting our nation.” At the beginning of the Biden administration, his inaugural address was inspiring. I call this presidential inauguration ceremony a ritual, which serves to announce the beginning of a new administration, its mission, its directing guidelines, and its anticipated achievements. The theme that weaved in and out of the inauguration speech is UNITY.

In unity, President Joe Biden needs to seek resolutions to a divided country. The issue of unity not only applies to a country, it also applies to each individual, such as you and me and everyone else. In fact, learning Buddhism is a process to unite our body and mind as individual, and unite the individual and others as the world. If there is no unity, there is no peace of mind, no nirvana.

Western medicine has questioned the medical benefits of meditation.

II. Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem

So, for Buddhist newbies to start a new chapter in their life, what is the first thing to do to find this unity? Take refuge in the Triple Gem, of course! The Triple Gem—Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—is the core of Buddhist faith. Briefly speaking, the Buddha is the fully enlightened one; the Dharma, the teachings expounded by the Buddha; the Sangha, the monastic order of Buddhism that practice Dharma.

Venerable Master Hsing Yun says that the Triple Gem is a spiritual wealth that transcends all worldly wealth. But how do we obtain this spiritual wealth of the Triple Gem? We need to register a Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem Ceremony to be officially certified as Buddhists, just like the President-elected Joe Biden needs to take oath on January 20 to become the 46th President of the United States. Our “oath” is the vow to follow the Triple Gem lives after lives. Easy, right? Not really!

Some people visit my temple; tell me that they are interested in Buddhism. They practice meditation every now and then. They read Buddhist books themselves. In all, they have been self-study Buddhism for some time. And they come to me seeking for something “solid”, something that make them feel more Buddhist. But to register for an official taking refuge in the Triple Gem ceremony seems a “big leap”. They would rather stay at a comfort zone, a wait-and-see approach on their spiritual path. It’s the commitment that they are hesitant to devote themselves to. This is because they do not understand what Triple Gem is. Some even insist that they have to 100% sure what Triple Gem is to register this ceremony. A diehard mind of pursuing the truth, indeed! No blame on them.

III. Metaphors of the Triple Gem

When explaining what the Triple Gem is, some common metaphors are adopted to describe the Buddha as a good doctor, the Dharma as the wondrous cure, and Sangha as the nursing caretakers.

Venerable Master Hsing Yun provided another set of metaphors for the Triple Gem: the Buddha as the light, the Dharma the water, and the Sangha the field. This set of metaphors perhaps is more practical for Buddhist newbies to apply in daily practice. And it may serve to acquaint newbies with the Triple Gem and accept the Triple Gem to accompany them side by side, if not heart to heart. Let me give you some tips. Visualize that the Triple Gem is available anywhere, anytime in our daily life. And let us practice the following:

(1) The Buddha is Light

The Buddha is like the light that nurtures all beings. Every morning when we wake up and open our eyes, let us embrace the world with a fresh mind that is warmed by the light of the Buddha. And let us pray “May the light of the Buddha allow me to grow wholesome qualities of loving-kindness, wisdom, and faith.” With this, we start our day in dining with our family, working with our colleagues, doing gardening work at our backyard, shopping our daily necessities, etc. Wherever the light is, it would remind us that we are in unity with the light. Light shines, warms, and allows life to mature. We also want to shine our loving kindness to warm the hearts of our beloved ones and even that of strangers. The light of the Buddha would dissolve all the disagreements among all living beings, and break down the wall that separate one from another.

(2) The Dharma is Water

The Dharma is like the water that nourishes all beings. When we drink the first glass of water in the morning, we clean our body and mind. Let us pray, “May the Dharma water wash away our worries and sorrows.” In this way, we start our day with a clean body and mind. The miraculous Dharma water would rid of our burdens, defilements, hate, jealousy, dissatisfaction, etc. The Dharma water flows everywhere without obstruction. It rinses our thirst of desire and quenches the fire of our anger. When we feel “dry”, remember that glass of Dharma water we drink early in the morning. We would immediately feel juvenile and filled with strength to cleanse away the dirt of afflictions and defilement.

(3) The Sangha is a Field

The Sangha is like a field, enabling the planting of merit and virtue. The first words we say to our family or people we meet on the street, at the workplace, in school, we want to deliver our best wishes to them. All these people are our community, our family, our oneness. The community is our field; we need to take care of this field, big or small. Each and every word that we say to our community, it enables us to plant our own merit and virtues. If we want to live in a unified, loving, caring community, then let us start speaking good words to one another. Good words would generate good affinities with others. And good affinities with others would further enhance a harmonious relationship in this community.

IV. How to Take Refuge in the Triple Gem

This is a skillful means for the hesitant newbies to start with, before registering an official taking refuge in the Triple Gem. Hope this would make them feel comfortable to take the first step out of their comfort zone. But seriously speaking, is an official ritual of Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem necessary? Well, in Buddha’s time, it did not take any official ritual for people to take refuge in the Triple Gem. For those who wanted to be Buddhist followers, they just recited:

Buddham saranam gacchami (I take refuge in the Buddha),
Dhammam saranam gacchami (I take refuge in the Dharma),
Sangham saranam gacchami (I take refuge in the Sangha).

The “ritual” was simple. The emphasis was on a sincere heart of learning and practicing Buddha Dharma. But later the Sangha order in ancient India found that it was necessary to host a ritual for the lay people to officially become Buddhists. The ritual of the ceremony helps to motivate practitioners to persevere their spiritual cultivation; it is a vow to endure all hardships on this spiritual path, and a commitment to seek the truth no matter how long it takes on the spiritual journey. In all Buddhist traditions, an official ritual of taking refuge to the Triple Gem had been developed since then to today.

In the 21st century, we Buddhist Sangha order continue to follow the practice for both monastic and the lay communities. During this pandemic situation, Fo Guang Shan Monastery is going to organize a virtual Triple Gem Refuge Ceremony on March 31, 2021. The Buddha’s Light International Association chapters are the institution-in-charge. All FGS branch temples are co-organizers. There has never been a virtual Triple Gem Refuge Ceremony held in the world since early Buddhism in India.

This is original and we are creating our history. It takes nerves to try something new. FGS and BLIA are very active and positive in introducing Buddhism to the world. Even in this difficult time of pandemic, we are very blessed that the modern hi-tech make the virtual Triple Gem Refuge Ceremony possible and acceptable. Everything has its pros and cons. It is so true to this pandemic situation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in this past one year. The United States has become the highest COVID-19 infected patients in the world. The death toll of the COVID-19 victims in the States has increased up to 400,000 people now. It is sad news that so many people died because of the pandemic. The victims of COVID-19 are all our family members. As Buddhists, we should take refuge in the Triple Gem for the deceased and the bequeathed ones. Whether they are Buddhists or non-Buddhists, they are all in oneness with us in the big family. In unity we are blessed by the Triple Gem.

So let us, practice the following every day:

Embrace the light of the Buddha as we wake up in the morning and let the light melt away all the obstacles standing among all people.

Clean our body and mind with Dharma water and flush away the dirt of all afflictions that cause suffering.

Speak good words to establish affinities with others. Be supportive to one another because we are a family after all.

IV. Conclusion

The Triple Gem of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha are integrated with one another. In unity with the Triple Gem, we are connected with one another. So, let us embrace the Triple Gem as our spiritual guide.