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Those who need not constantly take the Threefold Refuge
must have become the Threefold Refuge themselves.
– Stonepeace

While witnessing hundreds receiving the Threefold Refuge, I reflected on its true meaning. We take refuge when we recognise the Triple Gem to embody the ideal (Buddha/hood) to strive for, the path that leads to it (Dharma) and the community of realised spiritual teachers and friends that guides us there (Sangha). Yet, as long as we are not fully enlightened on the nature of the Triple Gem, all we have is partial refuge. Thus, in many devotional practices, verses for taking refuge are chanted on a daily basis. Indeed, taking refuge is not a one-time event but a continual and lifelong process. As long as we have yet to know or become the Triple Gem fully per se, our refuge is yet to be complete.

Regular refuge-taking reminds us to align ourselves with the Triple Gem till we realise Buddhahood. In this sense, doing so not only marks the beginning of the path towards perfection, it is every part of this path. I used to wonder why it is taught that those who take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha will not be reborn as hell-beings, hungry ghosts and animals. This is logical since if we really take refuge, our efforts to align with the Triple Gem will not create any causes for lower rebirths. It will instead create the opposite karma that propels us to purer rebirths conducive for liberation. Refuge-taking is thus no ceremony that frees us of unfortunate future lives magically or instantly!

I see kids fidgeting in the ceremony, not chanting… much less understanding what others are chanting. If they do not know what it is all about, perhaps what created is a semi-sincere and semi-distracted affinity with the Triple Gem. Better than nothing! In sharp contrast, when I took refuge many years ago, I was so focused, perhaps overly so, that everything else blacked out in contrast. There was just me alone, expressing my commitment to the Buddhadharma, with disregard to worldly distractions. As I concentrated too hard, the world ‘spun’ a bit and I felt a little faint. Though the event was rendered overwhelmingly serious, it helped me to register it well! – Shen Shi’an

Taking the precepts does not demand or ensure faultlessness.
It merely expresses commitment to be as faultless as possible. – Stonepeace

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