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 (Chinese Version)
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.)
~ Chinese Version of Above in Platform Sutra
~ 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
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.
– Buddhist Saying