Home » Letters » How Is The Threefold Refuge Both Vows & Precepts?

Question: Is it alright for ‘Buddhists’ who had taken the Threefold Refuge in the Triple Gem (of the Buddhas, Dharma and Sangha) to totally immerse themselves in other ‘spiritual’ groups, with essentially different (i.e. non-Buddhist or pseudo-‘Buddhist’) teachers, teachings, followers and goals, such that the Triple Gem is neglected or ignored?

Answer: In the Buddhist teachings, this goes against refuge taken. The Threefold Refuge should be taken sincerely, as a set of serious spiritual vows for life — to always regard the Buddhas as supreme teachers, to always regard the Buddhas’ Dharma to be supreme teachings, and to always regard the noble Sangha as the supreme community. Once regarding otherwise, refuge is corrupted, to be repented by making amends.

While it is commonly thought that the Five Precepts committed to are the ‘first precepts’, prior to committing to them is commitment to the Triple Gem, with this Threefold Refuge in essence being the actual first ‘precepts’. Using marriage vows as an example, even before commitment to various other personal promises in detail, the primary commitment is to each other’s general welfare for life, till death does the couple apart.

Without regarding the Buddhas to be supreme, one would not heed their advice to commit to any other Buddhist precepts. Without regarding the Dharma to be supreme, one would not heed its advice to learn about any other Buddhist precepts. Without regarding the Sangha to be supreme, one would not heed its example to uphold any other Buddhist precepts purely. Thus, to take refuge is to vow to abide by the Triple Gem’s essence.

Before taking the Threefold Refuge, one should ideally have made enough efforts to learn about the value of the Triple Gem, to understand why it is supreme, thus accepting it sincerely. Likewise, after taking refuge, one should sincerely continue learning, to practise properly. It is noteworthy that only those with inadequate learning and practice are easily swayed away from refuge, to even unfortunately abandon it.

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