The refuges of Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha provide the foundation for the wholesome qualities of the heart to arise. The precepts establish a strong foundation of integrity and virtue, as well as an ability to cultivate, both individually and in a group setting, a sense of trust: trust in oneself and the whole environment that one is in.
Reflecting on and recollecting the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as refuges is always an important reminder for us. The reality is that we are always taking refuge in something, whether it is in some distraction or particular worry or fear. The mind goes there, and that’s where we create our refuge. We rely on it and build our lives around it.
As we find out, that’s not a very satisfying refuge, but it’s what we do as human beings. It’s like Ajahn Chah’s definition of what a human being is: “A human being is a being with issues.” It’s always having an issue with something or other. It keeps us busy and gives us something to live for. And then we die—it goes on and on.
So, we redirect our attention to something that is a worthy refuge: the Buddha as a historical figure and symbol of fundamental qualities, such as wisdom, compassion, and purity.
Wisdom, compassion, and purity are the qualities that we cultivate and pay attention to if we reflect on how our practice is doing and how our life is going. Are these qualities being attended to? Am I out of balance or missing something? If so, how can I reconfigure that, so I pay attention to those aspects of the Buddha?
The Dhamma is the teaching in a conventional sense and also the underlying truth of existence. There are fundamental truths that we are able to realize, understand, and penetrate, and when those truths are seen and understood, they have a transformative quality to them.
When the Buddha refers to sangha outside of the conventional level, he’s again pointing to qualities of the heart. In our morning chant, when we recollect Sangha, we say: Supaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho, the Sangha of the Blessed One’s disciples are those who practice well; ujupaṭipanno, practice directly; ñāyapaṭipanno, practice for the overcoming of suffering, for understanding and knowledge; sāmīcipaṭipanno, practice appropriately, with integrity. These are also the qualities of those who have entered into the fruition of the path: stream-enterers, once-returners, non- returners, and arahants.
This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the book, Abundant, Exalted, Immeasurable, Refuges and Precepts.