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A refuge (saraõa) is a place one goes to in order to find peace, security and safety. The Buddhist considers continual rebirth in samsara to be an unenviable prospect and believes the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha to be a refuge from this.
Thus the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha are often called the Three Refuges. The Buddha is a refuge in that his enlightenment demonstrates that samsara can be transcended, the Dhamma is a refuge in that it shows how enlightenment can be attained and the Sangha is a refuge in that it offers the guidance, encouragement, example and support needed to transcend samsara.
Going for Refuge in Pali and English
Many people who decide to become a Buddhist recite a simple formula in which they affirm their confidence in and commitment to the Three Refuges. This formula is:
- Buddham saranam gacchàmi
- Dhammam saranam gacchàmi
- Sangham saranam gacchàmi
- Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchàmi
- Dutiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchàmi
- Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gacchàmi
- Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gacchàmi
- Tatiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchàmi
- Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gacchàmi
This means, ‘I go to the Buddha for Refuge. I go to the Dhamma for Refuge. I go to the Sangha for Refuge.’ The formula is usually repeated three times, with 'Dutiyampi' meaning 'for a second time' and 'Tatiyampi' meaning 'for a third time.' What the sacred thread ceremony is to Hindus, baptism is to Christians and reciting the shahada is to Muslims, going for refuge is to Buddhists.
The Three Refuges, Nyanaponika, 1983.