The Three Refuges
Traditionally, when the three refuges (also known as the three jewels) are proclaimed either publicly or in private this is the overt act that marks one as a follower of the Buddha. These are:
- I take refuge in the Buddha
- I take refuge in the Dharma
- I take refuge in the Sangha
With the understanding that Dharma means the Buddha-dharma or the Buddha’s teachings. The Sangha is the community of those who follow the Buddha.
In the time of the Buddha, in the beginning of his ministry, he only ordained and took monastic students. Many lay people saw the wonderful effects of the life practice that the Buddha taught his monks and wanted him to teach them too. However, these lay people had families and other responsibilities that prevented them from becoming a monk or a nun. They entreated him to teach them and asked to be his followers so he created five precepts for lay people. These are:
- Do not kill
- Do not steal
- Do not engage in sexual misconduct
- Do not engage in talk that harms others
- Do not become intoxicated
By following these five precepts, the Buddha taught that we could reduce or eliminate suffering in our lives and the lives of others. These precepts are also like the north star that is used by a traveler when navigating. They are impossible to achieve but they can guide us in the direction we should live. Note also that if a particular precept is one you feel you cannot take whatever the reason, it is okay only take as few as one precept during such a ceremony.
When a person finds a teacher and wants to become a lay disciple, asking to take the three jewels and five precepts is the traditional way of acknowledging that deepening of a relationship with that teacher.
Many people have been given lay precepts at the Desert Zen Center. The time for precept taking is generally following a retreat or at a special service celebrating a Buddhist holiday.