“What is the meaning of the Three Refuges in Jodo Shinshu?


The Three Refuges are:

Buddham saranam gacchami
Dhammam saranam gacchami
Sangham saranam gacchami

The first line means to take refuge first and foremost in Amida Buddha who is the central Buddha in Jodo Shinshu. Only through him we attain Buddhahood in the Pure Land as he is the only Buddha among all Buddhas who made the Vow of saving everybody, no matter their spiritual capacities. We also honor and take refuge in Shakyamuni Buddha as the Teacher who showed us the path of Amida Dharma, his main reason for coming to this world.

At our dojo we recite the traditional "Vandana": NAMO TASSA BHAGAVATO ARAHATO SAMMA SAMBUDDHASA (Homage to him, the Blessed One, the fully Enlightened One) before reciting the Three Refuges. This is addressed to Shakyamuni Buddha in his position as a messenger and Teacher of Amida Dharma.
The second line means to take refuge in the Dharma about Amida that was preached by Shakyamuni Buddha and further explained by the Masters of our tradition, especially Shinran Shonin and Rennyo Shonin. It is the Dharma contained in the sacred texts of our tradition, the sutras and commentaries, not the books of so-and-so scholar or priest.

By taking refuge in the true Dharma, which is, I repeat, is the teaching contained in the sutras and commentaries of the Masters, we indirectly reject false views or opinions that contradict these sacred texts. We reject such false views held today by many, like the denial of rebirth, of cause and effect, or those regarding Amida as being a symbol, metaphor, fictional character, those who misinterpret the Pure Land as being here and now and not a real place or manifestation of Amida, etc.  

Taking refuge in the Dharma means that we make the vow of putting the Dharma higher than our own unenlightened opinions and ideas. We receive and transmit to others only the teaching left to us by Shakyamuni and the Masters of our tradition.

While we respect all Buddhist methods as coming from Shakyamuni, we follow only the teaching about Amida Buddha and only in Him do we take refuge.

The third line means that we take refuge in those (lay and priests) who have received SHINJIN in the present life and whose future birth in the Pure Land is thus assured. By taking refuge in them we wish to be like them, we consider them to be our fellow travelers on the path, our brothers and sisters in the Amida Dharma. Those who don’t have SHINJIN yet should look for the company of those who are firm in shinjin, listen to their explanations and wish to become persons of settled faith themselves.

We do not take refuge in those who share false views or views that are not in accordance with the words and instructions of the sutras and commentaries of the Masters. The true Jodo Shinshu sangha (community) is composed only of those who fully accept the teaching found in the sutras and commentaries of the Masters and who receive SHINJIN. In such a sangha we take refuge. Such a sangha we venerate as part of the Three Treasures.

The sangha is the place where the true Dharma is shared and transmitted so that we can receive SHINJIN and become Buddhas in the Pure Land. Only in sharing and transmitting the true Dharma does the sangha have meaning. Without taking refuge in the living Amida Buddha and accepting the Dharma about Him as it was taught by Shakyamuni and the Masters, there is no sangha.

How should we look to other Buddhists that are not Jodo Shinshu followers?

They are disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha, too, just they follow other Buddhist methods than us. In accordance with Master Rennyo’s instruction found in his letters, we should not despise those who practice other Buddhist teachings than the Nembutsu of faith in Amida Buddha. “Respect but not follow”, is the rule for treating other Buddhist schools and their disciples. After all, Buddhists of all schools are brothers and sisters in the Buddha Dharma and disciples of Shakyamuni.  They are part of the general Buddhist sangha, so to speak, containing all Buddhists, but we specifically take refuge in the sangha of those who have faith in Amida Buddha.

Monday, April 19, 2010
Rev. Josho Adrian Cirlea