A Journey towards Refuge: Understanding Saranam (Refuge) and introducing The Three Jewels (Tiratana)

Refuge is the embodiment and living expression of encountering, whether within ourselves or in the outer World, the assurance and felt experience of being held safe, secure, and sheltered; a feeling of confidence and okayness within the World, protected within life and living. Refuge can be experienced as an inner place of contentment, marked by kindness and courage, resilience and adaptability, discoverable through the protections and supports of mindfulness that fortify, evoke, strengthen and secure both internal and external facets and expressions of Refuge. Refuge is a journey towards the perceivable and tangible experience of okayness in being and belonging safe in the World that is. It involves growing in confidence through familiarisation with lived experience and intimate awareness of the essence of our essential humanness, fostering comfort with the human condition. Building up in the living memory of our being an accurate knowledge of experiences and realities of nature and living. 

Refuge often evokes a feeling of connection, gratitude and reverence for life and Dhamma. It can manifest in many ways, taking on many appearances and expressions. Many, including myself, have found Refuge in a vast lineage of peacemakers throughout history, including specific lineage teachers from the Dhamma traditions and many other figures and movements worldwide. I find Refuge in the Dhamma teachings and teachers whom I have come to respect and enjoy, as well as in a community of Dhamma friends. Refuge extends in multiple directions through my service and offerings as a teacher of Dhamma tradition and in my work in regenerative bushland management, Landcare, and Permaculture. I find shared Refuge with many people who attend our group Dhamma and mindfulness sessions and retreats Tig-Le House hosts, as well as in community sports and Arts. It is essential to identify the appropriate expressions and figures of Refuge that are relevant in the context of your life, embracing whichever source exhibits clearly as a true manifestation of Refuge. There is no one set figure or expression of Refuge, as it appears in many forms and has endless layers of depth. 

At its core, Refuge embraces a heart-felt aspiration to take steps towards health and sanity, towards feeling safe and well, to encourage and know what it is to be calm, stable and secure, to be accepted and find meaningfully belonging, and to know of the inherent goodness of our being, to become good friends with all the qualities we wish to love about ourselves. Establishing Refuge takes a lot of mindfulness, attentive effort, friendliness, love, understanding, patience, and care. Often, at first, we may be looking for outer places to take Refuge, and it is from here that inner Refuge can grow. If we are fortunate, then we may have a strong sense of true inner Refuge already established in our lives, though, for many reasons, this is not always so. 

When we witness the benefits of practice with our own eyes, we have received the blessings of the teachings. Mindfulness is the basis that leads to deeper connections with actual Refuge. Direct experience of true Refuge is characterised by an open and enlivened yet subtle presence that is inherent and embedded in the fabric of life. Through right practice, insight and wisdom, we become growingly connected with a harmonious relationship with life and the wellspring of life energy. We discover sources and reservoirs of Refuge within ourselves and come to clearly see the many sources, activities and expressions of Refuge that exist in the World. Refuge carries within it a sense of place and purpose, inspiring motivations and aspirations to be meaningfully engaged and involved in development of the wisdom of compassion and a commitment towards peace, health and Refuge for oneself, others, and the World. 

True Refuge is a feeling sensed within us as an inner heart-felt sensation that can permeate a life, flowing throughout the mind, heart, and body, filling us and life with a felt sense of okayness, contentment and motivation for all-Refuge. It is not a fixed state but naturally ebbs and flows, fluctuating across the day and lifespan; it has no final resting ground. Refuge, like mindfulness, is often elusive, always lacking, and can never be fully realised in an individual life, in the World; that does not seem to be the way of it. It can, however, be continually engaged and cultivated; it requires a consistency of practice to develop and maintain. Furthermore, we are reminded that Refuge is not merely a conceptual or intellectual idea but a tangible force, filled with the essence of mind and life in every aspect of the living, breathing heart of being. The possibilities for meaningful Refuge are open and boundless, an ever-present living mystery with no limits to the depths of its potential.

No individual Refuge really exists. For True Refuge to be realised requires All-Refuge, a truly shared Refuge. There is no True Refuge in isolation from the Refuge of all beings and the health of the world ecology. (Seek teaching).

In traditional Dhamma teachings, Refuge can take the form of the assembly of, or gathering of, the good qualities of awakening and support for these good qualities (Generosity, Discipline, Patience, Effort, Conduct, Mindfulness, Meditation, Energy, Truthfulness, Determination, Goodwill, Equanimity, Transcendent Wisdom); and a commitment to developing the inherent good qualities found in and of our humanity. Expressed through these Three Jewels of Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, three meaningful sources of True Refuge, these represent the outer and inner expressions of meaningful Refuge in Theravada dhamma teachings and are common to all schools of Buddhism.

• Buddha and Buddhahood – Preciousness, a valuable resource, capacity for awakening in all beings, a remarkable, wonderful blessing. The blessing which is your birthright for the full awakened wisdom of compassionate being.

• Dhamma – The vast potential for harmony within life, seeing life’s truths, knowing of reality, guiding ways and wisdom fostering peace. The potential and realisation of life’s wisdom and intelligence to arise in mind consciousness.

• Sangha – The relational aspects of learned compassionate activity across time and place; the ideas, activities and the human community working for peace, a global community of care.

These Three Jewels/Refuges are considered universal values and beneficial recollections. They act as contemplative anchors that protect and prevent us from straying into Dukkha, labyrinths of suffering and excessive states of difficulty and complexity arising from misunderstood or misinterpreted reality. It is important to note that these Three Jewels are not intended to be places to rest in for oneself, as personal sanctuaries to withdraw into, hiding, concealing, restricting or shutting off experiences, nor are they something to be obtained, owned or won. The Three Jewels of Refuge exist in each life, in the fabric of mind and life energy, and they are accessible to cultivate. 

When these concepts and energies of the Three Jewels converge, they support and sustain life and living. Enabling and strengthening the interrelationships between them fosters Refuge increasingly, strengthening belief and trust in our capacity for suitable states of Refuge that contribute to meaningful peace and health in the World. Referred to as the ‘three in one’, three aspects of one teaching, the Three Jewels of Refuge impart ideas of great value and worth that can inspire and regulate, help guide, nurture and support personal well-being and the vast interconnectivity and health of life worldwide.

Love and blessings from Genyen – Ian Hackett

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