The Three Jewels in Buddhism – Taking Refuge

The Three Jewels in Buddhism: Taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha

The Three Jewels in Buddhism are also known as the “Three Treasures”, “Three Refuges”, or simply the “Triple Gem” are said to be essential to attain enlightenment.  Without the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha we continue to wander in samsara.

Although the recitation of the chant to take refuge in the Three Jewels formally makes one a Buddhist in some parts of the world, this is not always the case in today’s modern Western world.

the three jewels in buddhism

The Three Jewels carved in stone

In fact, the Dalai Lama doesn’t advise formally becoming a Buddhist but rather have people adapt the Three Jewels (and Buddhist teachings in general) to your own spiritual tradition.  For example, if you’re a Christian then you would take refuge in Jesus, the Word of God, and the Church respectively.

What does it mean to take refuge?

The word refuge means “shelter or protection from danger or distress” or “a place to flee back to”.

In Buddhist thought I  found that Robert Thurman summarized the concept well in his book “The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Liberation Through Understanding in the Between” where he defines taking refuge in the Three Jewels as finding “a haven from the extreme dangers of the suffering life-cycle and finds assurance of the positive evolutionary direction of his/her succession of lives”.

But what does it mean to take refuge in the Three Jewels?


the three jewels in buddhism


The term ‘Buddha’ literally means “awakened” or “one who is awakened to the truth of the nature of reality”.

When we say “I go for refuge in the Buddha” (Buddham saranam gacchami) they are not referring to Buddha as a deity but rather they are taking refuge in Shakyamuni Buddha as a teacher of Buddha-nature of everything which is Perfect Bliss, Freedom, or Nirvana.


the three jewels in buddhism


The term ‘Dharma’ is one that has many different meanings.  Originally in Hinduism dharma meant “law, right, justice” in the sense of cosmic law of the gods and is also related to the word dharayati meaning “holds firm, stable, constant”.

So when we say “I go for refuge in the Dharma” (Dhammam saranam gacchami) we mean Dharma in the Buddhist sense is that which “holds us in freedom from suffering” or taking refuge in the true nature of reality.



the three jewels in buddhism


The term ‘Sangha’ comes from the Sanskrit word “samgha” (sam “together” + han “to come in contact”) so means “coming together” of people.

When we say “I go for refuge in the Sangha” (Sangham saranam gacchami) we are not only referring to the monastic community of monks and nuns of the Theravada tradition but also to groups of lay practitioners who come together to help one another realize the Dharma and become a bodhisattva.

The Sangha could also refer to the myriad Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who are enfolding us in their love and compassion all around us even though we may not perceive them.  When we study and practice, we sit with the millions of Buddhas and begin to feel their infinite compassion and love.

So for those who are adherents of various religions, I encourage you to go out and revisit the religion or spiritual worldview held by your family but contemplate the Three Jewels in Buddhism and what it means to take refuge in your own way.


What do you take refuge in?

Let me know if you have any questions or additional insights on the Three Jewels in Buddhism.  I’d love to hear from you!

Namo Buddham saranam gacchami
Namo Dhammam saranam gacchami
Namo Sangham saranam gacchami

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14 Responses to The Three Jewels in Buddhism – Taking Refuge

  1. Jazzi2015 says:


    Your site is wonderful and full of information. My question is how long have you been a Buddhist and how has it impacted your life? I have never study on the subject but you have made it easy to understand, breaking it down to a basic level.

    Very interesting information for anyone who is looking to find themselves in religion.


    • Ian H says:

      Hi Jazzi,

      Thank you! I’ve been studying Buddhism on and off for most of my life. I’ve also explored pretty much every spiritual path you could think of and my path led me back to Buddhism.

      Buddhism changed my life by giving me a sense of hope and purpose throughout my life and has led me to some amazing insights when it comes to study and meditation.

  2. Johnson says:

    This is an extremely review about the Buddhist religion or tradition. I do hear about of stories concerning this particular tradition without actually having a clear perspective about what is it all about.

    Thanks for your review and various articles, it has indeed given me a better understanding and it was very much informative too. Thanks

  3. Tar says:

    Hello there. I never heard of Dharma and Sangha until you explained, so they’re new to me.

    I like the fact that there’s more than just what people think in terms of seeking refuge.

    I mean, there’s more people doing the same practice just like monks but in a different look.

    About the term, there’s a quite few on besides Three Jewels. I must say, they’re very nice the way they are named.

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks! Yes the Sangha was originally the monastic community, and Mahayana Buddhism takes this idea forward to the lay community as well.

  4. Dave Sweney says:

    I enjoyed this thoughtful and insightful article on the three jewels in buddhism and the tie to taking refuge in them

    There were some concepts that I had not known but the way you explained them it was easy to understand. I appreciate that and now have a much better sense of what Buddhism is and can be…

    Have you spent a lot of time is Asia to pick up your knowledge or did you get it somewhere else? I travel often to countries like China and Thailand, and Buddhism is widely practiced….

    One of these days I think I will take a course or a set of seminars to learn even more, for the most part this a very peaceful religion and one some of the others should emulate a bit more perhaps…

    Are there some free online resources that you know of that would cover concepts such the three jewels, etc. in more depth?

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Dave,

      No I haven’t spent any time in Asia, but I have studied pretty much every form of Buddhism in the world today and continue to do so which includes Japanese and Thai Buddhism as taught in the “West”. And every time I do that, I see something that I hadn’t seen before and have new insights into the teachings

      There are many online resources on Buddhism such as BuddhaNet and that go into a little more detail, and I’ll definitely go into more detail about the various aspects of the Eightfold path in this blog as well.

  5. Tyler Redlev says:

    I think refugee in your article is meant something like addapting yourself to these three jewels and devote yourself to them.

    It is actually almost the same in most reigions. Just like the example you gave about Jesus. In Islam there are 4 khalifasw that people recognise. It may be a variant of three jewels in buddhism.

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks for your comment. I think you’re right about refuge being a big part of most if not all world religions but I think sometimes many faiths do it for much different reasons (i.e. fear of punishment if the Deity is not obeyed vs Love of the Divine).

  6. Fred Chong says:

    Thank you for sharing! I’d take refuge in this post as well as this website, I found a lot of life teachings here, the wisdom we need to live a happy and healthy life. I am not a Buddist but I am reminding myself to come back for more. This is not speaking less of what I believe in but on the human level, I honestly hear and learn much from Buddist teachings.

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks for your comment! You don’t have to be a Buddhist to follow the teachings of the Buddha nor do you have to forsake the belief system you may be comfortable with. I will also be comparing Buddhism with various belief systems around the world, which I think you’ll find to be fascinating..

  7. ZEGU says:

    I have learned something through your post, ‘The Three Jewels in Buddhism- Taking Refuge.’ As you say, in Buddhism, the highest spiritual state can be achieved through three key jewels namely Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Amazingly, the same concept is shared by Christians who also seek protection from danger. However, for Christians, they take their refuge in Jesus, the Word of God, and the Church. In Christianity, God the Father is the most supreme. I am just wondering who has the most top rank from the 3 you mentioned: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha?

    • Ian H says:

      Yes, there’s definitely a similarity there that is very interesting considering that Buddha lived 500 years before the time of Jesus. But in most schools of Buddhism Buddha is not seen as a deity but rather as a man who attained enlightenment through his own efforts. He did not want people to simply believe in him, but rather follow his example. Buddha is honored as the teacher, the Dharma can be viewed as the teaching, and the Sangha is the Buddhist spiritual community.

      Since there is no deity or creator god in Buddhism (Buddha realized that these kinds of beliefs often lead to extremism and the belief is not necessary to be compassionate to all living beings), it’s not that easy to draw a parallel between the two. I think there is a stronger parallel with the refuge trinities than with the concept of deity rank.

      I hope that helps.

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