Traditionally in Buddhism, when someone wants to become a Buddhist, they "take the Three Refuges" by sincerely saying in their hearts:
"I take refuge in the Buddha."
"I take refuge in the Dharma"
(The Teachings of the Buddha)
"I take refuge in the Sangha"
(Community of the Buddhist Faithful)
It is sort of rite of passage into the Buddhist doctrine & community. It is similar to "accepting Jesus as one's personal savior" in the "Born Again" Christian tradition. The "Three Refuges" are also sometimes called the "Three Jewels" or "Three Gems".
When we say, "I take refuge in the Buddha," it means that we accept the Buddha as our teacher, and believe that we too can do the same thing that the Buddha did by following the example of the Buddha.
When we say, "I take refuge in the Dharma (the Buddhist Teachings)," it means that I will sincerely work to become an embodiment of compassion, loving kindness and detachment by following the teachings of the Buddha.
And when we say, "I take refuge in the Sangha (Community of the Buddhist Faithful,") it means that from now on my Buddhist brothers and sisters throughout the world (or local community, or wherever) become my spiritual family.
Temple at Jade Spring Park, Lijiana, Yunnan, China.
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