Various Kinds of Devotional Refuges
Since the beginning of the world, human beings have been looking for various devotional refuges because they were frightened by great fires, great floods, rumbling of the earth, earthquakes, thunders, diseases and other dangers. When they found enormous trees, forests, mountains they took them as their devotional refuges. Again, when they found powerful natural forces such as roaring river, wide seas and oceans, they worshiped them out of fear.
Later on, they worshiped mighty wild animals such as lions, leopards, tigers, horses and dragon-snakes. From worshiping such visible objects, they looked for some more powerful object of veneration, and so they worshiped the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars and divinities. Then they worshiped the guardian spirits of forests, mountains, rivers, creeks, seas, oceans, fire, water and wind. They also worshiped various kinds of deities such as god of glory, god of love, god of providence and god of destruction. These spirits and deities are created by their own imagination.
They celebrated various seasonal festivities in veneration of the dedication to spirits and deities. They offer and oblate foods, drinks, flowers, clothes, scents. Then they supplicate, invoke, pray and worship the deities. This practice develops to incantation, recitation and chanting in the form of religious rites and rituals.
When religion, culture and philosophy were developed, they began to believe in a Supreme Creator, a god of providence and a Supreme Destroyer, and so they take refuge in them. This practice gives rise to the Doctrine of Trinities. The devotees devote themselves submissively to the Trinitarian Divinities by sacrificing animate as well as inanimate offertories.
So the devotes begin to sacrifice horses, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and even human beings. Some people even sacrifice their own sons, their own wives and their own lives to the Supreme Deities.
Thinking that the deities are superior to human beings, and they dwell in the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars and in heavenly gardens, the devotees desire to be born there after death.
They upgraded their refuges gradually from material things to spiritual things, from spiritual things to eternity, from the earth to the heaven. These are beliefs of ancient beings looking for their refuge based on their fear.
Such imaginary refuges are not real refuges which can yield perfect security and which can ward off all dangers and all sufferings that the devotees are facing at present and will be facing in the future. The Buddha has expounded comprehensively the development of worship in various stages and pointed out that the real refuge for all beings are only the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Samgha – the Three Gems. Only this form of taking refuge in the Three Gems can certainly save all beings from dangers.
The Meaning of “Sarana”
Relating to the act of taking refuge, it is necessary to understand the word “Sarana” is generally known as “Refuge” which should be borne in mind for ever. The original meaning of the word “Sarana” is killing, eradicating, destroying all fears, all dangers and all sufferings.
“Sarana” means bringing happiness and welfare by protecting one from all dangers. It is generally rendered as protector, or refuge. Therefore the complete meaning of the word “Sarana” may be given as follows:
“Sarana means the noblest refuge because it can bring welfare and protect one from all dangers”. Again, it should be noted that the Three Gems__ the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Samgha are also our refuges (that gives us protection).
- The Buddha admonished all beings to avoid evil deeds and to do what is good by showing us the principles of Cause and Effect, He also showed us how the Dhamma protects us from all dangers and gives us peace and happiness to all beings. Therefore, the Buddha is the real and noble refuge.
- To one who wanders in the round of Samsara, the Dhamma can bring alleviation and liberation from all fears and all dangers to one who follows the teachings of the Buddha, by observing the five precepts, practicing meditation, etc. Therefore, the Dhamma is the real and noble refuge.
- The Samgha preaches the teachings of the Buddha (on behalf of the Buddha) for the welfare of all beings. He himself practices according to the Dhamma as an example to His lay disciples. Therefore, the Samgha is the real and noble refuge (Sarana).
There is no other refuge in this world like the Three Gems that can protect and save all beings from all dangers. Therefore, only the noble Three Gems are the supreme refuge for all beings.
The Meaning of “Saranagamana”
“Sarana” means “refuge or shelter” and “gamana” means “believe in or go and take refuge in”. Thus “Saranagamana” means to go and take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Samgha with clear comprehension predominated by unshakable conviction and wisdom.
For taking refuge in the Triple Gems, one’s mind should be perfectly clear, i.e. free from the wrong view (ditthi), sceptical doubt (vicikaccha) delusion in the virtues of the Triple Gems (sammoha) and misbelief (asaddhiya). Furthermore, one must believe firmly that “the Triple Gems” is the real refuge which can ward off all kinds of dangers including the danger of being reborn in the miserable realms.
Some worldlings and children take refuge in the Triple Gems with a clear comprehension but have no knowledge of “Kamma and Its Results”. This is called “Nanavipayutta Saranagamana” in the Pali Texts. On the other hand, the ariyas and learned worldlings take refuge in the Triple Gems with clear comprehension accompanied by the knowledge of “Kamma and Its Results”. This is called “Nanasampayutta Saranagamana” in the Pali Texts.
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