The following Pali chant is commonly recited by both laypeople and monks in Theravada Buddhism (sometimes called ‘Southern Buddhism’) communities:
Buddham Saranam Gacchami Lyrics & Translation:
बुद्धं शरणं गच्छामि।
धर्मं शरणं गच्छामि।
संघं शरणं गच्छामि।
Buddham saranam gacchami
Dhammam saranam gacchami
Sangham saranam gacchami
I go to the Buddha for refuge
I go to the Dhamma for refuge
I go to the Sangha for refuge.
This chant is all about taking refuge in Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. In Buddhism, this prayer is known as the “Three Treasures” or “Three Jewels” prayer. The meaning of the Three Jewels is as follows:
The Buddha refers both to the ideal of Buddhahood itself and to the historical Buddha (the word buddha means “the Awakened One”). By taking refuge in the Buddha, we seek the capacity to be awakened to what the Buddha experienced. We also align ourselves with the capacity to become a Buddha ourselves.
Moreover, the way the Gautama Buddha protects us is not by building walls or standing guard, but by teaching us the Dharma.
Therefore, we take refuge in the Buddha by turning to the teaching of the way of attaining happiness in whatever form it comes to us, the teaching of the reality of bliss.
Since Gautama Buddha is thought to have been the 1st man to truly understand the way to enlightenment and wisdom, the first jewel also represents the fulfillment of enlightenment.
Note – Depending on the particular school of Buddhism, Buddha can refer to the universal Buddha nature that potentially exists in all living beings or to the specific Buddha Siddhartha Gautama.
“When we go for refuge to the Buddha we resort to him as the supreme embodiment of wisdom, purity, and compassion, the peerless teacher who can guide us to safety out of the perilous ocean of samsara.” – Bhikkhu Bodhi, an American Theravada Buddhist monk.
The Dhamma, the second of the Three Gems, describes ”how things really are,” and the way by which anyone can slowly change themselves. It is also the method of love and understanding – how to love, how to understand, and how to make understanding into real things.
Taking refuge in the dharma also means we study the teachings of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama and put forth the effort to utilize these teachings in our lives.
The third of the Three Gems, the Sangha, is the community which lives in awareness and harmony.
The term sangha has 2 meanings in Theravada Buddhism. The first meaning links the sangha to the attainment of a stage of higher knowledge. The second meaning denotes the community of nuns and monks which follow the teachings of Buddha.
In addition, the Sangha represents the community of active spiritual seekers, however, this is an esoteric interpretation.
Taking refuge in these “Triple Jewels” is usually considered to make one officially a Buddhist.
This chant is occasionally expanded with:
- I go for refuge in the One Universal life (Ekam sharanam gacchâmi);
- I go for refuge in yoga (Yogam sharanam gacchâmi);
- I go for refuge in non-violence (Ahimsam sharanam gacchâmi);
- I go for refuge in truth (Satyam sharanam gacchâmi).