On the first page of his book 'What the Buddha Taught" Ven. Dr W. Rahula quotes the Dhammapada XII 4: "One is one's own refuge. Who else could be the refuge?"
From Mahaparinibanna Sutta, Walpola paraphrases the Buddha as saying that his disciples should be a refuge to themselves, and never seek refuge in or help from anybody else.
We have been discussing these quotes at the monastery where I live. The question is then: Is there a difference between seeking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (refuge in the 3 Jewels) and in seeking refuge only in oneself, as the Buddha advised?
Clarification on this point would be much appreciated.

Taking refuge in the Triple Gem and taking refuge in oneself are two different meanings.

In the Triple Gem refuge, the Buddha is like the saviour, Dharma the medicine, and the Sangha the tutors. Taking refuge in the Triple Gem implies commitment to cultivate the Buddhist way. The Triple Gem can lead us to true happiness and enlightenment and we take refuge in it. We practise the Buddha's Teachings with faith, an open minded attitude and with an enquiring spirit.

Seeking refuge in oneself as advised by Buddha, he mentioned that no one can save us - except ourselves. In Dhammapada verse 160, it says “One is one’s own master. For who else can be one's master? If one is well controlled, one wins a master who is difficult to find."

“I have shown you the path to liberation.
You should understand that your liberation depends on yourself.”
The Buddha


This is a very late addition to the early comment, and probably Mark has long graduated. I am putting forward my own interpretation. Appreciate if anyone can comments on any wrong views I have.

Refuge in the triple gem is I believe a vehicle to achieve enlightenment. In my own opinion, I consider it as the simile Buddha put forward, which is the raft taking us across the river. Taking refuge in ourself is the ultimate realisation of our true nature, the undefiled nature. With us continuously achieving the state of realisation of our true nature, we can achieve enlightenment. (This can be seen in teachings from Theravada, Mahayana alike).



Bhikkhu Bodhi has an article

Bhikkhu Bodhi has an article about the refuge:

"This triadic structure of the three refuges can be understood with the aid of a simple analogy. If we are ill and want to get well we need a doctor to diagnose our illness and prescribe a remedy; we need medicine to cure our illness; and we need attendants to look after our requirements. The doctor and attendants cannot cure us. The most they can do for us is to give us the right medicine and make sure that we take it. The medicine is the actual remedy which restores our health. Similarly, when seeking relief from suffering and distress, we rely on the Buddha as the physician who can find out the cause of our illness and show us the way to get well; we rely on the Dhamma as the medicine which cures our afflictions; and we rely on the Sangha as the attendants who will help us take the medicine. To get well we have to take the medicine. We can't just sit back and expect the doctor to cure us all by himself. In the same way, to find deliverance from suffering, we have to practice the Dhamma, for the Dhamma is the actual refuge which leads to the state of deliverance."

"Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts", by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Access to Insight, June 7, 2009,

Bhikkhu Bodhi's article on refuge

It is a good article. The analogy of the doctor (Buddha), the medicine (Dharma) and attendents (Sangha) is an apt one. So those would be the refuge in the triple gem.
And taking refuge in oneself as advised by the Buddha would be like independently making the decision to actually entrust oneself to the doctor and the attendents, and to actually take the medicine.
Would this be correct? Is this what taking refuge in oneself means?

Nychsa's picture

Taking refuge

Hi Mark,

I may be speaking out of turn as I haven't even started classes yet, but if I may... I don't see a conflict between taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and in one's self. From an ultimate reality perspective, there is no separation between self and the Buddha and the Sangha. As for taking refuge in the Dharma, again, on an ultimate reality level, there is no path.

Taken from the Heart Sutra the Buddha told Sariputra:
"Sariputra, the characteristics of all Dharmas are non-arising, non-ceasing,non-defiled, non-pure, non-increasing, non-decreasing. Therefore in emptiness there is no form, feeling, violition or consciousness;"

It goes on of course in great detail to discuss what is exactly meant. But to make a long story short, in the ultimate view, when a being recognizes his/her own true nature, and the experience of enlightenment arises, the separation of self from other is revealed to be an illusion.


taking refuge in oneself

For me taking refuge in myslef is the act of faith, that True Nature of our existence is real and recognizable. It is act of self-confidence that we, precisely we, now and here, may recognice it.
Also it is act of faith in our intuitions which tell us, that we always,day by day, looking at True Nature with wide open eyes. Even we don't have to rise our lids to recognize It.

The Three Gems and Me

The ultimate truth that we seek is within ourselves, and it's only by liberating ourselves from the bondage of clinging to and craving for things that we can seek out true salvation or emancipation. That is, we should look inward instead of outward for the ultimate truth. on the condition that Buddha the doctor tells us that we should not look sideways or otherwise than our inner cosmos, i.e. the heart, and the Sangha sometimes rid us of some of the perplexities that we might from time to time encounter. But most of all, we should rely on ourselves, seek salvation from inward. Put otherwise, we should take refuge in ourselves.

Taking refuge

I agree with all of the above from a final perspective though it is a bless to take refuge in the historical and eternal Buddha as well as the Buddha within.
The Dharma of unrestricted experience of self and other and no self and no others.
And the Shanga of the Universe which continuously sings a mantra of peace and freedom and joy and liberation. Thank you for sharing