And finally we come to the sangha as refuge. The word sangha has more than one meaning, but at its root, it means the community of practitioners, whether ordained or lay, male or female. Originally it referred only to the ordained monks and nuns, but the Buddha made clear that those who had taken refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, whether lay or ordained, were necessary for his teachings to thrive in the world. He called them the four-fold sangha, meaning all of those who had undertaken his path of practice. The community of practitioners is varied and widespread, but it is a community of people who support and take inspiration from each other.
In modern times, the word sangha has been appropriated to mean any group of spiritual seekers, but for the purpose of talking about taking refuge, we refer to those whose lives are oriented towards the Buddha as teacher, towards the Dhamma as the basic instructions for development, and towards the Sangha as role models and supportive friends.
I take refuge in the Buddha,
the one who shows me the way in this life.
I take refuge in the Dharma,
the way of understanding and of love.
I take refuge in the Sangha,
the community that lives in harmony and awareness. (Thich Nhat Hanh)
In the traditional refuge chant, the sangha is “a field of merit for the world”.
From Wikipedia: The main concept of the field of merit is that good deeds done towards some recipients accrue more merit than good deeds to other recipients. This is compared with a seed planted in fertile ground which reaps more and better fruits than in infertile ground.
So the idea is that by supporting those who embody the Buddha’s teachings, who demonstrate with their demeanor, words, and deeds that they are living the Eight-fold Path, we are supporting what we’d like to see grow in the world. This concept is not limited to accomplished practitioners of the Buddhist path. It is hoped that in all things we try to support the wholesome and starve the unwholesome, at both the individual and social level. We give our time and money to groups and efforts that we want to encourage and steer clear of what seem to be harmful or destructive activities.
At times, each of us will be drawn to one of the three objects of refuge in particular. For those inclined to devotion, refuge in the Buddha may be at the center; for those interested in training, the Dhamma is a natural home; and people who look to others for inspiration and support lean towards refuge in the Sangha. Over time, all three elements come together as a balanced field of practice.
The third refuge which may be more valuable to some depending upon your inclination. Thank you, Lynn, for explaining the difference between the refuges and the need they each fulfill. _/\_