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Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem

Module 3 of An Introduction to Buddhism

Buddhism provides a home for us suffering beings.

Photo by Kanegen, CC BY 2.0

The compassionate wisdom and peerless example of the Buddha show us the way out of Saṃsāra.


I’d like to introduce you now to the other four texts (in addition to Being Nobody, Going Nowhere) that we’ll be reading through the remainder of this course:

What the Buddha Taught – Walpola Rahula (.pdf)

This classic introduction to Buddhism has had a dramatic impact on the shape of Buddhist thought in the West, but its interest is not merely historical: it remains a lucid and sympathetic introduction, accessible to modern readers even today, more than fifty years later.

Biography of Shakyamuni Buddha – Ven Master Hsing Yun (.pdf) (.epub) (.pdf) (.epub)

To understand Buddhism, we need to understand something of how Buddhists think about the Buddha. This book is my recommended telling of the Buddha’s life because it presents some of the mythology traditionally surrounding the Buddha but in a more novelistic sketch that doesn’t stray too far from the historical record, thus creating an eminently balanced Biography.

The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering – Bhikkhu Bodhi (.pdf) (.epub) (.mp3)

A precise yet readable overview of the Buddhist Path by one of the greatest scholars of Pāḷi Buddhism alive today.

Fundamentals of Buddhism – Peter D. Santina (.pdf)

A transcribed lecture series from the 1980s introducing Buddhism to a Western-educated audience.

We’ll break these up into bite-sized pieces over the coming lessons.

For this module, let’s begin by reading:

  • Chapters 1–3 of The Biography on the ancient Indian context into which the Buddha was born (Don’t worry: they’re short chapters!)
  • Chapter 1 of What the Buddha Taught
  • And (optionally) the Introduction, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Fundamentals if you’d like to learn a bit about ancient India
  • (We’ll come back to Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Path in Module 7 and will return to Being Nobody in the next lesson.)

In addition to cracking open our new books, see:

Statue of The Buddha Triumphing Over Mara – Nathan Yoo and Churyl Zeviar

This short video introduces the symbolism of a common Buddha statue.

Prayer and Worship – G. P. Malalasekera (.pdf)

Contemporary Buddhists do indeed worship the Buddha, but what do they think about when they bow to the Buddha statue? Is it “prayer” when Buddhists chant?


When you’re finished with the above (I’ll wait!), I’d like to introduce you to our main lecturer for this course: Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Bhikkhu Bodhi is an American monk trained in Sri Lanka, most famous for publishing excellent translations of the Buddha’s words into English. He will teach all the odd-numbered lessons for the remainder of this course. (The even-numbered lectures will feature an array of guest speakers.)

The Triple Gem – Bhikkhu Bodhi (.m4a)

In this first lecture, Bhikkhu Bodhi introduces himself and the class and gives a more standard introduction to the Triple Gem than we got in our first lecture.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed Bhikkhu Bodhi’s lecture, I recommend reading his booklet The Buddha and his Dhamma now (or later) for a deeper introduction. And for more about what refuge means to a Buddhist, see the excellent treatise: Refuge by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

And if you want to take refuge yourself, here’s a video of the ceremony you can follow along with on YouTube.


Check your understanding with this lesson’s quiz, then click below for the next module whenever you’re ready