Taking refuge vows is an important step on your path to being a Buddhist and on your path to enlightenment. When you say your vows, whether in front of a lama, a teacher, or just by yourself, you are formally making yourself a Buddhist. This may seem a simple task but it truly is not. You seek your own happiness from within, not outside of yourself. When you take refuge, you seek “shelter” in the Buddha, the Dharma (which are his teachings), and the Sangha (this is a term for the community of Buddhism) and you dedicate yourself to living by the 5 Precepts. The basics of the precepts are:
1. To refrain from harming living creatures (killing).
2. To refrain from taking that which is not given (stealing).
3. To refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. To refrain from falsespeech.
5. To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness.
Each tradition is different as to how often you should repeat your vows. Some say 3 times in the morning then 3 times in the evening. Some say once a day, etc. Also, when taking refuge vows, many people are given a name to represent this change in your life. When a monk or nun takes refuge, they shave their hair as a symbol of removing attachments to physical things.
Simply saying the prayers is just the beginning. You must live your life doing good and no harm. You should study the teachings of Buddha and the many teachers he has given us. You must show respect for all living things INCLUDING YOURSELF!
Traditional Refuge Prayers
I go for refuge to the Buddha,
I go for refuge to the Dharma,
I go for refuge to the Sangha.
or, the Tibetan (Mahayana) version:
Until I am enlightened,
I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Through the virtue I create by practising giving and the other perfections,
may I become a Buddha to benefit all sentient beings.
Refuge Prayer by Thich Nhat-Hanh
At the foot of the Bodhi tree, beautifully seated, peaceful and smiling,
the living source of understanding and compassion, to the Buddha I go for refuge.
The path of mindful living, leading to healing, joy, and enlightenment,
the way of peace, to the Dhamma I go for refuge.
The loving and supportive community of practice, realizing harmony, awareness, and liberation,
to the Sangha I go for refuge.
I am aware that the Three Gems are within my heart, I vow to realize them.
I vow to practice mindful breathing and smiling, looking deeply into things.
I vow to understand living beings and their suffering, to cultivate compassion and loving kindness,
and to practice joy and equanimity.
I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning and to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon.
I vow to live simply and sanely, content with just a few possessions, and to keep my body healthy.
I vow to let go of all worry and anxiety in order to be light and free.
I am aware that I owe so much to my parents, teachers, friends and all beings.
I vow to be worthy of their trust, to practice wholeheartedly,
so that understanding and compassion will flower,
and I can help living beings be free from their suffering.
May the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha support my efforts.