When we recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings or chant the sutras, we practice taking refuge in the three jewels. We practice Touching the Earth to also show our gratitude to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Taking refuge is the recognition and the determination to head towards what is most beautiful, truthful, and good. Taking refuge is also the awareness that one has the capacity to understand and love.
The Buddha is the one who shows us the way in this life. The Buddha is the historical person who lived 2600 years ago and all of our ancestral teachers who connect us to the Buddha. The Buddha is also the awakened nature in all beings. Each element in the universe that is showing us the way of love and understanding, is the Buddha. The open look of a child and the ray of sunshine causing the flower to unfold her beauty also contain the awakened nature.
The Dharma is the teachings of love and understanding. The Dharma is the teachings of the historical Buddha and his descendants in the form of discourses, the commentaries and precepts that show us the path leading to peace and deep insight, love and understanding. The Dharma is all the elements in our world and in our consciousness that guide us on the path of liberation. The living Dharma is contained in every corner of the universe. The floating cloud is silently preaching about freedom and the falling leaf is giving us a dharma talk on the practice of letting go. Every time you breathe mindfully, walk mindfully or look at another person with the eye of understanding and compassion, you are giving a silent dharma talk.
The Sangha is the community that lives in harmony and awareness. Your teachers, your friends and yourself are all elements of your Sangha. A path in the forest might be a member of your Sangha as well, supporting you on the path of transformation. You can share your joys and your difficulties with your Sangha. You can let go and relax into the warmth and strength of your Sangha. The Sangha is a river, flowing and bending with flexibility, responding to the environment in which it is situated. Taking refuge in the Sangha, we join in the stream of life, flowing and becoming one with all of our sisters and brothers in the practice. In the setting of a Sangha, you find the practice easier and much more enjoyable.