In Week 2 (“The Three Refuges“) of his Tricycle Retreat, Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede of the Rochester Zen Center discusses the Three Refuges as the first and foremost of the precepts. With the Three Refuges, we take refuge in the Three Jewels or Three Treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. What does it mean to go for refuge to the Buddha?:
When we say, “I take refuge in Buddha,” we’re really saying, I place my faith in my own Buddha nature—not just the guy who lived in India. I honor, I will find as my source of spiritual sustenance, my own Buddha nature, my own enlightened nature… In a way you could say that upholding this refuge, taking refuge in Buddha, means, just in the nuts and bolts work of meditation, it means, I’m not taking my refuge in my thoughts, I’m taking my refuge in no-thought, in that which is beyond the stuff of the mind. And this is hugely important in really getting a meditation practice off the ground and rolling, is to recognize that so long as we’re dwelling in our thoughts, as long as we’re trying to find some escape or some entertainment in our thoughts, which by the way, when we come to practice, we’ve been doing that pretty much our whole life, so long as we’re doing that, we’re going to be miserable, at least intermittently miserable. So taking refuge in Buddha means taking refuge in our Buddha nature that is beyond the contents of our consciousness. This is a very profound commitment, and one that we all know from meditation experience, it’s one that keeps getting away from us as we keep getting drawn into our thoughts.