A Do-It-Yourself Approach to Happiness

This is the ninth and last in a 9 part series on learning to practise Buddhism:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9


The Buddhist texts describe two vast lengths of time or time periods during which all beings have existed in Samsara in one birth or another. One of these time periods is called a world cycle and the second is called an incalculable period.

An incalculable period is described as being a time period almost impossible to fathom. The Buddha did give a simile by which we could fathom a world cycle.

The Buddha Said: “Suppose, O monks, that there was a huge rock of one solid mass with no cracks or crevices that was one yojana (7 – 14 miles) long, one yojana wide and one yojana high, and suppose that every one hundred years a man was to come and rub this rock with a silk shawl, then that huge rock would wear off before one world cycle. Of such world cycles many have passed away. Many hundreds, many thousands, many hundreds of thousands.” 1

The Buddha’s account of his own efforts and cultivation to become a Buddha stretched back through vast, immense time scales that included many thousands of world cycles and 20 incalculable periods.

It is a remarkable and astonishing thing that events in the life of the being who was practicing to become Buddha Gotama a world cycle ago, or ten or a hundred world cycles ago have brought about a result here and right now for us as we read this information.

What that being did those eons ago has become part of our life today. In this sense the Buddha was practicing for you and me. He was practicing to give you and I an opportunity, an option, a chance, a possibility to see the Dhamma for our self.

He was building a path out of Samsara for you and me to stumble across in our meandering from life to death with the wish that we would find it and use it to help our self, or to save our self. So the Bodhisattva worked on though time for that possibility for us.

Each person can then decide for themselves if the Buddhist Path has meaning for them. I have considered thoroughly for myself in many ways and concluded that his Teaching is the Perfect Truth. Even though his Teachings are complete and there are beings in the world who have the complete realisation of these teachings I am still too clouded to see what is what. So I trust the Buddha. He is my Teacher. I have confidence in his vision and insight and what he showed to the world. I have no doubt.

The Buddha recommends and encourages students to work using their own diligence and intelligence, life force and resources for enlightenment. So I do that. I do what the Buddha wants. This is my refuge in the Buddha.

I understand I don’t know how to get out of the suffering. If I did know I would have done it a long time ago. I want happiness and yet I make suffering. I can make suffering, I can make Samsara, I can make future births. So many things I can do, but to cease craving, to become fully enlightened I need the Buddha.

I take refuge in Buddha Dhamma and Sangha to become fully enlightened for myself and others. So that the sentient beings who have some karmic connection can find and realise the Buddha Path.

Buddhists don’t worship Buddha, or any other being. We have respect for Buddha. We respect the qualities of the Buddha and what he did in his life. We identify with the will of the Prince Siddhartha who dedicated his life to finding out about the truth of life itself. We identify with the journey he undertook which resulted in him becoming awakened or enlightened.

We are all on a journey in our lives, perhaps many journeys within one life. For Buddhists having refuge in the Buddha is a statement that we want our personal journey in life to be that of becoming awakened. That we recognise our life is an opportunity to overcome suffering for ourselves completely and perhaps, help others to do the same.

So refuge in the Buddha is like the compass bearing we have set for ourselves in life. We choose to journey towards enlightenment because for us we are using our life for something of great value and meaning.

Without having Buddha Refuge the destination of our journey will end up being completely different. As we practice we create so many good kammic causes for our future. Just like we have a choice in life to spend our money to buy anything we want, so too we can spend these good kammic causes or merit we have made to get whatever we want.

So it is our refuge in Buddha that sets the direction these good causes will take us. Taking refuge in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha makes many kammic connections to Buddha Dhamma so that we can meet it again and again in the future until we complete the Buddhist Path.

Without that refuge our merit could take us to a destination such as a birth in a high heaven with no knowledge of the Buddha Path, or perhaps many human lives of great wealth and comfort. We can all appreciate such lives could be wonderful to experience but there comes a day when that good kamma has been used up, and as our merit bank account eventually runs dry we will have nothing whatever to show for our past efforts. Instead we decide to dedicate much of our merit to help us progress on the Buddhist Path.

If we examine the word refuge we see it has many meanings. One meaning of refuge is something we trust in or rely on for our true safety and wellbeing. Taking refuge in Buddha Dhamma and Sangha is in stark contrast to taking refuge in other things we see or experience in our world.

Can we rely on money for our happiness and wellbeing? Can we rely on our marriage, our friends, our family, our jobs? These things are important, but how long does their protection really last for? From a Buddhist view point they only last as long as the kammic causes we have made for each of them. It is therefore different for each person. Even if we have many good kammic causes, all the good conditions we experience throughout our life are swept away by our death.

What about our internal world? How reliable a refuge is our feelings, our bodies, and our thoughts as the basis of our sustained security and wellbeing? Each of these is rapidly changing. One minute we have pleasant feelings, the next unpleasant feelings. Our Teacher John Hughes used to say feelings have an IQ of zero. We must examine if our feelings can be relied upon.

Our thoughts are similar. We can’t say what thoughts we will be experiencing in two minutes from now. We worry about things that are often unimportant, we get annoyed about things that are often fleeting and in the larger scheme of things inconsequential. Ideas and beliefs we trusted in when we were younger, we reject as we get older. Can the shifting sands of our views and opinions be relied upon?

Finally, our body has a use by date which could be tomorrow, or it could be 40 years. We don’t know.

Taking Refuge in Buddha is taking refuge in the Path to reality, rather than the world.

Taking Refuge in the Dhamma is taking refuge in Right Understanding about the world and seizing this opportunity to secure our own rescue, and finally our own salvation.

Taking Refuge in the Sangha is taking refuge in those who know reality as it really is.

Buddha refuge sets you in the right direction to nibbana. It functions like a rudder on a boat, it sets the right direction. Without Buddha refuge you cannot guarantee that you will access nibbana. You may get to some form of peace and happiness, but it will not be nibbana, it will not be everlasting. Buddha refuge clicks you in to the Buddha Sasene, which is this Buddha Teaching age.

So, what does Buddha Refuge mean?

Does it mean bowing down to a Buddha image or to an altar? No, it means protecting ourselves from doing harmful actions.

The Dhamma Chakra, or Dhamma Wheel used by many Buddhist temples and Centres, is a representation of Buddha Refuge.

The hub, the centre represents the Buddha, who comes into the world and accesses the Dhamma and teaches it. The eight spokes of the wheel represents the Eight-fold Path, the teachings that once applied have brought others to know what the Buddha found out.

The rim of the wheel represents the beings in the world that practice the Dhamma – and this is what keeps the Dhamma in the world. The community of monks, nuns and laypersons who practice, these are called the Sangha.

The Dhamma Chakra also represents the fact that once the Dhamma teachings are in the world, one person, by teaching other sets off the process of awakening that is unstoppable. So the first teaching given by the Buddha after his awakening is called the Dhammacakkapavattana sutta, this is referred to as the first turning of the wheel of Dhamma. It is the first time the Buddha taught the Dhamma and someone understood it.

So we take refuge in the Triple Gem or the three jewels. The Buddha Jewel, the Dhamma Jewel and the Sangha Jewel.

The Buddha Jewel is the fact that Buddha exists. It is referred to as a jewel because it is something precious, not easily found, rare. To be like the Buddha is what we have been looking for. A state we can be completely happy and peaceful forever, and never loose.

The Dhamma jewel is called a jewel because the teachings given by the Buddha are rare to find. They are only available during a Buddha Sasene. This age begins when a Buddha sets the ‘Wheel of Dhamma’ in motion by giving the first teaching that awakens another being. The Buddha Sasene is also impermanent – it lasts a specific time. Our Buddha Sasene lasts 5000 years. It is predicted to end in about 2,500 years from now. The Dhamma or Teachings are precious because they are the teachings that will wake you to develop compassion and insight wisdom that will eventually bring you to nibbana.

The Sangha Jewel is called a jewel because it is precious and rare to find. A community of Monks and Nuns and laypersons who follow the Buddha’s teachings can only exist during a Buddha Sasene or Buddha Teaching era. The beings who are following the teachings can be seen to develop compassion and insight wisdom and are on their way to nibbana and to becoming a Buddha.

Finally, having Buddha refuge, or going for Buddha refuge or taking Buddha refuge means that you have come to see that this is the only wise thing for you to do – test out the Buddha Path, so you can see for yourself.

What does it mean to test out the Buddha Path?

To test out the Buddha Path means that you take the position “I will do no actions with my body, speech or mind that will cause harm to my self or others” and “I will make the causes necessary to become awakened”. There is no-one keeping check on you, it is a resolution that you make to yourself. There is no-one keeping score for you.

Having Buddha Refuge means that you train yourself to become harmless (ahimsa in pali), meaning not harming self or others.

How do you know what is harmful? The Buddha’s teachings have lists of wrong actions to be avoided.

How do you know what actions to do to become awakened? The Buddha’s teachings provide lists known as the Eight fold Noble Path, The Ten Perfections.

This is the promise of Buddha Dhamma, the Buddha’s Teachings. They promise that if you make the right causes you will start to wake up. You will start to see for yourself. You will develop insight wisdom and eventually become fully awake. You will no longer be duped by your own perceptions and opinions, you will no longer be duped by your kammic disposition.


This means that you have decided to follow the Buddha. To become like Buddha. It does not mean that you worship the Buddha – it means that you hold the Buddha in highest respect, and you have decided to follow him to be like him. You want to find out the truth about the nature of all things just as he did, and you will not stop until you find this truth for yourself.


You have decided to go for the truth – the Dhamma – your goal is now to reach nibbana. You have heard that the Buddha’s teaching can take you to nibbana. You will follow the teachings until you experience nibbana. You will maintain the Right View – from the law of kamma arises our reality, and because of this you know that you can change to perfect the qualities that will bring you to nibbana.


You will respect other persons who are following the Dhamma. You will seek out and share your knowledge’s and help persons who are doing the same as you. You will put the Buddhas teachings into practice every day, you will live the teachings.

Buddha refuge means protection, just as the word refuge itself means that which affords protection or shelter.

Protection from what? Protection from our own ignorance and harmful actions.

Buddha refuge stops you doing the wrong actions. The actions that will result in harm to self or others, now or in the future. Having refuge protects you because you are saying that you hold the truth above everything else, the law of kamma and the way out of suffering, the practice to nibbana.

When someone is yelling at you – you take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha instead of yelling back. You take refuge in the teachings regarding harmless speech which means you choose to not yell back. This is how your refuge protects you. It gives you a wholesome response to follow. You make a positive affirmation when you go to Buddha refuge.

It does not mean to become a martyr. You practice not going to anger or hate when others are not being kind. You understand that it is your kamma. However, if they continue, you must get out of the way. Sometimes the kamma is too strong. Our Teacher John Hughes use to say, “If you see a steam roller coming down the road, you don’t stand there and say ‘oh well, its my kamma’, you jump out of the way onto the footpath.” If people continue harming you and you are trying everything you can, get out of the way, practice avoidance of the topic or situation. It is not only the harm to yourself, but it protects person from continuing to do harm to you. They are making unwholesome kamma for themselves.

Buddha refuge protects you because it means you remember the law of kamma, that whatever I experience is the result of my past actions. I am inheriting the causes I have made in the past. My kamma is forcing me to see the situation unpleasant. If you can hold this thought in your mind instead of producing hate or jealousy or envy or anger then you are not making more negative kamma. You are sowing the seeds of wisdom in your kammic stream, so that when a similar situation occurs in the future, the seeds of wisdom that you sowed earlier will arise as well, and thus protect you from making negative kamma (actions) by reacting back in a negative way.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the word refuge is “shelter; protection from danger; succour sought by or rendered to a person; refuge adapted or intended for shelter or protection; as in city, country, harbour, port, places of refuge, also house of refuge; a place of safety or security; a shelter, stronghold, asylum or establishment that offers shelter and protection”.

Buddha Dhamma means ‘truth’ or ‘teachings’ as taught by the Buddha. So Buddha Refuge or Buddha Dhamma refuge can be literally translated into “the teachings or truth that bring or provide protection or shelter.”

Buddha refuge means that you will stop defilements and increase wholesomeness in your mind. It is our mind action that produces the strongest kamma.

I am the Owner of my kamma
heir to my kamma
born of my kamma
related to my kamma
live with my kamma
whatever kamma shall do, whether good or evil, it will be inherited.


  1. Samyutta Nikaya 15:5; II 181 -82, Reprinted in The Teachings of The Buddha. In the Buddha’s Words. Edited and Introduced by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications Inc., 199 Elm Street, Somerville, MA 02144, USA