[283] Why Take The Threefold Refuge And Receive The Five Precepts? 为何受三皈持五戒?

[283] Why Take [The] Threefold Refuge [And] Receive [The] Five Precepts?


[Taking of the] Threefold Refuge [and receiving of the] Five Precepts, [are] as beginners’ door[s] of entering [the] Buddha’s teachings.

[Note 1: To take the Threefold Refuge (三皈依) is to commit to the Triple Gem (三宝) of the (i) Buddhas, (ii) Dharma and (iii) Saṃgha (佛法僧). To receive the Five Precepts (五戒) is to commit to (i) not killing lives (不杀生), (ii) not stealing (不偷盗), (iii) not having sexual misconduct (邪淫), (iv) not having false speech (妄语) and (v) not taking intoxicants (饮酒).

Taking the Threefold Refuge and receiving the Five Precepts is the ceremonially formal way for beginners to express sincere commitment to be proper Buddhists, who are willing to learn and practise the Buddha’s teachings accordingly.

Becoming true Buddhists in this way ensures that the Triple Gem will be encountered life after life before liberation. This itself is a good enough reason to go through these ceremonies. There will also naturally be protection by the Triple Gem.]

[Note 2: As such, unless there are obstacles that cannot be overcome, for becoming true Buddhists, there should not be refusal to take refuge and to commit to these root (fundamental) precepts (根本戒). If one is not ready yet, one should work towards being ready, with even more diligent learning and practice.

Usually, those already interested in Buddhism, who resist receiving refuge and precepts, have yet to understand their precious value, while those who do will readily receive them. To the extent that commitment is lacking, great benefits from the Triple Gem and the precepts will also naturally be lacking.]

[Note 3: While it is best to take refuge and receive all Five Precepts together swiftly in a single ceremony, it is also alright to take refuge first, and/or some of the precepts first, while steadily working towards commitment to all of them in good time. There are standalone ceremonies for taking refuge only, although ceremonies for receiving the precepts always precede with those for taking refuge.]

[Note 4: As the Five Precepts summarise the essence of all precepts for moral conduct to be perfectly observed later, they are basic yet comprehensive when expanded in depth for finer observation. Observation of precepts is the foundation of the Threefold Learning (三学) of precepts (戒), concentration (定) and wisdom (慧), which lead to Buddhahood (佛果) when perfected.]

[Note 5: Even for the dying, if there is enough time, it is best to invite a monastic to conduct the refuge-taking and precepts-conferring ceremonies. Only when there is lack of time or access should a layperson guide in these ceremonies instead.]


[For] cultivating other Dharma doors, [they] all must rely [on] these [to] then enter [them], moreover, [if in this] immediate life, [to be] liberated [with the] inconceivable Pure Land Dharma Door, that [is] utmost simple, utmost easy, utmost complete [and] utmost sudden.

[Note 6: If there is not enough time to conduct the above ceremonies for the dying, sincere mindfulness of Amitābha Buddha’s name (Āmítuófó: 阿弥陀佛) can also express taking of refuge in the Triple Gem, as his name represents all Buddhas, with this practice representing the essence of all Dharma teachings, and with him being a qualified leader of all Saṃgha communities collectively. This is part of the inconceivable nature of the Pure Land Dharma Door (净土法门), with that profoundly comprehensive within that seemingly simple in practice.

If born in Pure Land (净土), which guarantees liberation, without dying first, this is liberation in this immediate life. If reborn there after death, there will be liberation in the next life .]

[Note 7: The taking of refuge marks the actual beginning of the spiritual path, with refuge-taking ever deepening with progress on the path, until one becomes the Triple Gem, being a Buddha personally, who is one with the Dharma, who is part of the Saṃgha, who leads it too. This path is swiftest through Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land. This is also part of the inconceivable nature of the Pure Land Dharma Door, in terms of its completeness and suddenness for awakening.

In terms of the Threefold Learning, sincere mindfulness of Buddha also observes all precepts at the same time, while training for concentration, and awakening wisdom (by aligning to Buddha-Nature [佛性] with the Buddha’s blessings), thus illustrating its complete nature.]


Not examining one’s three karmas, [and] not upholding [the] Five Precepts, [is to] immediately not again attain [a] part of [this] human body, moreover [if] desiring [to] attain [a] lotus flower’s transformed birth, [to be] complete [with a] body of excellent forms [and] bright light [in Pure Land].

[Note 8: The three karmas (三业) are body, speech and mind (身口意). The First, Second and Third Precepts guard the body from unwholesome deeds, the Fourth Precept from unwholesome speech and the Fifth Precept from loss of mindfulness, that might lead to breaking of all previous precepts.]

[Note 9: This present human rebirth was attained through adequate observation of the Five Precepts in the immediate past life, while failure to do so in this life will lead to loss of human life in the immediate next life, to fall into the lower realm of hell-beings (地狱众生), hungry ghosts (饿鬼) or animals (畜生). Since a Pure Land rebirth is loftier than a human rebirth, there should ideally be purer observation of the precepts in time, for reaching a higher grade of birth there.]

[Note 10: One who has not been observing the precepts well, if at all, should have sincere repentance (忏悔), especially when approaching life’s end, coupled with sincere mindfulness of Buddha for birth in his Pure Land. Continual mindfulness of Buddha can also express such repentance. Doing so will connect to the Buddha’s blessings for eliminating evil karma (消恶业), to avoid falling into a lower realm, and still qualify for reaching his Pure Land.]

[Note 11: With sincere mindfulness of Buddha, due to the Buddha’s great Other-Power (他力), the Great Master taught that it is easier to attain a Pure Land rebirth, than to attain a human rebirth, the latter of which, since without mindfulness of Buddha, depends on Self-Power (自力) only, which is limited.]

[Note 12: As the Great Master also taught in his ‘Reply Letter To Mother Of Layperson Zhìzhèng’ (复智正居士之母书), ‘[In the] next life becoming human [again], compared [with, when] approaching [this life’s] end [being] reborn [in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land, the first is] more difficult, [if with much evil karma (恶业) from breaking the Five Precepts, and inadequate good karma (善业) from observing them well, while] seeking birth [in Āmítuófó’s] Western [Pure Land], compared [with, in the] next life becoming human, [the first is] even easier [due to much abundant blessings from Āmítuófó for eliminating evil karma, and for supporting this rebirth adequately].’ (来生做人,比临终往生还难… 求生西方,比求来生做人尚容易。) ]

Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yìnguāng
Dharma Master Yìnguāng’s Collected Writings (First Compilation): Third Reply Letter [To] Layperson Gāo Shàolín;
Record [Of] Great Master Yìnguāng’s Collected Writings’ Essence (283rd Short Section): 8th [Chapter]: Explanations [On] Common Doubts [And] Confusions: Discussions [On] Precepts [And] Rules (3rd Short Section)
[Ref: #283 / 8.8.3]

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

Related Text:

Record Of Great Master Yìnguāng’s Collected Writings’ Essence

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