Who takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, i.e., the triple-gem? Is it the self (âtman) or is it the Five Aggregates which make up our human psychophysical organism? Surely one of the two takes refuge.
The Five Aggregates, which are impermanent and suffering, don’t seem a likely candidate to take refuge in the Buddha, to name the most important refuge, who is not the Five Aggregates according to the Lanakvatara Sutra.
“The Buddha is neither the personality-soul (pudgala), nor the personality aggregates (skandha); he is knowledge free from defilement(s). Clearly perceiving (him) to be eternally serene, I take refuge (in him) (gacchami sarnam hi aham).”
It seems much more likely that the self takes refuge which is not part of the Five Aggregate package. Oddly, there are some passages where the self is the refuge.
“Therefore, Ananda, stay as those who have the self as an island (attadîpâ), as those who have the self as refuge (attasaranâ), as those who have no other refuge; as those who have the dharma as an island, as those who have dhamma as refuge, as those who have no other refuge (D. ii. 100).
And from the Theragâthâ,
“Like the surge of a great ocean, so also birth and old age will roll over you. Do make a firm island for the self, since there is no other refuge to be found for you” (412).
All this implies that the Five Aggregates have no relationship whatsoever with the notion of refuge. In addition, in the Buddhist canon there is no mention of the aggregates taking refuge or being a refuge. Yet the self, which is not part of the aggregates according to the Buddha, is said to be a refuge.
It’s a strange Buddhism that claims the Buddha denied a self, then asks its followers to, essentially, say, “gacchâmi (I go) to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha for refuge”! What is it that, exactly, is going to these refuges? It can’t be the Five Aggregates. The Buddha rejects the aggregates. They belong to Mara the Evil One. They are illusory.
Without thinking about the implications of taking refuge, especially, who goes to the three refuges, those who triumphantly proclaim the Buddha denied the self are, in fact, proposing we accept a Buddhism that is frankly absurd, which is really suggesting, nothing takes refuge!