At the beginning of virtually every Buddhist ritual performed in South and Southeast Asia, whether public or private, the following Pali invocation is chanted:
Buddhaṃ saranaṃ gacchāṃi.
Dhammaṃ saranaṃ gacchāmi.
Sanghaṃ saranaṃ gācchami.
The translation is:
I go to the Buddha as a refuge.
I go to the dhamma as a refuge.
I go to the saṅgha as a refuge.
Taking refuge in the triratna (triple gem) is usually first chanted by a monk and then repeated by the laity. It is a collective confessional statement in which the three "jewels" of the śāsana (tradition or teaching) are publicly affirmed, a declaration that the Buddha discovered the truth and made it known to the saṆgha, who have preserved and embodied it.
Taking refuge in the triratna is often a prelude to the acceptance of basic precepts. Observing the pañcaśīla (fivefold morality) is regarded as normative for all pious Buddhists. Indeed, it is an ancient moral formula shared with other Indian religious śramaṇa (renunciant) and Brāhmaṇa (priestly) traditions and comprises the cardinal principles encoded within the monastic Vinayapiṭaka (Book of Discipline). This code includes prohibitions against taking life, against taking what is not given, against lying about spiritual achievement, against engaging in sexual misconduct, and against imbibing intoxicants—five basic precepts for Buddhists. Aṭṭhaśīla, the taking of eight precepts by laity on full-moon days, includes observing the five precepts plus three more: not taking solid food after noon, wearing only white clothes without ornamentation, and sitting and lying only on mats.
Gombrich, Richard. Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Rural Highlands of Ceylon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.
John Clifford Holt