An efficacious going for refuge entails approaching the Three Jewels both by way of objective field (visaya
) and by way of appropriate duty or task (kicca
). An action by way of the mind-door alone will fulfil these two conditions only in one case, namely, when a Noble Person goes for refuge by cutting off his defilements (saraṇagamanupakkilesasamucchedanaṃ
). For a worlding, a merely mental act would fulfil visaya
, but a supplementary act by way of the speech-door or body-door is necessary to fulfil kicca
. It's not necessary
to go to any special place or to visit a bhikkhu to do this, though traditionally visiting a bhikkhu to request the refuges is the most common way of fulfilling kicca
From Buddhaghosa’s account of refuge-going (saraṇa-gamanaṃ) in the Paramatthajotikā:
Now regarding the ‘going’ etc.: “It counters”, therefore it is a refuge; the meaning is that when people have gone for refuge, then by that very act of going, the refuge counters, dispels, carries off, and causes to cease, their fear, anguish, suffering, defilement, and risk of rebirth in the lower realms.
He combats the fears of living beings by promoting their welfare and preventing their harm, thus he is called the Buddha.
It provides a way of crossing over the desert of existence and gives comfort, thus it is called the Dhamma.
It causes the obtaining of abundant fruitfulness from small actions, thus it is called the Sangha.
So in this way the refuge is also that threefold Jewel.
The going for refuge consists in the arising of a citta:
* from which defilements have been removed and eliminated;
* which is possessed of confidence in the threefold Jewel and veneration for it;
* which inclines to acceptance of the threefold Jewel as its highest value;
Whether in the immediate presence of one of the Jewels, or without any external prompting, a being in whom the above factors arise is said to go for refuge when, prompted by that citta, he avows: “This is my refuge; this is my highest value [or “my going to the further shore”],” (esa me saraṇaṃ, esa me parāyaṇaṃ).
Buddhaghosa then continues by describing sundry acts that are each reckoned as tantamount to going for refuge, provided that they are prompted by the kind of citta described above:
* An undertaking (samādānaṃ), as in cases like that of the two merchants, Tapussa and Bhallika, thus: “Venerable sir, we go for refuge to the Blessed One and to the Dhamma; let the Blessed One remember us as upāsakas,” (ete mayaṃ, bhante, bhagavantaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāma, dhammañca, upāsake no bhagavā dhāretu).
* An assuming of the status of a pupil (sissabhāvūpagamanaṃ), as in the case of Mahākassapa etc., thus: “Venerable sir, the Blessed One is my teacher, I am his disciple,” (satthā me, bhante, bhagavā, sāvako’ham’asmi).
* An inclination towards it (tappoṇattaṃ), as in the case of the brāhmaṇa Brahmāyu, thus: ‘When this was said, the brāhmaṇa Brahmāyu rose from his seat, and arranging his upper robe on one shoulder, he raised his hands palms together towards where the Blessed One was staying, and uttered this udāna three times: “Homage to that Blessed One, the Arahant and Perfectly Awakened One!” (namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa).
* A self-dedication (attasanniyyātanaṃ), as in the case of meditators devoting themselves to a meditation subject.
* Going for refuge by cutting off one’s defilements (saraṇagamanupakkilesasamucchedanaṃ), as in the case of Noble Persons.
(KhpA. 16-17. This is my own rather free, explanatory translation, since the more literal rendering by Ñāṇamoli in Minor Readings & Illustrator is rather difficult to understand)