Taking refuge is central to Buddhist teachings and practice. It’s referred to as “entering the gate”.
When we come to understand that taking refuge means that we are working on ourselves, then we understand that it’s a process of changing the directions of our lives. We work on ourselves by doing the practices that the Buddha taught to help us overcome the poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion.
We call it “taking refuge” because it is an active practice. Refuge isn’t something that happens to us. It’s something we decide to do. We are actively dedicating ourselves to walk the path. We can’t have someone else walk it for us. It’s easy to study Buddhism and to debate minute aspects of Buddhist philosophy. When we take refuge we are resolving to walk the path with diligent effort. The Dharma is something we are learning about. But it’s also something we are becoming.
Central to taking refuge is seeing the direction our lives are heading in. Do we want to continue dwelling in delusion or do we want to take steps to see things as they really are, to dwell in our Buddha nature?