Whenever the opportunity arises, I’d confer the Refuge vow to people. Some do not understand the meaning of refuge. They’d ask, “Master, what’s the difference between taking the refuge and not taking it? I should be fine as long as I uphold virtuous intentions, right?” I’d tell them, “Taking refuge is to sow a seed of Buddhahood. By sowing the seed, the fruition of Buddhahood will be attainable. That’s the purpose of taking the refuge.”
How important is this seed? During the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, one man requested for monkhood. Among Buddha’s disciples, there were many arhats. They observed with clairvoyance to see if he had the fortune for monasticism. As they meditated, they saw that this individual had never come across Dharma for hundreds and thousands of years. How could he have the fortune for monkhood? Yet, Buddha Shakyamuni still received him as a student. Throughout hearing, contemplating, and meditating, the man attained arhatship nonetheless. Others were confused, how could someone devoid of virtuous fortune attain arhartship? They asked the Buddha for an explanation. The Buddha then told a story. Long ago, a man went to gather firewood in the mountain. Two tigers appeared and went after him. The man climbed up to the tree. As his life was in danger, he could only shout nervously with one thing on his mind, “Namo Buddhaya, Namo Buddhaya, Namo Buddhaya!” The seed of recollecting tathagatas was planted deep inside his consciousness then. Through countless eons, it had finally ripened. That’s how he attained arhatship swiftly after encountering Buddha Shakyamuni and receiving monkhood.
This story tells us that we can accomplish our practice with a seed. As we’ve had the opportunity to take refuge (seed of the Three Jewels), our future rebirths and lives are determined by it. Everywhere we go, we can take the Three Jewels as our basis of refuge. Furthermore, we can carry on the virtuous activity with mindfulness.
That's why we must recollect the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha at all times. Sow the seed of virtue frequently. With Dharma, one would refrain from non-virtuous activities. Conflicts are therefore prevented. Consequently, one will acquire perfect wisdom. By applying such wisdom, we can initiate a positive cycle. Refuge is the seed and the basis to carry on our future lives with mindfulness.