Since we have been discussing the topic: Here are some interesting articles and links links about the meaning of taking refuge in Buddhism.
From The Wisdom of No Escape
An excerpt of it:
"I've always thought that the phrase "to take refuge" is very curious because it sounds theistic, dualistic, and dependent "to take refuge" in something. I remember very clearly, at a time of enormous stress in my life, reading Alice in Wonderland. Alice became a heroine for me because she fell into this hole and she just free-fell. She didn't grab for the edges, she wasn't terrified, trying to stop her fall; she just fell and she looked at things as she went down. Then, when she landed, she was in a new place. She didn't take refuge in anything. I used to aspire to be like that because I saw myself getting near the hole and just screaming, holding back, not wanting to go anywhere where there was no hand to hold.
In every human life (whether there are puberty rites or not) you are born, and you are born alone. You go through that birth canal alone, and then you pop out alone, and then a whole process begins. And when you die, you die alone. No one goes with you. The journey that you make, no matter what your belief about that journey is, is made alone. The fundamental idea of taking refuge is that between birth and death we are alone. Therefore, taking refuge in the buddha, the dharma, and the sangha does not mean finding consolation in them, as a child might find consolation in Mommy and Daddy. Rather, it's a basic expression of your aspiration to leap out of the nest, whether you feel ready for it or not, to go through your puberty rites and be an adult with no hand to hold. It expresses your realization that the only way to begin the real journey of life is to feel the ground of loving-kindness and respect for yourself and then to leap. In some sense, however, we never get to the point where we feel one hundred percent sure: "I have had my nurturing cradle. It's finished. Now I can leap." We are always continuing to develop maitri and continuing to leap. The other day I was talking about meeting our edge and our desire to grab on to something when we reach our limits. Then we see that there's more loving-kindness, more respect for ourselves, more confidence that needs to be nurtured. We work on that and we just keep leaping.
So for us, taking refuge means that we feel that the way to live is to cut the ties, to cut the umbilical cord and alone start the journey of being fully human, without confirmation from others. Taking refuge is the way that we begin cultivating the openness and the goodheartedness that allow us to be less and less dependent. We might say, "We shouldn't be dependent anymore, we should be open," but that isn't the point. The point is that you begin where you are, you see what a child you are, and you don't criticize that. You begin to explore, with a lot of humor and generosity toward yourself, all the places where you cling, and every time you cling, you realize, "Ah! This is where, through my mindfulness and my tonglen and everything that I do, my whole life is a process of learning how to make friends with myself." On the other hand, this need to cling, this need to hold the hand, this cry for Mom, also shows you that that's the edge of the nest. Stepping through right there—making a leap—becomes the motivation for cultivating maitri. You realize that if you can step through that doorway, you're going forward, you're becoming more of an adult, more of a complete person, more whole.
Working with obstacles is life's journey. The warrior is always coming up against dragons. Of course the warrior gets scared, particularly before the battle. It's frightening. But with a shaky, tender heart the warrior realizes that he or she is just about to step into the unknown, and then goes forth to meet the dragon. The warrior realizes that the dragon is nothing but unfinished business presenting itself, and that it's fear that really needs to be worked with. The dragon is just a motion picture that appears there, and it appears in many forms: as the lover who jilted us, as the parent who never loved us enough, as someone who abused us. Basically what we work with is our fear and our holding back, which are not necessarily obstacles. The only obstacle is ignorance, this refusal to look at our unfinished business.
The buddha, we say traditionally, is the example of what we also can be. The buddha is the awakened one, and we too are the buddha. It's simple. We are the buddha. It's not just a way of speaking. We are the awakened one, meaning one who continually leaps, one who continually opens, one who continually goes forward. It isn't easy and it's accompanied by a lot of fear, a lot of resentment, and a lot of doubt. That's what it means to be human, that's what it means to be a warrior. To begin with, when you leave the cradle of loving-kindness, you are in this beautiful suit of armor because, in some sense, you're well protected and you feel safe. Then you go through puberty rites, the process of taking off the armor that you might have had some illusion was protecting you from something, only to find that actually it's shielding you from being fully alive and fully awake. Then you go forward and you meet the dragon, and every meeting shows you where there's still some armor to take off.
Taking refuge in the buddha means that you are willing to spend your life acknowledging or reconnecting with your awakeness, learning that every time you meet the dragon you take off more armor, particularly the armor that covers your heart. That's what we're doing here during this dathun, removing armor, removing our protections, undoing all the stuff that covers over our wisdom and our gentleness and our awake quality. We're not trying to be something we aren't; rather, we're rediscovering, reconnecting with who we are. So when we say, "I take refuge in the buddha," that means I take refuge in the courage and the potential of fearlessness of removing all the armor that covers this awakeness of mine. I am awake; I will spend my life taking this armor off. Nobody else can take it off because nobody else knows where all the little locks are, nobody else knows where it's sewed it up tight, where it's going to take a lot of work to get that particular iron thread untied. I may have a zipper that goes right down the front and has padlocks all the way down. Every time I meet the dragon, I take off as many padlocks as I can; eventually, I'll be able to take the zipper down. I might say to you, "Simple. When you meet the dragon you just take off one of your padlocks and then your zipper'll come down." And you say, "What is she talking about?," because you have sewn a seam up under your left arm with iron thread. Every time you meet the dragon, you have to get out these special snippers that you have hidden away in a box with all your precious things and snip a few of those threads off, as many as you dare, until you start vomiting with fear and say, "This is enough for now." Then you begin to be much more awake and more connected with your buddha nature, with buddha—you know what it means to take refuge in buddha. To the next person you meet, you say, "It's easy. All you have to do is get your little snippers out of your precious box and you start—" and they look at you and they say, "What is he talking about?" because they have these big boots that come all the way up and cover their whole body and head. The only way to get the boots off is to start with the soles of the boots, and they know that every time they meet the dragon, they actually have to start peeling. So you have to do it alone. The basic instruction is simple: Start taking off that armor. That's all anyone can tell you. No one can tell you how to do it because you're the only one who knows how you locked yourself in there to begin with."
(By Pema Chödrön)
This one is good, too, I think:
The Meaning of Taking Refuge
A Discussion with Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche