The point of going for refuge to the Three Jewels—the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—is to achieve a state of fearlessness. Fearlessness in this case means that you achieve freedom from cyclic existence. Going for refuge to the Buddha—the Awakened One— means to take him as a teacher and an example of awakening. Going for refuge to his teaching—the Dharma—means taking it as a path to awakening. Going for refuge to the community, or the Sangha, is to take the Sangha as guides on that path. The reason why we go for refuge to the Buddha as a teacher is that we wish to achieve a state of perfect awakening, a state of freedom from cyclic existence.
In that state we are endowed with the wisdom that knows the nature of all things and the wisdom that knows the variety of all things. In order to arrive there ourselves, we must go for refuge to someone who has achieved that same state of freedom and that same state of twofold wisdom. The Buddha is fi t to be relied upon in this way as he is utterly fearless in proclaiming that he has abandoned all that is to be abandoned and utterly fearless in proclaiming that he has realized all that is to be realized. For the benefi t of others, he also is fearless in proclaiming the path as well as the obstacles encountered on the path. We therefore go for refuge to the Buddha as a teacher.
Going for refuge to his teaching—the Dharma—means taking the Dharma as a path, both aspects of it: traditions and realization. The Dharma of tradition is the Buddha’s teachings themselves. The Dharma of realization is all the qualities of freedom and wisdom, which arise in the minds of those who practice these teachings. Going for refuge to the Dharma means going for refuge to both the tradition, and the realizations it brings, as a path.
Finally, going for refuge to the Sangha, or community, means to take the Sangha as guides on that path. The Sangha, like the Dharma, has two aspects. The exalted Sangha of the Mahayana consists of male and female bodhisattvas on any of the ten bodhisattva levels. The ordinary Sangha of individuals consists of all male and female followers of any Taking Refuge
From a refuge ceremony given by Ven. Bardor Tulku Rinpoche