Coming from a traditional Chinese family where we believed in a multitude of gods, goddesses and spirits, I was brought up to believe that these invisible beings are responsible for rewarding and punishing us, mortals.
I can still remember that my mother used to pray to the kitchen god before the Chinese New year begins. That was for asking him to report favourably to the Jade Emperor in Haven about how our family fare during the year. The kitchen god is someone like an inspector agent from the Jade Emperor (who is someone like Zeus in rank). Therefore once a year, we pray to the kitchen god to do a nice report about the family. (there are wisdom in such a practice)
I can still remember that I am not supposed to point at the moon with my index finger, otherwise the goddess in the moon will be offended and I will have a nick on my ear the next morning.
Then I encountered Christianity through my zealous tutor. She invited me to her Saturday Kids party and in those party, all the kids in class were taught there was only one God. We were taught to love and heard many wonderful stories from the Bible.
Like most teenager, I became rebellious and I really hated the idea that there is someone controlling my fate or life, or the idea that I am someone’s property.
So when I encountered Buddhism in my teenage year and was told that Buddhism does not believe in any of these. Instead we are responsible for our own action. Karma is just an equilibrium force in the universe that balance things up. It struck a cord in me.
I liked the idea that Buddhist are not idolatry. Buddha said those who sees the truth within his teachings sees Him.
I liked the idea that I am the creator of my own fortune or misfortune.
I liked the idea that there are many gods out there in the universe, those with physical forms and those without physical form. That they will cherish human as long as we have the right way of living. Buddhist can live happily with other faiths.
The list runs on and on.
So I decided I want to be Buddhist. But how does one becomes a Buddhist? I asked around and found out that there are rituals you can go through to become a Buddhist. I didn’t quite liked rituals at that point in my life. So I researched by reading.
It turns out that the first lay disciples of the Buddha were two travelling merchants from Myanmar. They were on business trip in India and they met the Buddha on the road. They were impressed by his teachings and informed the Buddha that from that day forth until they die, they would follow his advice. The Buddha said great. That’s it! The 1st laity in Buddhism.
Translate to the modern world, where Buddha is no longer physically around. (you can’t go to him and say I commit myself to your teachings)
More importantly, is that we listen or read about the Buddha’s teaching, think through and see if it makes sense. Then we do a self commitment that we want to follow His advice. That’s it. We are Buddhist!
The beauty of going through a ritual refuge is that you invite your fellow Buddhists, friends or family to witness your commitment. The ritual are designed to help you focus (It kinda create a warm fuzzy feeling in me during the ritual moment.)
Later in life, I had a chance to encounter the various rituals conducted by different traditions of Buddhism (yeah I attended one from the Thailand culture, one from the Chinese culture and one from the Tibetan culture) The root meaning of all those culture is basically for one to reflect during those ritual and self commit , “hey, I wish to follow the Buddha’s way and he is my teacher, I’ll learn his teaching (Dharma), practice them in life and I acknowledge that this is not just bullshit because many men and women had already walked this path and achieved Enlightenment (Sangha). So that’s what it means about taking refuge in Triple Gems.
Tiple Gems refer to 3 precious thing in Buddhism.
- The Buddha
- The Buddha’s teaching
- The disciples of Buddha who have attained Enlightenment
Taking refuge in them simply means that we self commit to uphold them as our refuge in life, we will rely on them as a source of guidance in life, as a source of inspiration and live our life according to those values and principles.
That’s about it. Therefore when we take refuge in Buddhism, it doesn’t mean we become the “property” of Buddha. (He gave up all property to become Buddha. So it will be silly if we think we become Buddha’s “property” or “gang” or “family” if we take refuge)
Buddha does not “rule” over us. He found a way to escape from the endless rounds of death and rebirth. Taught the method to all and said we are welcome to follow his method.(No fee, no copyrights) As a results numerous humans and gods asked the Buddha to teach them this method of escaping the countless rounds of death and rebirth.
Of course not everyone wants to get out of death and rebirth. But that is anther story for another time.