Recently, this topic struck me as very basic yet extremely profound.
Taking Refuge is the first step in Buddhism.
Take the 1st step wrongly and it could be years later before we discover how far off we had strayed from the Buddha’s path.
I was tasked to re-examine this topic recently when I started my on-line course with Havard edx- Buddhism Through Its Scriptures.
I think this is something good to share as I embark on this new journey.
Back to the topic. The quality of our Refuge.
Question 1: What is refuge?
Many of my classmates described refuge as a decision to follow the way of life as advised by Buddha. I agree with that too. Many of us also know that Buddha is not to be viewed as a God who bestows blessings and wreak misfortune upon Buddhist. I was delighted with the right understanding.
Then comes the next question…
Instead of saying “I take refuge in Buddha”, can we simply say “I go to the Buddha for guidance” ?
When I first saw this question, I thought “Why Not?” That’s what being Buddhist is all about, isn’t it?
Then I imagine myself saying a new “refuge payer” every morning. I go to the Buddha for guidance…. and it occured to me, that the “power” in the verse would be different. The energy will be different. (was it my imagination?)
When I say “I take Refuge” it imply that there are calamities, sufferings, chaos, unpleasantness etc that I wish to be protected from.
The meaning of refuge would then mean, seeking protection and cover. Just like how our home shelter us from the weather.
When we take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, there must be some realisation that our life and existence is not entirely perfect. It could be our external situation being imperfect or it could be our inner mental health being far from ideal (stress, sadness, anger, etc) For some, they may possess better wisdom and they see the imperfection of life, such as illness, old age and death.
Taking refuge in the Triple Gems is to find shelter from all these sufferings.
Different people see suffering differently. A disappointed lover may see a broken relationship as the most painful. A barren couple may feel that not having a child of their own is the worst suffering. A young worker may feel that missing a promotion is their worst nightmare. Nonetheless, when people seek happiness in Buddhism, they are seeking a source of comfort. A light that will brighten the darkness in their life.
Therefore, I think, taking refuge is not just seeking guidance. It should also embrace the mentality that we seek comfort and protection. A commitment that we believe the Triple Gems is the only shelter that can protect us from sufferings.
If taking refuge is akin to passing through the Bodhi-door and entering the world of Buddha(s),
then the mentality of referring to the Triple Gems only as a source of guidance will be similar to a person standing at the doorsteps. Although you may observe what is happening in the Buddhist world, you never get to participate or experience it for yourselves….
Along our daily life, it is perhaps good for us to sit down and contemplate the quality of our refuge.