Lotus Blooms In the Blog

June 14, 2006


Filed under: Refuge — by Warren Moriarity @ 5:10 am

Some years ago I was honored to have a Tibetan lama stay at my home for a few days. During his visit he said that before he left he would be glad if my wife would take refuge. My wife, although she has great respect for Buddhism, was brought up as an Orthodox Christian. Knowing that taking refuge is what differentiates Buddhists from non-Buddhists my wife felt she was being asked to convert from Christianity to Buddhism. She was less than enthusiastic at the lama’s suggestion and the subject was dropped and never brought up again.

Since that time I have thought about what it really means to take refuge. The Buddha said that all he taught was suffering and the end of suffering. The way to end suffering is to completely eradicate from one’s mind stream the cause of suffering – greed, hatred and ignorance. Greed and hatred are a natural outflow of ignorance. Ignorance in it’s Buddhist sense is the universal tendency to belief in a “self” which persists through time quite independently and separately of everything and everyone else. When this belief is closely examined, this “self” cannot be found, either dependent on one’s mind and body or separate from them. And yet the entire thrust of our lives, our thoughts, feelings, desires, words and actions are intimately intertwined with and put to the service of this vaporous “self”, often at the expense of the well-being of others. According to the Buddha this “self” orientation of our lives is responsible for all of our suffering. The remedy is not just to have faith in the truth of the Buddha’s assertions, but rather, to seek the truth for ourselves through deep introspective meditation. And having achieved some level of insight, to bring our whole lives in line with it.

In his ACI course on refuge Geshe Michael Roach taught that refuge involves a refugee, who is afraid or suffering, putting faith in a refuge object, which the refugee hopes can protect him or her from that suffering. In the case of Buddhist refuge a person who recognizes the inevitability of suffering puts faith in the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings) and the Sangha (the dedicated followers of the teachings). The Buddha taught that he who sees the Dharma sees him, so when we take refuge in the Dharma we are thereby taking refuge in the Buddha. Taking refuge in the Sangha amounts to accepting the help of others, who, like us have taken refuge in the Buddhist teachings. Ultimately, Buddhist refuge involves taking refuge in the Buddhist teachings.

Practically speaking, what Buddhist refuge involves is living in such a way that when we suffer we respond by taking refuge in the myriad of ways to eliminate our own greed, hatred and ignorance.

If someone yells at me and I get angry and yell back I am dealing with the suffering of hurt feelings by taking worldly refuge in the relief offered by my angry reaction. If someone yells at me and I reflect that the true cause of my hurt feelings is my self-centered orientation in life and am motivated to employ a counter-measure from among the many available in the Buddhist teachings this is an example of Buddhist refuge.

To my way of thinking this approach to refuge has nothing at all sectarian about it. Whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or atheist you can dedicate yourself to eliminating greed, hatred and ignorance in your day to day life without this having any negative impact on your religious beliefs.


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