March 21, 2011

How Does One Become a Buddhist?

Refuge [ref-yooj]
1. shelter or protection from danger, trouble, etc.: to take refuge from a storm.
2. anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief, or escape.

In the beginning of the Week 3 talk of their ongoing Tricycle Retreat, "Letting Go," Pamela Gayle White and Khedrub Zangmo discuss "Taking Refuge." Taking Refuge, which usually takes place in a lay or monastic ordination ceremony, is how one officially "becomes a Buddhist." What exactly is it that Buddhists take refuge in? The Three Jewels—The Buddha, The Dharma, and the Sangha.

Pemela and Khedrub explain,

KZ: We take refuge in the Buddha because the Buddha is someone who actually realized his fullest potential—he is the great example, the one who showed the rest of us how to do this. When we take refuge in the Buddha we are taking refuge in the enlightened state of mind. We also take refuge in the Dharma, the Buddha's teachings, which give us the step by step instructions on how to practice what the Buddha did and what he taught. The Sangha is the realized guides, the students who have put into practice the Buddha's teachings.

Pamela and Khedrub then lead two formal prayers,

Until I have reached full awakening, I take refuge
in the Buddha, the Dharma and the supreme Assembly.
By means of beneficial actions such as generosity,
may I attain enlightenment in order to benefit beings.

The Four Immeasurables
May all beings find happiness and the cause of happiness,
may they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering,
may they not be separated from the perfect happiness that is free from suffering,
may they abide in great equanimity, free from attachment and aversion
to those near and far.

PGW: When we take refuge, the image is of seeking refuge from something. Why are we looking for refuge in the first place? It's because we realize that we have been looking for something and have been having a hard time finding it. There's this undercurrent of dissatisfaction, disenchantment, or just plain pain and suffering. So we turn to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as being valid and trustworthy sources of refuge, of protection, from the turbulence of our every day lives, our situations, and our emotions.

KZ: Yes, and it's important to see that in our lives we're always seeking refuge in something, whether we're doing it consciously or not. We're always looking for some kind of relief—from our insecurity, from our confusion, from this underlying feeling of angst that we have. When we take refuge as a Buddhist we are actually consciously saying yes, this enlightened state of mind is a true refuge. It's not a temporary, impermanent refuge. It's not something that gives a little bit of relief for a short period of time.

PGW: Like chocolate or video games.

KZ: It's something that can truly give ultimate relief and lasting happiness. We call it "ultimate happiness" which is a synonym for enlightenment.

PGW: It is the realization of our birthright, our true potential. That's what we are taking refuge in.

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Image: Shakyamuni Buddha, HAR 71212

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Monty McKeever's picture

Hi Artles,

My recommendation is to start simply by studying and practicing. Read the writings of a variety Buddhist teachers, attend teachings, and develop a regular meditation practice. Once you have begun this process, the proper next step will naturally present itself, whether that step is taking refuge or not.


karen.mcbroom's picture

I am bi-polar and struggle each minute to maintain what little "rest" I can. I live in the country and attending a place of practice is not possible. My therapist was the closest thing to a sangha, but she died in November and I have felt even more lost than before. I have read many books written by Buddhist authors, but none of them say "how" to become a Buddhist. I go to yoga at least twice a week. I try to meditate practicing various methods that the teachers I've read suggest, but my mind has never been able to become still. I desperately need to find stillness and peace and to just be, but I don't know how. Any suggestions?

Thank you,

Dominic Gomez's picture

Hi Karen. There are many types of Buddhist practice. Here are two links to the lay organization I've practiced with since 1973: and
Happy New Year and all the best.

artles's picture

I know very little about the teachings of Buddha. I would like to learn more and adopt his way. Where is a good place to begin my journey?

Thank you,