Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Becoming a Refugee

On September 22nd, 2011, I 'm taking vows of refuge and officially becoming a Buddhist. This is a ceremony and tradition that has been practiced for two and a half millennia, since the time of the Buddha’s first teachings. Preceptors of these vows have been empowered by their teachers to do this for as long as the Buddha's teaching has existed, and this passing from teacher to student has been going on in a lineage that leads back to the Buddha himself. The vow marks an official jumping off point for the refuge seeker, and a commitment to studying the Dharma, to practice, and to transcending confusion (ie. seeking sanity).

For years I've struggled with the idea of taking refuge vows. Identifying with a tradition that teaches you to let go of attachment to an identity seems like a great contradiction. Right now I see it more like a commitment to practice and study, but different ideas may still arise. I'll probably be writing about this after the ceremony!

The refuge seeker takes refuge in 3 things: the example of the Buddha as a regular human being who transcended the cycle of confusion that causes suffering; the Dharma, or the Buddha’s teachings, which have evolved and expanded since the first sermons; and the Sangha, the community of Dharma students that help each other along the path of meditation and study. The late Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, said,

The point of becoming a refugee is to give up our attachment to basic security… there is actually no solid basis of security in one’s life. And because we don’t have any home ground, we are lost souls, so to speak. We are completely lost and confused and, in some sense, pathetic… We begin to see that in seeking security we can’t grasp onto anything; everything continually washes out and becomes shaky, constantly, all the time. And that is what is called life… Taking refuge is an expression of freedom, because as refugees we are no longer bounded by the need for security. We are suspended in a no-man’s land in which the only thing to do is to relate with the teachings and with ourselves.

I was just listening to a podcast on the refuge vow by Ethan Nichtern from the Interdependence Project. He talks about two extremes: not taking refuge vows because you don't want to make the commitment, or taking the refuge vows because you want to have an identity as a Buddhist. Two extremes are a common theme in Buddhism and the middle way is the recommended antidote. I don't feel like I'm doing this just to have a stronger Buddhist identity, although I do struggle with this. At the same time, I very much aspire to ending the confusion that I have grown to know very well. Since sanity is my aspiration, there is no sense putting the refuge vows off forever, and I do feel I am in the middle of struggling with the aspiration and the conflicted thoughts about identity. In other words, the middle way is as good a reason as any! To borrow a metaphor from Ethan Nichtern, I've been standing on the beach for a while. Now it's time to take a swim.

No comments:

Post a Comment