01 November 2005


I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.

This is the most basic prayer of Tibetan Buddhism. To the Buddha (the enlightened teacher), the Dharma (his teaching), and the Sangha (the community of learners), I go for refuge--for protection from the evils of this world and of my own mind. For six years, since I first officially took refuge in Buddhism in the summer of 1999, I've tried to pray that prayer every day, morning and night, to honor the vows I took in that initial refuge ceremony. (Third Refuge Training: "To repeatedly (thrice in the morning, thrice in the evening) take refuge by recollecting the qualities of the Triple Jewel [i.e., the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha]."

But after a conversation I had with Blair in Minnesota, I've now stopped. This is the first time I've intentionally broken one of my vows, so this is a big deal for me. Even when I became a Christian, I didn't see any reason to think that this freed me from the vows I took as a Buddhist, especially since (as far as I could tell), there was nothing in them that conflicted with the life of a follower of Jesus.

But when Blair asked me if there where any practices from my Buddhist past that I maintained today, and I tried to describe this practice of taking refuge, I realized that my words made no sense. They didn't fit. I realized that, in point of fact, I don't take refuge in the Triple Jewel any more. When I was praying this prayer, it was just words with no meaning. I tried to rationalize it broadly: I was taking refuge in all wise teachers (Buddha, Jesus, Paul, the Hebrew prophets, etc.), their teaching, and the communities that learn from them. But that seemed lame and untrue, little more than a platitude: "Wisdom is good." I even tried Christianizing it: "I take refuge in the Christ, in the Gospel, and in the Church." But I realized that even that doesn't work.

The Christian doesn't take refuge, not even in Jesus. The Christian doesn't retreat from the world, or from his own sin, to the safety of the shelter of Christ and Church. The Christian goes to Jesus to have his sin forgiven, his life redeemed, and to be sent back out into the world to be the sign and foretaste of God's inbreaking reign. He doesn't flee the world, he goes out into it like a sheep among wolves to transform it as he himself is being transformed.

So with sadness and humility, I find myself having to lay this practice and this vow back at the feet of the Buddha who gave it to me. I can't continue taking refuge without violating another one of my vows: not to lie. Because that's what these words of refuge have become for me.

So I pray this prayer instead:

I go to the Christ for forgiveness and redemption.
I look to the Gospel for my missional calling in the world.
I go to the Church for companionship and accountability in living out that calling.



Anonymous said...

The absolute meaning of refuge is to take refuge in the enlightened state of mind.

Sounds like you're a Christian now. May as well give all your vows back, and not mix things up.

Mike Croghan said...

You're right.