Taking Refuge

The Awakened Heart Sangha Celebration and Refuge Vows weekend was very special and an important step in terms of committing to being a Buddhist practitioner and committing to Lama Shenpen as my teacher, but it also felt like a very natural step for me as it’s something I’ve felt drawn to do for a long time.

I’d been contemplating taking Refuge with Lama Shenpen for over a year, and had been reading Lama’s book on the subject: ‘Taking Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows‘ in preparation. In the book she explains that the tradition of taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is the same Refuge that the very first followers of the Buddha took, so there’s a wonderful unbroken link to that tradition.

In Buddhism taking Refuge is an ongoing spiritual practice that we can do by saying the Refuge everyday, but it’s also a formal action we perform in a special ceremony, usually just once with your main teacher. This formal ceremony was what took place at the Sangha Celebration weekend, and the format of the ceremony mainly follows the instructions by Gampopa, the founder of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Those going for refuge recite special verses and we kneel in a special way, prostrate to the shrine and the preceptor (Lama) then we rest in meditation until the moment of ‘Refuge’ itself which is signified by sounding a singing bowl.

That weekend the weather was particularly rough with bouts of torrential rain and high winds. Just before the singing bowl rang, the wind had died down but at the moment Lama sounded the bowl, a huge ‘whoosh’ of wind engulfed the marquee. It was very atmospheric and a proper ‘goosebumps’ moment!

In the book about the Refuge vows and ceremony, Lama Shenpen explains what it is we’re taking Refuge in. When taking refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, they “represent the real Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. That is to say the Buddha as the one who is totally Awakened, Dharma as Nirvana, our eternally present Awakened Heart…and the Sangha as those Bodhisattvas who have already Awakened and can guide us on the path.”

Lama goes on to tell us that Gampopa actually explains there is ultimately on one refuge, The Buddha, because Buddha also actually means Reality itself which includes the Dharma and Sangha (and everything else!)

“Although the word ‘Buddha’ has a very strong and narrow resonance for us a meaning a person, in the Buddhist tradition it also has a strong cosmic or impersonal aspect…in some profound and mysterious way…the impersonal aspect of Buddha is the true nature of reality, the primordially Awakened world…the only world that has ever been, the world that we Awaken to.” – Source

The book also explains that the purpose of taking Refuge is on the one hand, to align yourself to the path of Awakening with a clear intention, and to move away from the world or mandala of the ego, an action which emphasises ‘oneself and one’s inner process’. The other aspect is ‘to place yourself under the protection of the Awakened mandala and to invoke its power’, which emphasises something ‘other’ than us, something powerful that is coming to us ‘far beyond our individual sense of self’.

It’s that much more powerful and mysterious sense of taking Refuge that gave me goosebumps when the wind rushed though the marquee at the perfect moment, it gave a tangible sense of ‘other’ something bigger and more powerful that we can put our faith and trust in.

Lama Shenpen Teaching at the Annual Sangha Celebration. Photo from the Sangha Newsletter

At the end of the ceremony all those who had taken Refuge were given new Dharma names decided by Lama Shenpen, to signify that through the Refuge ceremony we were ‘entering a new world with a new identity’. The names are given in Tibetan and Sanskrit and translate to a quality of Awakening that can be inspirational for our practice. They names can then be used within the Sangha to inspire us and be something we can aspire to. They can often have a special connection or meaning that leaps out at us on a personal level.

My Refuge name is Lodro Tashi (Mati Mangalam in Sanskrit). Lodro means ‘discernment or intelligence, and refers to the intelligence or discernment needed to Awaken and help others’. Tashi means auspiciousness – ‘when we have all the right connections in place there will be signs of that reflected in our life and experience’.

The ‘Tashi’ part instantly leapt out for me as having a special connection to it, as it has felt like such an auspicious year for my practice with all the synchronicities and auspicious coincidences that happened with me going to Nepal and meeting Khenpo Rinpoche on my birthday! ‘Lodro’ wasn’t a term or name I’d heard before but it instantly felt familiar to me, and is something wonderful to aspire to: to have the discernment needed to Awaken and help others.

I haven’t decided yet how I’ll use my name. It’s been suggested I could just use the ‘Tashi’ part but I equally like ‘Lodro’! I’ll happily use either within the Sangha, and I’ve also not ruled out combining them in a nickname e,g. ‘Loshi’. I’ll let it sit with me for a while and see what happens!

I’ve been keeping up a new daily practice of repeating the Refuge on waking and at last thing night. The Refuge commitments in practice are to keep to the 5 Precepts and to make offerings, take Refuge repeatedly, and not to abandon our Refuge.

Since taking Refuge I have felt a subtle but tangible shift in the form of feeling very uplifted and inspired by it, and a feeling of growing confidence in being under the ‘protection of the Awakened ones’. I was wary about what might happen after the weekend, and mindful in case I felt a superficial ‘buzz’ after the ceremony, something I might be tempted to try to grasp or become attached too, but after a few weeks now, it still feels more like a genuine, ‘even’ form of inspiration, like a sense of  ‘raising Windhorse‘ – an expression of Tibetan Buddhism I particularly like, which means being carried along by the energy of our basic goodness, with sense of confidence, joy and delight!

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