Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Refuge Taking Ceremony

A few years ago, a Buddhist friend of mine told me that there would be a refuge taking ceremony, and encouraged me to take part. Upon hearing that, I nearly fell on floor laughing.

I had taken refuge in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha countless of time. I could even recite the relevant verses plus the Five Precepts in Pali, one of two languages in which Buddhist scriptures were written. (The other one was Sanskrit.)

Many Buddhists have the perception that refuge taking is a one-time process, not unlike baptism in Christianity. Without formally taking refuge in the Triple Gem, one is not considered a Buddhist. A monastery in California even issued ‘certificates’ to participants of its refuge taking ceremony!

The truth is: we can take refuge in the Triple Gem over and over again. Well, at least this is the case in Theravada Buddhism, the tradition I am most familiar with. Each time we take refuge, we strengthen our faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

The same goes for Five Precepts. We are not perfect. We occasionally lie due to lack of security. We drink because of peer pressure. Each time we recite the Five Precepts, we remind ourselves the importance of virtue.

On the other hand, if we haven’t formally taken refuge, are we Buddhists? I guess that intention, rather than outward form, is most important. Ceremonies or rituals are therefore unnecessary. They do, nonetheless, signify our commitment to the path of wisdom.