Being Buddhist After the enlightenment experience of the Buddha he initially struggled to find a way to communicate such a profound discovery in a practical and simple way to the populace. He resolved the issue with the creation of what I have described as the primary teaching. Throughout culturally biased Buddhism it is known as the four noble truths. Here it is referred to as the four propositions of truth. From the outset of his teaching life he began to accrue followers who were keen to learn more and wanted to begin to put into practice what he taught. These people became know as Dharma followers or Dharma practitioners. They did not become Buddhists and they did not follow Buddhism. Neither of things existed during the Buddha’s lifetime. Those terms came into use around the 1900’s when the Dharma began to reach the West.
Nowadays, we use the terms Buddhist and Buddhism as collective terms. They are used to describe a range of people and practices that are so different it can be difficult to work out definitively what is Buddhism and what is a Buddhist. This situation is inevitable when we understand how the Dharma has spread from its origins in India 2,500 years ago and has continued to embrace different cultures across the globe. When trying to work out, by definition, what a Buddhist is today considering the huge diversity that exists, it can be helpful to explore the one thing that binds all of the Buddhist traditions together. It is the one thing that all Buddhists have in common with each other. It is a term that takes us back to the original teaching life of the Buddha and the way that his followers identified themselves as such. The term is known as “Going for Refuge” to the “Three Jewels” (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) the three highest ideals of Buddhism.
There are four very different categories of Buddhists that exist today. Anyone can call themselves a Buddhist. In the West many do because it’s an ego thing. For some reason it is cooler to be a Buddhist than anything else. If you tell someone you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, the likelihood is they’ll turn their back on you or slam the door in your face. If you tell them you’re a Christian they’ll develop a glazed look in their eyes. If you tell them you’re a Muslim they’ll probably be a bit scared of you. If you tell them you’re a Buddhist they will go all gooey eyed and think you must be some kind of a special person. All of these experiences are of course based on the conditioning factors of the fixed impressions people have about these religions. Many are Buddhists because they are simply born within a traditional Buddhist country. This category of Buddhists is the majority. The term Buddhist is a label they wear and they do not have to do anything else. In both cases what they fail to understand is that being a Buddhist is a thing in action. There is definitely something to do. There is quite a lot to do in fact. I would describe these type of persons as nominal Buddhists.
The second category is what I would describe as being a provisional Buddhist. This is someone who considers them self to be a Buddhist but is actually making some effort to live in accordance with the Buddha’s teaching. By that I do not mean just engaging in the rites and rituals of institutionalised religious Buddhism. They are doing their best to practice meditation. They are doing their best to live in accord with the basic ethical principles and they maintain an interest in developing knowledge and wisdom into the teachings of the Buddha. Let me make it clear at this stage that one does not have to consider oneself to be a Buddhist to put into practice any of those things to experience benefit from them. In reality declaring yourself to be a Buddhist can lead to serious misunderstandings as other Buddhists and non-Buddhists will judge you and your actions by what they have been conditioned to believe constitutes what a Buddhist is. At this stage despite the positive experiences our conditioning factors drive us in the direction of doubt or in many cases a fear of change. This is very normal. In the West, because of our culture of instantaneous gratification we do have a big problem with commitment even in the short-term, let alone the long-term so don’t give yourself too much of a hard time about this if you fall into that category. With practice eventually that doubt and indecision will begin to dissolve.
The third category is what I would describe as being an engaged Buddhist. Those who have chosen to formalise their commitment to the Dharma life. It is at the point when someone recognises for themselves something of a positive change in the level of mental anguish that they experienced prior to becoming involved with the Dharma. They have experienced directly the connection between practice and the level of contentment in its many forms that they experience. Even at a subconscious level there is a sense of gratitude for having had the opportunity to make contact with the Dharma. On a conscious level they already know that they are in the right place and it now feels right to move up a gear. This change in mind-set does not mean you have to shave your head or run off and live in a monastery. First and foremost it is about making a commitment to your self. The formal and ceremonial commitment to the Dharma path can have profound and far-reaching personal significance of a positive nature and denotes the primary act of going for refuge to the three jewels.
One of the deciding factors to consider when making such a decision is the fact that you are content to develop your Dharma practice within a particular context. It would be self-defeating to join a sangha that promotes the Dharma in one way if you are still drawn to the context of another. Context is of vital importance. It is just as important not to remain within one particular sangha if later on you are drawn towards another from of Buddhism. This is very prevalent within Buddhism. Always remember that the commitment you are making, first and foremost is to yourself, not to any particular teacher, nor any particular sangha. Commitments you make to these are not fixed and you will always be free to leave and find a new teacher or join a new sangha. On a personal note I consider it to be healthier if individuals did spend some time exploring other groups and traditions prior to their decision to join a particular sangha. I would also consider it healthier if, throughout their Dharma life with one particular sangha people continued to explore the work of other teachers from other traditions as it will increase the opportunity to challenge what they are being taught within their own sangha. This is a positive thing. It creates a real opportunity to break the cycle of secular elitism that exists in the self-protective world of institutionalised Buddhism. It also assists in the prevention of the arising of the cult mentality and the resultant devastating effects that have arisen throughout history as a result.
What is unhealthy is settling down into a form of culturally biased Buddhism and staying with it through thick and thin just because of the time you’ve invested in it. At the point you come to the realisation that you are not Indian, Tibetan or Japanese etc and therefore your conditioning factors are wholly different, you do need to let go and find something that is more applicable to your own culture. It might not be as big and colourful as the others but it will provide you with a greater opportunity to develop along the path.
We now turn to the phrase itself - Going for refuge. Dharma practice is a thing in action. It is the forward movement towards the realisation of the enlightenment experience. Acknowledging that as human beings we will often trip up or at least fall back a bit, if we are sincere in our going for refuge we will pick ourselves up, brush ourselves down and start all over again. In doing so, we do our utmost to learn from our own experience and resolve not to repeat it. In effect we are in a constant state of moving forward in one direction, namely enlightenment, hence the term “going”. The term “for” does not have any particular significance other than its usual dictionary definition. In the West we do have a bit of a problem with the word “Refuge”. For many it can be associated with things such as taking shelter, hiding away or some form of escapism from the realities of life. Within the context of the three jewels the word refuge is quite the opposite. It means to find security in reality. It means embracing fully how things really are and not how we perceive them to be on the basis of the unenlightened state.
Within the context of going for refuge to the three jewels it needs to be understood that for the engaged Buddhist these things are considered to be of primary importance to them. Everything in their lives, their family, their work, even their social life continues to be of great importance to them just as it is for everybody else. The difference now is that these things become an integral part of their Dharma practice.
The fourth category of Buddhist, are those who have no option. A level of insight has arisen that moves them across the point of no return. They have experienced directly the way things are in reality. Although it is likely that they will still use the term Buddhist to others to describe who they are or what they do, they have broken the link between institutionalised religious Buddhism by returning to its origins and consider themselves to be a Dharma practitioner, or Dharmachari (one who lives in accord with reality).
The act of going for refuge to the three jewels is not an isolated incident. Many who have formalised their commitment to the Dharma life ceremoniously, whereby they have received the refuges and precepts from an Ordained Buddhist misunderstand this. They seem to form the idea that going for refuge is something they do once when they become a Buddhist. Going for refuge to the three jewels is the term for the active doing part of what it means to be a Buddhist. It never stops. It should also be borne in mind that there are three jewels contained within the act. If one of them is not present the act of going for refuge is incomplete. In the West it is usually the sangha jewel that is missing. Many people who believe that they are committed practicing Buddhists do so in isolation. Some do so through choice, some have no real option. In this modern age we also have an ever growing number of cyber Buddhists. What they all have in common is that they are not going for refuge to the three jewels. For that act to be complete they have to be engaging with the sangha.
Throughout the Buddhist world the three jewels are represented by a colour. The first of these jewels is the Buddha jewel which is yellow. In parts of the world where Eastern culture has influenced the teachings, taking refuge in the Buddha has come to mean seeking his help by way of rites and rituals which includes prayer. In many cases the Buddha has become another deity for them to worship. Students will pray to the Buddha for help with their exams, women often pray for their unborn child to be born a male, others might pray for good luck or a good career and so on. This approach might be of some benefit on the basis of the feel-good factor or the comfort blanket approach associated with the concept of future lives but realistically it would be a stretch of the imagination for anyone adopting this approach to be seriously considered as an engaged Buddhist.
To go for refuge to the Buddha in an engaged way is to aspire to awaken to one’s highest potential contained within the enlightenment experience. All human beings have the potential for enlightenment. It is not reserved for the spiritual elite. The outcome is entirely dependent on that which precedes it. You make the effort and the experience is there to be realised. In going for refuge to the Buddha you are embracing change rather than resisting its reality. You are playing a significant part in creating the conditions which will help you to develop towards that reality. The Buddha here is representative of the enlightened state. To begin the process of going for refuge to the Buddha we will have come to the conclusion that, on the basis of reasonable doubt or the balance of probabilities even, that at some point in this thing we call time or history a man existed who realised enlightenment. As part of that acceptance we are satisfied that it was Siddhartha Gautama who by his own efforts broke through thereby becoming a Buddha – one who is awake.
To go for refuge to the Buddha in an engaged way we need to know something of his life and work. We have to work our way through the minefield of trying to work out what is fact, what is legend, what is symbolic and what has slipped through the net since his death and purports to be what the Buddha taught. Our conclusions need to be arrived at based on our own direct experience but also common sense. We need to study his teachings on our own and with like-minded individuals as part of our on-going Dharma practice. Private study is essential but I would suggest that it is in the clarification process with others in the sangha and in particular with the teacher where a deeper understanding would be realised. This is why the sangha jewel is so important in our development. It provides the working ground for challenge.
It is important to understand that in going for refuge to the Buddha we are, in effect, going for refuge to our own potential for enlightenment. When we stand before a Buddha image we are not only developing a deep sense of gratitude towards the Buddha for the efforts he made to make the Dharma available to us, we are also recognising and acknowledging that just like him, by our own efforts we too have the potential for enlightenment. Generally speaking, in Western culture the idea of bowing or prostrating before an image causes a negative reaction to arise due to our own religious and cultural conditioning. Some effort needs to be made to overcome this. We need to develop a heartfelt response to the Buddha and his work to be engaged fully in the process of going for refuge to him.
The word Dharma is a complex Sanskrit word. It has multiple definitions which include the truth, the law, mental event, doctrine or spiritual path. Within the context of going for refuge it means the teachings of the Buddha and all of those communications of the enlightened mind which point the way towards our own awakening. The Dharma jewel is represented by the colour blue. In going for refuge to the Dharma we are developing a sense of trust in the teachings. This type of trust which is often referred to as faith is not the same as that of institutionalised religion. It has no belief aspect to it. Faith in Buddhist terms arises when we have discovered for ourselves the truth of a particular teaching by our own direct experience. It encourages us to explore further on the basis of trusting our own experience..
In the Udana, a collection of teachings of the Buddha, he tells the story of the blind men and the elephant. In the story a number of men who had been blind from birth are asked to feel the body of an elephant and then give a description of the animal based on what they were sensing. The one who felt the head said it felt like he was touching a pot. The one who touched the ear thought he was touching a willowing basket. The one who touched the tusk thought he was handling a plough. Every time someone touched a different part of the elephant they gave a different description of what they thought it was. As a result each of them began to stand firmly behind what they believed to be true and an argument broke out which resulted in fighting and bodily harm. This story illustrates not only the one-sidedness of the sectarian teachers of the Buddha’s own time, but also the incredible diversity that can be noticed between the different approaches to the Dharma today within institutionalised Buddhism.
Broadly speaking there are three different approaches to the Dharma. 1. The sectarian approach. 2. The fundamentalist approach. 3. The encyclopaedic approach. Soon after the death of the Buddha his followers began to drift apart to form different sects. Although they shared a common link back to the Dharma that the Buddha taught, the way in which it was taught began to differ in many different ways, some doctrinal and some in regards to disciplines and practices. As the Dharma spread to different countries the gap became even wider as existing cultural influences were added into the mix and quite often became primary influences. The result is the sectarian approach to the Dharma. This approach is based on the highly selective study and understanding of a particular branch of the canonical literature and presents it as the whole tree. In one case an entire tradition is based on just one text. This sectarian approach has led to the kind of one-upmanship that is found throughout the institutionalised Buddhist world.
The fundamental approach is concerned with establishing what the Buddha actually said. It has two basic aspects to it. The first is that they maintain, even in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary, that the canonical literature is the actual words of the Buddha. It becomes a bit like the holy bible of Buddhism and leads to the belief based system of religious Buddhism. The second aspect is that of the scholar. Not necessarily a Buddhist themselves they investigate from an intellectual standpoint. They do this by means of textual criticism in comparison with archaeological evidence, a kind of scientific approach. They try to work out intellectually what, if any, of the teachings we have now can be established were utterances of the Buddha.
The encyclopaedic approach emphasises breadth rather than depth of knowledge. It tends to confuse knowledge of Buddhism with wisdom. It is more concerned with the facts than the principles and attempts to understand them on an external basis rather than experiencing them on an internal basis. Of the three different approaches this one has the most serious limitation attached to it. In line with the Buddha’s message of simplicity and less is more this approach does head in the opposite direction.
My own approach to the Dharma is to encourage the development of a practice that incorporates elements from all three approaches but with their imperfections put to one side. In this more idealistic approach it provides an opportunity for insight into the Dharma derived from the actual practice of a system that draws on the richness of the whole of the Buddhist tradition but provides a filter to eradicate those aspects that bear little or no relation to the conditioning factors of those born or living within a Westernised society. It has to be said that having spent time fully engaged with all three of the major traditions of Buddhism this is the conclusion that I came to based on my own direct experience of those systems.
Many in the West are confused by the vast diversity of the Buddhism that is laid out before them. Like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other religions including religious Buddhism it is not only about the teaching. It is a culture, a civilisation, a social order. It contains systems of philosophy, different meditation systems, rituals, customs, clothes, language, sacred literature, temples, monasteries, poetry, art, games and many other things, the list is almost endless. The six million dollar question is: what is the essence of the Dharma? The only way that will ever be established by the individual is when they fully engage with the practice of gong for refuge to it. You need to study it, put it in to practice, test it, challenge it and establish its positive benefit for you by your own direct experience. If anything you are practicing as a result in real terms is found to be unhelpful you can be assured it is not the Dharma and you should throw it out with the bathwater.
Going for refuge to the Dharma therefore is to put into practice that which you learn through independent study and more importantly through study with like-minded individuals who perhaps have a greater depth of experience than you. It’s about learning to trust and rely on the teachings without resorting to any element of blind faith or blind belief because you are experiencing for yourself the positive difference that practice makes to your moment by moment experience in your daily lives. Engaging fully in going for refuge to the Dharma goes beyond the intellectual and conceptual mind and leads in the direction of insight into the way things are in reality. Dharma practice is not a race. This causes a difficulty in the West. Our conditioning is that we want a result and we want it now. Dharma practice is a bit like a car mechanics manual. You have some basic skills in mechanics that you’ve learnt over the years that get you by, but to do the job properly you have to keep looking at the manual. If you follow the instructions the car will run smoothly. If you try and cut corners it’s going to break down just at the precise moment when you are the furthest from your destination.
We now come to the third jewel that completes the process of going for refuge. This is the sangha jewel. It is represented within Buddhism by the colour red. Like many other words within the Buddhist tradition the word sangha has multiple definitions. In its wider definition anybody who practices the Dharma within the context of any particular community of like-minded individuals is part of the sangha. On one level this applies equally to those who have or have not formalised their own commitment to the Dharma path. On another level though, it is important to recognise the formalisation of ones commitment to Dharma practice within a particular context as a deeper level of commitment. It is a stronger form of the act of going for refuge.
On a more traditional level, contained within the institutions of religious Buddhism you will find the word sangha defined very differently. It is used to create the spiritual hierarchies that support and protect the institutions. Here we find three different classifications of sangha. At the top of the tree is the noble or arya sangha. This is all of those individuals throughout history who have experienced directly an irreversible insight into the true nature of reality. In some schools of Buddhism this also includes non- human, archetypal beings that manifest within the realms of higher states of consciousness, often depicted in Buddhist art as Bodhisattva figures representing different aspects of the enlightenment experience.
Just below the noble sangha you find the monastic sangha, the order of monks and nuns who take centre stage within these institutions. The effect of this was to create a huge divide between the religious professionals and those who may well be going for refuge more effectively than those in the order but were excluded by virtue of their decision not to ordain. This reality still exists today. In Traditional Buddhist countries the lay practitioners only hope for enlightenment is to make merit in this life by supporting the monastic order so that their next life they will have a greater opportunity for them. Without this system the institution itself would self-destruct very quickly.
If you travel to traditional Buddhist countries today you will find, in many ways, that effective Dharma practice has effectively disappeared, not only within the lay population but very sadly it has to be said from the monastic order also. In some of these countries Buddhism is used by the various government agencies to keep control of the populace in similar ways as the early Christian church did in the West. As an outsider you will be impressed by the outward appearance of Buddhism but things are very different when you begin to scratch away at the surface. I need to point out that in traditional Buddhist countries you will still find sincere, dedicated and insightful Dharma practitioners but they will be few and far between. Conversely in the West you will come across just as many Buddhists in the forms of Buddhism that have developed there simply going through the motions. In the final analysis going for refuge is about commitment and not having a funny name that nobody can pronounce or wearing clothing that is practically unsuitable for life in the West.
In Western Buddhist circles today some of the most committed Dharma practice takes place amongst people who, although technically speaking are not monks or nuns, cannot be categorised as lay people either. The Western approach to the Dharma is currently redrawing the boundaries of the sangha and is placing the emphasis back, as it was in the Buddha’s day when Buddhism and its institutions did not exist. This approach to the definition of sangha understands that commitment is primary and lifestyle is secondary.
Sangha in this sense refers to any community of Dharma practitioners whose members are engaged fully in the process of going for refuge. It moves away from the hierarchical structure of institutionalised Buddhism and becomes a support structure or network for Dharma practice that dissolves any notion of spiritual elitism. It could be said that both fall into the category of the group but they operate in very different ways. The alpha group of hierarchical structure will seek to preserve itself if necessary at the cost of its individual members. It tends to enforce conformity and requires unquestioning allegiance from its members. The beta group that has no hierarchical structure encourages its members not to conform but to become increasingly more authentically an individual. This approach allows for the gradual unfolding of the individuals own unique creative potential for development along the path. The Beta group encourages its members to seek out the open dimension and the alpha group tries to erect high walls against it. The alpha type group, whether it be a family, tribe, nation, club, race, church, regiment or political party simply creates a frail conspiracy against the inevitability of change and the monastic sangha is no different in this respect.
To engage fully with the process of going for refuge to the sangha you first have to work out what type of sangha you wish to belong to. This is why context is so vital from the outset. It is a matter of choice. In the West you are faced with a basic three options. You can actually join the monastic order of the alpha group or you can remain a lay person of the alpha group and support those who are ordained. The only other realistic option is to seek out a beta group and engage in practice there in an open and equal way towards fulfilling your own potential for enlightenment. If you are not engaging in practice with any form of sangha then you cannot by definition be going for refuge to the three jewels and therefore no matter what or who you think you are, you cannot, by definition, be a Buddhist.
Wherever any individual is sharing their knowledge and experience of the Dharma with others in an open forum there is the opportunity for the development of the sangha jewel. The only question that is of any relevance to the individual is “do I find the context of this particular sangha conducive to my own development?” With the establishment of a sangha all that is required to become a member is to fulfil any constitutional requirements and then ask to join by formalising your commitment to the Dharma path in a ceremony that is overseen by the Director of that particular sangha who is recognised as a friend and mentor rather than a teacher or guru. Those terms carry far too much baggage with them and can quite often inflate the ego rather than reduce it and puts that person on a pedestal which provides the opportunity for them to fall off and disappoint the gooey eyed student. When is it the right time to ask? Only you will know the answer to that. All I would say is take a good hard look at the real motivations behind why you are asking. Quite often what prevents most from making that commitment is doubts of un-worthiness which is very big in the West or even a fear of entering the unknown. Quite often these doubts and fears are misplaced because of a lack of understanding about what you would be undertaking.
If you have arrived at the point where you are comfortable with the context in which the Dharma is communicated at the classes run by the Dharmadatu Sangha and you have decided that you wish to formalise your own commitment to the Dharma path within that sangha there are three conditions to be met constitutionally to bring this into effect. Dharmadatu Sangha Inc which is the organisational aspect of the sangha does not take into consideration any other factors such as age, race, gender or sexual orientation in accepting individuals into the sangha. The following three points are the only qualifying factors.
The first factor is that you consider yourself to be a Buddhist within the context of what you have come to understand a Buddhist is by attending classes, studying and engaging in discussions in regard to the material presented at the classes. It does not matter one iota what any other person thinks, be they a Buddhist or otherwise, it’s what you are comfortable with that counts.
The second factor is that you have completed two study courses within the Dharmadatu Sangha and have taken up meditation practice in line with those taught at their centre and wish to develop both of these aspects within the context of the Dharmadatu sangha.
The final aspect is that you are prepared to undertake, at all times and to the best of your ability within your own particular life circumstances to live in accordance with the five basic training principles of Buddhist ethics. 1. To avoid doing harm and to practice loving kindness. 2. To avoid taking anything that is not given freely and to practice generosity. 3. To avoid engaging in sexual exploitation or manipulation and to practice stillness, simplicity and contentment. 4. To avoid harmful speech and to practice truthful and kindly communication 5. To avoid anything that will tend to decrease the clarity of the mind that has been developed and to practice keeping the mind clear and radiant
If all of those three factors are present, all you have to do next is to ask the person whose role it is to oversee the process. This is usually the Ordained member of the sangha or in rare circumstances where there isn’t one it will be the individual who is recognised within the sangha as being the practitioner with the greatest experience. They will then set the date for the formalisation ceremony and begin the preparation work that needs to be done prior to the ceremony.
This ceremony is called the receiving of the refuges and precepts. It is a vital, ritualistic link between the Dharmadatu Sangha and the entire Buddhist tradition going right back to the time of the Buddha himself. During the period between the asking and the ceremony itself, the preceptor, who is the person who will be conducting the ceremonial aspect, will choose a new Buddhist name for the applicant. Traditionally that name will be chosen for one of two reasons. One option is that the preceptor has recognised a positive quality in the applicant and wishes to encourage them to develop that further so gives them a name to be used as an inspiration for practise. You could say something to live up to. The other option is to choose the name because they have recognised a negative tendency within the applicant that needs to be addressed and the name is given as an inspiration for change. Generally speaking the applicant is not told which option has been adopted. It is often left to the applicant to search for a real understanding for themselves and to understand honestly which option has been chosen.
The name is not to be used outside of sangha activities. It is not another thing to be used as a way of bolstering the ego and highlighting what a special person you are to others. Its significance is what it means to you and how it is helpful for your development. You may have noticed that some people who attend classes wear an item of royal blue clothing which contains the emblem or logo of the Dharmadatu Sangha. Again it needs to be understood that this is not done to set them apart as something special. Its significance is that it identifies to those who are new or not members of the sangha that those people might be someone they can approach to ask questions whilst acknowledging it does enhance the sense of community in the sangha itself.
On the scheduled date for the ceremony to take place, as many members of the sangha gather, to bear witness to the ceremony. The ceremony itself follows a set pattern as follows: It begins with a sangha version of the Metta Bhavana meditation practice. In this version the practitioner begins with themselves, then moves to the person within the sangha who they feel they have built up the greatest level of friendship with, then moves onto a person in the sangha who they wish to work towards building friendship with and then finally the person within the sangha they feel less attracted to for whatever reason, then the practice is equalised amongst the sangha and broadened to include members of all other sanghas in all of the other traditions..
At the conclusion of the period of meditation the following words are chanted in call and response. The preceptor chants and then the sangha repeats. This is known as the “Going for Refuge” chant.
This very day,
For the development of my Dharma life. This very day,
I go for refuge to the Dharma he taught,
As the guide to my own realisation of the Dharmadatu. This very day,
I go for refuge to this sangha,
Which provides the context for my practice,
And to the worldwide sangha of Dharma practitioners.
The next stage of the ceremony is the chant in call and response of the refuges. This is broken down into four stages. 1. Homage. 2. The three refuges. 3. The five precepts in negative formulation 4. The five precepts in positive formulation. Stages one to three are chanted in Pali and stage four is recited in English.
Samma sambuddhassa Nammo tassa
Samma sambuddhassa Nammo tassa
Samma sambuddhassa The English translation of this is: Honour to the Blessed One, the Exalted One, the fully Enlightened One. It is repeated three times.
It might be helpful if you obtain one the CD’s from the centre that contains all of the chants used within the sangha so that you can get a feel for them in advance.
The Three Refuges Buddham saranam gachami I go to the Buddha as my refuge
Dhamman saranam gachami I go to the Dharma as my refuge
I undertake to avoid anything that will tend to decrease the clarity of the mind that has been developed
The five precepts in positive formulation I undertake the ethical training principal of practicing loving kindness
I undertake the ethical principle of practicing generosity
I undertake the ethical principal of practicing stillness, simplicity and contentment
I undertake the ethical principle of practicing truthful and kindly communication I undertake the ethical principle of keeping the mind clear and radiant The preceptor then begins to chant the metta mantra and is then joined by everyone else. This continues throughout the offerings section. The mantra is :
Sabbe – Satta –Sukhi -Hontu
(sar bay) - (sar tar) - (sue key) - (hon two)
May All Beings Be Happy
During this chant each applicant makes their way to face the shrine in turn, youngest first. They light a candle from the one that is already lit on the shrine and place it on or around the area of the shrine. This represents the going for refuge to the light that the Buddha gave to the world with his realisation of the enlightenment experience. Next they place a flower on or around the area of the shrine. This represents the going for refuge to the Dharma in the form of the law of conditionality and impermanence. Finally they light a stick of incense from their own candle and place it in the bowl on the shrine where incense is placed. This represents the going for refuge to the sangha as the smoke and perfume of the incense permeates the room and makes contact with others in the sangha. Next they prostrate three times in the form of a bow, a kneeling prostration or a full body prostration. With each prostration the applicant says to themselves. I go for refuge to the Buddha – I go for refuge to the Dharma – I go for refuge to the Sangha. At the conclusion of this they return to their place in the room and the next applicant follows the same procedure. Once all of the applicants have completed this any of the other members of the sangha who wish to re-confirm their commitment to the Dharma path within this context follow the same procedure. Finally the preceptor completes the circle.