Taking Refuge and What it Means to Me
Today is the day. This afternoon I join into a community of like-minded souls that have adopted a Tibetan Buddhist (mahayana) view of the world. This act of taking refuge is not about becoming Tibetan, or a monk, or a lama or about becoming anything more than myself. Taking refuge is in a way, finding that space within myself that is the bedrock of who I am as a spiritual, ethical and whole human that recognizes that I am not alone but am held within the collective of humanity, a child turned adult of a culture that extends back millenia carrying the heritage of the past into whatever the future holds for myself and all of humankind. Of course, I have had to think long and hard on taking this step. I had to come to understand exactly what taking refuge meant both within the Buddhist frame of reference and within the frame or through the lens of how I see and know the world and myself.
Taking refuge – refuge being a physical place of safety, or a mental state of being in which one can find protection. Why do I need to take refuge, to find this place both internal and external in which I can be safe? I guess I would have to say that it is about creating a space and place for my soul/psyche to nurtured and mature, a place that will act like a protective shell in a world that has little concern for the truly spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals. In psychological work, there is a need for a place of temenos, a sacred space/place/container in which one can risk facing inner demons with the purpose of finding personal healing and mental and spiritual health
Today I will take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Taking refuge in Buddha is a state of mind, not some external God to whom one prays. The Buddha is that state of mind that “enlightened” or in Jungian terms, one in which the psyche has individuated into a state of wholeness (holiness) where self and other are seen as inseparable parts of a whole. Dharma is the path – the teachings and practice. One can’t know everything or how to get there on one’s own. If there was a book with all the questions and answers to guide us through every situation in life, it would be a big help. But information is not enough, we also need help in developing the practices to make our lives better and to heal our souls which enter the world bruised. Tibetan Buddhist teachings come first from the work and the words of Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni Buddha). These teachings have one goal in mind, that of waking up to the fullness that is enlightenment or nirvana. C.G. Jung is not in the same league as Buddha, but he did work and put forth his ideas within the context of a modern western world culture for the same purposes. The goal, consciousness a consciousness that is both personal and universal. Sangha is the community that exists within which one finds support for this journey of dharma towards awareness, consciousness, wholeness. Community is important in helping one stay strong as well as helping us get back up off our knees when we fall on our journey. In spite of the fact that the journey is individual, the fact that one can know that in spite of doing this lonely work, one is connected to others and held within a family of spirit, a family of intention. In Jungian psychology, there is a hint of this when one joins within a collective such as a Jungian Society, when one takes part in workshops and seminars where the spirit is uplifted and the hard work of individuation is supported.
So, in a way, taking refuge is like adding another layer, adding another dimension to the work within which safety and support are held sacred.