Saturday, March 20, 2010

Taking Refuge - Becoming a Buddhist Part 2

The Ritual
In the presence of a representative of the Buddha' s sangha or community; that is, an ordained Buddhist teacher, priest, monk or nun, the individual asks for admission to the Buddhist community. This is usually in front of a shrine with representations of the Three Jewels on it including a statue of Buddha and offerings of food, flowers and traditional bowls of water along with incense and an offering of light in the form of a flame. A representation of pleasant sounds, usually represented by a pair of cymbals, is also present on the shrine.

The teacher explains that there are 3 objects of Refuge: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. He or she will explain why and how they are suitable Refuges. Then come the requirements, which are: You understand what they are doing, you come of your own free will (the question will be asked of you and you respond truthfully) and you will have to promise to observe the precept not to take any life intentionally.There is also advice given on how to respect the 3 Jewels.

The person desiring Refuge kneels on one knee (the right one) as in ancient Indian illustrations, that is with the palms joined below the chin. This pose is called in Sanskrit, anjali.

You then make the request for Refuge three different times, each time beginning with an identification of who it is who is asking. That is, you give your full name. (The third time, your name will have changed.) It is made using a traditional formula that the teacher or Lama will model and explain, in the language of the tradition to which they belong and/or in the local language such as English, French, Chinese, etc.
There will probably be a few people there, kneeling in a row. If there are many, it can get a bit tiring as you wait your turn for the next part of the Refuge ceremony. Older, stiffer people might want to practice getting up and down from the one-knee-up kneeling position at home before the actual ceremony.

The monk or lama will then beckon each person to approach, and a tiny lock of hair is cut from the crown of the head. The crown [very top of the head] is the highest part, and symbolizes an offering of the best of oneself. The cutting ritual is also in the tradition of those who leave everything behind, symbolically experiencing their own death to become renunciates [sannyasin] or sadhus.

Then the "new' person says a formula of thanks that is also a confirmation that he or she is doing this of their free will. It translates as "I am glad."