In order to become a Buddhist formally, you have to
"Take Refuge. " What does "Taking refuge" involve? Do you have
to take any vows or make any commitments?
"Taking Refuge" in itself is a serious
commitment. It is not something you should do casually because
you are in a certain place or certain mood. In order to carry
out a trust connected with anything in your life, you need
some sort of commitment. Therefore if you want to take
Buddhism as your path and base your life on Buddhist
principles, then of course you have to make some kind or form
The commitment to Buddhism does not mean
that you have to shut yourself away from society. The
commitment to Buddhism Is the opposite. It is about learning
how you can lead a more useful life and how you can help to
create a more positive society. You make a commitment to
Buddhism in order to develop your own spiritual path so that
you may be better able to help other people. You enter the
path for both your own self-development and, at the same time,
to learn how to help others. The "commitment" is more like a
resolution to study, to learn an understanding of how things
are seen through the principles of Buddhism.
question of vows, the Lord Buddha did not impose "vows" as
rules; the Lord Buddha gave advice. "If you do this or this it
would be good..."; or "...it would be wiser not to kill, not
to steal, not to tell lies or to do anything that is harmful
to other people or yourself." You could take this as a vow but
It is not a rigid vow imposed by the Buddha upon you. It Is
more like, "If you want to follow my (the Buddha's) path then
these are my suggestions and by doing it this way you will be
a better and happier person".
There are strict vows in the
Buddhist religion. There are the five or the eight
precepts and there are vows at different levels for
monks and nuns, but the greatest sense of commitment is to
learn to tame your mind, to develop loving-kindness and to
help other people when people need your help. When you have
developed your mind properly then you will be willing to give
help when people need it, and not just when you feel in the
right mood. That commitment is the main vow.
I try to live with loving-kindness
and compassion already so is it necessary to become a Buddhist
In a formal ceremony?
It is not essential but I think it can
be useful because Buddhism teaches us how to develop
loving-kindness and compassion. Without this training, when
you are in a good mood you will try to develop loving-kindness
and compassion. But when you are having a hard time you may
not be interested; you may be too involved In your own
problems to give or feel compassion for others. It is part of
the commitment of being Buddhist that you try to develop
loving-kindness and compassion so that no matter what kind of
experience you personally are having, you will still be able
to give to others, and you will also keep on trying to learn.
So I think it is necessary.
The ceremony makes you clear in
your mind that you have made a commitment or bond otherwise it
is just like having good intentions. The vows you take will
work on you as a positive influence at an inner level and will
help you to do what is right when you are having difficult
How might I benefit personally from
I think it has great benefit because
then you cannot be lazy; you cannot change your ideas all the
time, "Today I like everything and everybody", and you go
round like a ray of sunshine! The next day you think, "Today I
am fed up with everything and everybody and cannot be
bothered"! I think the fact that you have taken Refuge guides
you and protects you from negative emotions, from feeling
negative about experiences. I cannot promise that you will
always be able to achieve it - but taking Refuge will channel
vour energy towards feeling positive, and I think that it will
always be useful.
I know you say that becoming Buddhist
is not necessarily the right path for everyone. How can I know
that taking Refuge and becoming Buddhist is right for me?
I think first of all, whatever the path,
you should read, study and try to experience it. There is no
need to rush anything or immediately Jump into it. Look at it
carefully and see whether it Is something that is suitable for
Look very carefully at what Buddhism does or what
Buddhism says is "good" and "bad", in the context of your
life. If you look at all this, then I think you will see not
find anything that Is wrong or that is going to cause you
harm. Buddhism does not create tensions or conflicts; it does
not tell you to harm or despise other ways; it does not say
that it is wrong to have other faiths or to believe in other
things. Buddhism does not make you in any sense narrow minded.
It does the opposite; it encourages you to broaden your
So I cannot see any harm coming to anyone by
becoming involved In Buddhism. You may wish to take Buddhism
as your path but if you feel unsure then I think it would be
wise to study a little more - all the religions if you wish.
The important thing Is not which path you take but to
choose the path that will help you to become a better, more
useful human being.
When you take Refuge, you take Refuge
not only with the Buddha but also with the Lama or Rinpoche
who conducts the ceremony. What Is your commitment to this
person? How strong is it?
When you take Refuge, the commitment is
not between you and that teacher; the commitment Is to do with
you and Buddhism. If you take Refuge with a highly spiritual
person I am sure that will be very good, but the actual
commitment depends on you yourself - the person taking Refuge.
It is entirely up to you how you want to deal with it.
words "Lama" and "Guru" have the same meaning; "Lama" is
Tibetan and "Guru" is Sanskrit, both mean "teacher" in a
strong spiritual sense - not like a school "teacher" who marks
your homework. "Rinpoche" is a title given to a "Tulku" who is
a certain type of highly respected Lama.
The most Important
thing is that the person, he or she, who gives you Refuge
*carry the correct transmission of the
*have taken Refuge themselves
*have full faith
and belief in the teachings of Lord Buddha
the teachings and trying to live by them
*be able to
inspire your trust and faith
It is important that the person who
gives you Refuge has faith and belief in the path of Buddhism
and that their personal commitment has not been broken. Even
if someone has taken Refuge but no longer has faith or belief
then that person no longer carries the transmission of
The person who gives you Refuge, is
called your "Refuge Lama" but he or she does not necessarily
have to be your personal "guru". "Guru" or "Tsawe Lama" has
much deeper meaning than that. Your "Refuge Lama" Is one of
your spiritual teachers but as long as you have some respect
for that person there Is no need to have a deeper commitment.
The Lama with whom you take Refuge is
like the person who opens the door into Buddhism for you. Your
"Refuge Lama" shows you the first steps like a mother showing
her child how to walk, or your primary teacher who introduces
you to the A, B, C, and then before long you find you are able
to read a book.
I think you should have a feeling of
respect and trust for your Refuge Lama but you should not
trouble yourself too much about who is the right Refuge Lama
for you. There is no need to lose any sleep about whether this
is the right one, or the wrong one or how many commitments you
should take or what kind of commitments - this is not
You said that the person who gives
Refuge to you should have the "lineage'. Could you explain
Lineage means that you have to have the
lineage of transmission. Lineage of transmission means that
the transmission of the ceremony does not pass through tape
recorders, nor through radio or television but from human to
human, person to person. When the teacher who gives you Refuge
does so in the lineage, then you can trace your own receiving
of Refuge, from teacher to student, right back over two and a
half thousand years, from this country to Tibet, from Tibet to
India, unbroken, right back to the Lord Buddha himself,
How do you know if someone truly has
the lineage? There are so many people teaching Buddhism
If you are unsure you should just ask,
"Who did you take Refuge with?" There is no harm in asking
that. I hear many things said here which seem a little
strange. For example, many things done in the west people say
that they come from the Tibetan tradition, particular lessons,
particular prayers, particular healing techniques but we who
come from Tibet have never heard of them. We do not know them
ourselves, but that does not necessarily mean that they do not
come from Tibet - it is just that we have not heard of them.
However, we are sure of some traditions
and practices and we are very clear about the Refuge ceremony.
We know that the tradition of the lineage of the transmission
of giving Refuge to a student who requests it does exist and
should be respected. I think that if you have doubts you
should ask for more information. You can always ask questions
and if the person is genuine they will understand,
So what you are saying is that
anyone, at any time can always question what their teacher has
Sure, of course you can. That teacher is
still a human being! The teacher carries a message, but the
teacher may not necessarily be enlightened and therefore he or
she is still in a human existence. They will still be affected
by a sense of inner superiority or ego and emotions and will
sometimes make mistakes. What you have to learn from that
teacher is the message not always the behaviour. You should
not think, "He did this, therefore I must copy him because he
is my Buddhist teacher".
You must not close your eyes and follow
your teacher blindly. Every one of you has the same capability
of achievement as the teacher, the same potential. If you
continue to do the right thing you may even be better than
your teacher! The teacher gives the message and you act on
it. It would be wiser to separate the teachings
from the behaviour of the teacher. Then if some action of the
teacher should disappoint you, you will not lose interest in
Buddhism because of the behaviour of one person.
What are the main principles of being
a Buddhist and how can someone put these into practice in
their dally life?
The main principles, I think, are not to
do any harm to anybody, and to pay attention to your own mind,
your own actions and not those of other people. You
should test yourself all the time asking, "Am I doing
something useful or am I doing something not useful? How am I
affecting others?" If you see that you are doing something not
particularly useful for others then you should try to improve.
Being a Buddhist should mean that you
are always looking to improve yourself so that you will be
more useful to other people. You can never say that you have
finished all improvement; that you don't need to do any more.
Being a Buddhist is a commitment to a process of constant
improvement and spiritual development. It means that you
should be constantly trying to purify yourself,
cleaning up your own thoughts or emotions. While you are
working with yourself you should also try to help other people
when they need you and you should appreciate everything that
is good around you. These are the main principles of Buddhism.
Find more information on Refuge at our
sister site http://www.samye.org/refuge.htm#tsawi