Report - Taking Three Refuges Ceremony
February 13, 2019
Taking Three Refuges Ceremony
Written by Beth Adelman / Photo by Yinli Ting and CMC

When I first went to a retreat at the Dharma Drum Retreat Center, I wanted to learn how to improve my practice of meditation. I didn’t understand that meditating without studying Dharma would never get me on the path I wanted to be on. I learned some of the basic principles of Buddhism during the week of that retreat—enough to make me want to study more.

I came home and started to read books by Master Sheng Yen and other teachers, and to listen to Dharma talks online. Two years later, I attended another retreat. The leader, Simon Child, gave many wonderful Dharma talks, but one of them, about emptiness, stood out for me. It was a concept I had never really been able to make sense of; suddenly, I understood. The last night, our other leader, Rebecca Li, gave a Dharma talk on what it meant to take the Three Refuges. For the first time, I began to wonder if this was right for me.

Report - Taking Three Refuges Ceremony

Simon also spoke about how the Buddha had said about the Dharma, “See for yourself.” The Buddha meant we should not take the Dharma on faith, but to try it out, to observe how it worked in our lives, and to judge the truth of it in that way. So when I got home, I tried to practice with more commitment, not just meditating but watching my mind all the time, cultivating wisdom and compassion as best as I could, trying to uphold the Five Precepts and the Noble Eight-Fold Path. Of course I fail often! But I began really trying. And I saw for myself the changes this made in my life: how I was more patient, kinder, less reactive, calmer. I saw for myself that the Dharma is true and beautiful. I began to think, “Am I a Buddhist?”

I started attending one-day meditation retreats at the Chan Center. One day I picked up a short book written by Shifu about taking the Three Refuges. He wrote, “If we realize that the Buddhist teaching is beneficial or meaningful in our lives, then the next step is to take refuge in the Three Jewels. When we become Buddhists, we commit ourselves to bringing genuine liberation to ourselves and to everyone around us. This is the Buddhist path. . . . Trying to learn Buddhism without taking refuge is to be a bystander and not a participant.”

Report - Taking Three Refuges Ceremony

A few months later, I saw on the Chan Center website that a Three Refuges ceremony was planned for February 10, as part of the New Year celebration. When I saw this, I suddenly knew very clearly that I wanted to do it. So I made an application and a few days later I was told it was accepted. I was so excited that I could hardly wait for the day to come! I also saw there were many plans for the day at the Chan Center, and I felt like my new sangha was making a party to welcome me.

My husband (who is not a Buddhist) decided to come with me. Everyone was very, very welcoming to both of us. There were seven people taking refuge, and everyone made sure were knew where to sit and what to do during the ceremony. When Venerable Guo Yuan arrived, I felt how special it was that he was transmitting the Three Refuges (and especially appreciated that he did so in English). I repeated my vows wholeheartedly, and felt real joy when he put my amulet around my neck. Everyone chanted to welcome me into my new spiritual community. One of the monastics who had helped choose my Dharma name came over to explain it to me. Many people congratulated me with genuine warmth. It was a wonderful, special day for me.

Venerable Guo Yuan said to wear my amulet with Guanyin (compassion) facing the world and Buddha (wisdom) facing my heart, and when I do, I feel it reminding me of my commitment. I am not a bystander anymore, I am a participant. Because I am a Westerner, being a Buddhist still seems very new to me. Sometimes I say it out loud, just to see how it feels: “I am a Buddhist.” It always feels right.

Report - Taking Three Refuges Ceremony