After I meditate I always bow my forehead to the floor three times, saying, “I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.” (For a short while last year, just after returning from a Goenka Vipassana retreat, I said Dhamma instead of Dharma, because Goenka’s all about Dhamma and the old-timey ways. But I went back to Dharma because that’s the way I heard it first, and I like the way the “r” sounds – I roll it out, I get all piratical on it: “Dharrrrrr-ma.” Dharma’s clean, too, it’s got a nice sharp line, and I like that.) Then I put my hands together and bow again deeply, saying, “May all beings be happy.” That part feels like praying, and I guess it is, kind of, but I’m not praying to anyone, because there’s no one there.
All of this behavior is a little bit twee, and part of me is ashamed. I’m a little ashamed writing it, because there’s the stink of religion about it, and as much as I want all beings to be happy, I think religion is mostly retarded. I feel I’m on shaky ground with this religious shit, and I know people I respect would probably be disappointed in me if they knew about it. So there’s that part.
But on the other hand, I have a real respect for Buddhist tradition, and I’ve just kind of tacked these things on to the end of my sitting. I wasn’t born a Buddhist, and nobody made me a Buddhist, and yet here I am reciting Buddhist slogans like Mr. King Fuckin’ Buddhist. It seems a bit presumptuous. Maybe a bit poseurish. I wonder, “Am I entitled?”
But let’s not get stupid: I don’t wonder that hard. I’m not all up in my shit about it. These thoughts just drift through my mind sometimes, and not every time, and I don’t give them much weight.
In case you’re wondering, the “refuge” bit is what’s known as “Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem.” I’ve heard it described (just now, actually – I just read this like a second ago) as analogous to Christian baptism or Hindu “taking of the sacred thread.” (Whatever the heck that is!) (I’m not trying to mock Hindus, I just don’t want to make it look like I know what I’m talking about, sacred thread-wise. Though I imagine it’s something analogous to baptism or Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem.)
By taking refuge in the Triple Gem, you’re saying “Life can be a bastard sometimes, and you can easily find yourself up Shit Creek if you’re all alone. But you can always rely on the Buddha (the embodiment of enlightenment and wisdom,) the Dharma (his teachings,) and the Sangha (all the other people who believe all this shit.)” And, you know what? This is of great comfort and support to me.
Now I believe that this Taking of the Triple Gem is often done as a ceremony when one “becomes” a Buddhist as part of an organized community, or is ordained as a monk. (I don’t really know. I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere, but I can’t be fucked to look it up.) And that would make it more like baptism than the way I do it, which is more like, oh, I don’t know…more like communion – except nowhere near that serious (because even though I no longer believe in God, I still have a Catholic in me, and I don’t want to shit on communion, even though I know it’s (mostly) bunk.) I take refuge in the Triple Gem because I’m serious about my practice. I have faith in the Dharrrrrr-ma. I’m not fucking around.
The last bit, “May all beings be happy,” I lifted from Mr. Goenka himself (although it’s a common enough Metta formulation – it’s not like he invented it.) Because on that Vipassana retreat I loved him, then I hated him, then I loved him again. And on the last day he broke open my heart with his gentle kindness, and the reminder that we do this practice, we seek this enlightenment not only for ourselves but for all beings, for everyone. For all beings. For everyone.
May all beings be happy. May all beings be happy. May all beings be happy.