Last month I was leading a teacher training conference when the subject of refuge came up. The question was posed – what is ‘refuge’ without the word refuge?
Refuge is a key concept in Buddhism.
We speak of ’taking refuge’ which means saying this prayer in front of a Lama – and this is how one formally becomes a Buddhist. Taking refuge also refers to saying this prayer in meditation practice.
The daily practice of our entire community begins with the refuge prayer from the Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse. Pema Khandro’s Daily Prayer
In this prayer we say the word ‘refuge’ again and again.
But some of our instructors mentioned they had a hard time conveying what this means in a secular setting!
I contemplated their question – how do we describe ‘refuge’ – this heart of Buddhism – without the word refuge? With this in mind, I translated the refuge prayer into all english words without the word ‘refuge’ in hopes that it would help communicate what this concept means. The translation is below.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the word refuge is associated with protection, hope, a jewel that eradicates all poverty forever, a medicine that cures, a helping hand that reaches out to aid us when we have fallen, a relief from all sorrow and a discovery of indestructible confidence. These experiences describe the sense of refuge that Buddhism is centered on.
To know refuge is to realize that there is a goodness beyond petty concerns, neurosis, confusion, tension… To know refuge is to realize there is a way of being beyond convoluted logic, darkness, delusion hatred, betrayal or traumas…
This is what makes a Buddhist. We take refuge, therefore we resolve to live wakefully, to become a refuge for others.
– Pema Khandro
Refuge Prayer without the word Refuge
by Pema Khandro
(Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha)
I have found deliverance and hope due to the one who demonstrated the possibility of awakening – the Buddha;
I enjoy immeasurable wealth, basking in the sunlight that dispels all darkness – the teachings on the nature of reality;
I receive strength and shelter from the lineage of heroes and heroines, the Buddhists before me and around me, the ones who sustained the teachings, the ones who will never abandon sentient beings.
(Tantric Refuge – Refuge in the Lama Yidam and Khandro)
I rest into the support of all who have taught me, the masters of lineage and especially my kind root teacher who has guided me. I am empowered by the love, wisdom and hope my teachers ignited in me. I am rich due to the generosity of all teachers who gave me what is most precious to them, in order to help me meet the inner guide, pristine wakeful mind.
I am healed and uplifted by the wisdom beings who reveal the Buddha within me, exposing the constructed nature of my identity so that I can find my way home to indestructible authentic presence.
I lean into the unfaling help offered by the expressive dimension of phenomenon that communicates the radiance and vitality that is my own intrinsic nature.
(Inner Refuge – Refuge in the Tsa, Lung & Thigle)
I find comfort in the natural wisdom that courses through my body-mind, flowing through my channels.
I am refreshed and renewed by the pure wisdom energy that animates the currents of my heart-mind.
I am rescued by the ease and clarity found in the power centers which radiate an unrelenting impulse for awakening, the organizing principle of life.
I victoriously return to an unending source of intrinsic confidence found in the emptiness of complete openness, the luminosity of lucid presence and open-hearted responsiveness of compassion.