Taking Refuge

If you are interested in Taking Refuge please review the following description of what CityZen's refuge classes entail and the spirit in which we hold the precepts. Briefly, this includes: discussing the vows in a group setting, drafting personal responses to each vow, sewing a rakusu, making an ongoing commitment to our dharma community, and attending the ceremony. Contact Zenappt@gmail.com if you have any questions. 

This is the robe of freedom
The bare field, the blessings.
The teachings of the Tathagata
Saving all the many beings.

Shenshan was mending clothes with a needle and thread. Dongshan asked, “What are you doing?”
Shenshan said, “Mending.”
Dongshan asked, “How are you mending?”
Shenshan said, “One stitch is like the next.”
Dongshan exclaimed, “We’ve been traveling together for twenty years now, and you can still say such a thing! How can you be so dense?”
Shenshan asked, “OK, then, how do you mend?”
Dongshan said, “As if the whole earth were spewing flames.”

Taking Refuge

It is common practice in many Buddhist traditions for members of a dharma community to take the precepts, also known as the Buddhist vows, at some point in their practice. In some organizations, that’s the very first thing you are invited to do when you walk in the door. At CityZen, the timing is by individual choice, often when one decides that this flavor of doing the dharma is the right fit for your spiritual awakening and that you’d appreciate the sangha's recognition and support in this adventure.

The Mahayana Buddhist precepts consist of three parts: Three Refuge Vows, Three Pure Vows, and the Ten Bodhisattva or Grave Vows, though they are sometimes referred to differently. As a shorthand reference, we call the year-long preparation that leads up to the ceremony of taking the precepts, Taking Refuge.

Preparation for the Refuge ceremony includes:

• Studying the precepts in a group setting

• Composing personal responses to each vow

• Sewing a rakusu (also known as a kesa, or Buddha’s robe)

• Making a commitment to the ongoing health of the CityZen community

The Refuge ceremony involves, a public recitation of your responses to the vows, receipt of an inscribed rakusu by CityZen teachers and a dharma name, and a reception by the sangha or dharma community.

At a certain point in Zen practice the issue of integrity arises. We begin to consider how it would be if we viewed wisdom and compassion as the central compass point in our life and made a commitment to lessening the suffering of our self and others. In Taking Refuge it is said that our usual wandering about comes to a close and the journey of wandering about in earnest begins. Hakuin’s clear injunction points the way, “here effect and cause are the same; the Way is neither two nor three; with form that is no form, going and coming, we are never astray; with thought that is no thought singing and dancing are the voice of the Law.”

In meditation we discover we’re hitched to each other, even to the so-called inanimate things, the stones and clouds and great seas and mountain ranges. Taking the Refuge Vows is a way of honoring this indivisible connection, deciding to be in the world, in the midst of life, with the realization that our actions are important.  William Stafford, in his poem, Being a Person, expresses the quality of how it is to choose to be here in earnest.

Be a person here. Stand by the river, invoke
the owls. Invoke winter, then spring.
Let any season that wants to come here make its own
call. After that sound goes away, wait.

A slow bubble rises through the earth
and begins to include sky, stars, all space,
even the outracing, expanding thought.
Come back and hear the little sound again.

Suddenly this dream that you are having matches
everyone’s dream, and the result is the world.
If a different call came there wouldn’t be any
world, or you, or the river, or the owls calling.

How you stand here is important. How you
listen for the next things to happen. How you breathe.

Keeping the vows is of course impossible from the start. But we take the vows nonetheless. That's the compact we make in Taking Refuge, we vow to take on this impossible thing – because even to eat a slice of bacon, or a single carrot or leaf of lettuce, is taking life, so there's really no getting around this aspect of living. The gatha, or prayer, we say before each meal acknowledges this truth.

We honor the three treasures
and are grateful for this food
the work of many hands
and the sacrifice of other life.

The vow of not killing might also be kept in another way – through noticing our tendency to kill another person’s speech or thought by interrupting them before they are finished speaking. Men seem especially prone to this unconscious habit when in the company of women.

When we view the vow of not killing in this expanded way we will find that it’s more about taking the time to notice where the life of the moment resides rather than imposing our own will or making prohibitions on ours or other’s actions. When we naturally choose to uphold life rather than to just avoid the negative, to refrain from killing – this is the dharma way of maintaining the spirit of the vow – no matter how imperfectly we perceive the result. When we bring this positive spirit into any activity, that’s upholding the vow not to kill. Not judging or forming opinions about how well we or others keep the vow is also staying true to the spirit of Taking Refuge. 

When we bring the spirit of the vow into any activity, that's keeping the vow. Not judging or forming opinions about how well we or others keep the vows is also staying true to the spirit of the task. 

We can’t keep a vow from a distant or separate stance, or from within an idea or concept, we have to live it to see it through. Ultimately, there's no way to know whether we're making the right choice or not, life is far more subtle and mysterious for such easy conclusions. But we can notice — as we bring other people and beings into our awareness — our actions start to reflect this recognition. We may start having fewer complaints about how things are or see that there’s a newfound kindness in our attitude towards our fellow beings – that some of our usual forms of suffering have lessened. And that is something of value.

Acknowledging our connectedness informs our choices and actions as a fundamental fulcrum to responding with compassion in any circumstance. In the way of the Mahayana this is known as the Bodhisattva Path. It’s good to remember that we Take Refuge from within a dharma community; it’s not done by our efforts alone. The dharma community supports us and provides a home for our refuge to flourish. In gratitude, we make a commitment to support the teaching and our dharma home.

1) I take refuge in Buddha
I take refuge in awakening

2) I take refuge in Dharma
I take refuge in the Way

3) I take refuge in Sangha
            I take refuge in my companions

1) I vow to do no harm
This is the cave where the teachings of all the Buddhas have their source.

2) I vow to do good
This is the way of perfect enlightenment, and the path that everyone walks.

3) I vow to do good for others
This is going beyond any distinction between ordinary and awakened people, freeing yourself and others.

The teacher got his name because he often meditated in a tree. One day an eminent man paid him a visit and exclaimed, “That’s a dangerous seat you have up there!”
“Yours is more dangerous than mine,” said Bird’s Nest.
The visitor said, “I’m the governor of this province, and I don’t see what danger there is in that.”
Bird’s Nest responded, “Then, sir, you don’t know yourself very well. When passions burn and the mind is unsteady, this is the greatest danger.”
The governor then asked, “Well, what does Buddhism teach?”
Bird’s Nest recited the verse from the Dhammapada:
Do no harm
Do all good
Do good for others
This is the teaching of all the Buddhas
The governor was not impressed: “Any three-year-old child knows that.”
Bird’s Nest said, “Any three-year-old child may know it, but even an eighty-year-old has a hard time doing it.”

Here are some things that the ancestors teach us cause harm to others and ourselves when we do them. We look at these vows in the negative form (it’s good not to kill), and in the positive form (it’s good to support life). The negative form takes the shape of a protector or worthy adversary who helps us put delusion to rest; the positive form has the shape of an advisor or benefactor who opens the path we hadn’t conceived of before. Bodhidharma’s and Dogen’s commentaries follow each vow.

1) I vow not to kill
The way things are is subtle and mysterious. In a world where the Dharma is eternal, not having thoughts of taking life is called the Vow of Not Killing.
The Buddha’s seed grows when you don’t take life. Pass on the life of the Buddha’s wisdom and do not kill.

2) I vow not to steal
The way things are is subtle and mysterious. In a world where the Dharma is unattainable, not having thoughts about gaining is called the Vow of Not Stealing.

Just as they are, you and the things of the world are one. The gate to freedom is open.

3) I vow not to misuse sex
The way things are is subtle and mysterious. In a world where the Dharma is unadorned, not creating a veneer of attachment is called the Vow of Not Misusing Sex.
The Three Wheels of yourself, others, and your actions are pure. When you have nothing to desire, you follow the way of all Buddhas.

4) I vow not to lie
The way things are is subtle and mysterious. In a world where the Dharma is inexplicable, not preaching a single word is called the Vow of Not Lying.

The Dharma Wheel turns from the beginning. There is never too much or too little. Everything is wet with dew and the truth is ready to harvest.

5) I vow not to misuse intoxicants
The way things are is subtle and mysterious. In a world where the Dharma is naturally pure, not surrendering to delusions is called the Vow of Not Misusing Intoxicants.

Inebriation has not been brought in yet. Don’t bring it in! That is the great light.

6) I vow not to gossip maliciously
The way things are is subtle and mysterious. In a world where the Dharma is flawless, not expounding upon error is called the Vow of Not Gossiping Maliciously.

In the Buddha Way, there is one path, one teaching, one realization, one practice. Don’t speak carelessly. Don’t find fault.

7) I vow not to put myself above others
The way things are is subtle and mysterious. In a world of the Dharma of equals, not insisting upon I and you is called the Vow of Not Putting Yourself Above Others.

Buddhas and Ancestors realize the vast sky and the great earth. When they appear in their noble body, their vastness has no inside or outside. When they appear in their true body, there is not even a bit of earth on the ground.

8) I vow not to spare the Dharma assets
The way things are is subtle and mysterious. In a world where the Dharma is everywhere, not being stingy about a single thing is called the Vow of Not Sparing the Dharma Assets.

One phrase, one verse: that is the ten thousand things and one hundred grasses. One teaching, one realization: that is all the Buddhas and Ancestors. From the beginning, there has been no hardheartedness at all.

9) I vow not to indulge in anger
The way things are is subtle and mysterious. In a world where the Dharma is selfless, not contriving reality for yourself is called the Vow of Not Indulging in Anger.

Not advancing, not withdrawing, not real, not unreal. There is an ocean of bright clouds. There is an ocean of solemn clouds.

10) I vow not to disparage the Buddha, Dharma or Sangha
The way things are is subtle and mysterious. In a world where the Dharma is one, not holding dualistic thoughts about ordinary beings and sages is called the Vow of not Disparaging the Three Treasures.

The teisho of the actual body is the harbor and the weir. This is the most important thing in the world. Its virtue finds its home in the ocean of essential nature. It is beyond explanation—we just accept it with respect and gratitude.