It happens, on certain winter days, that we feel exhausted, without having made any considerable effort; melancholy without knowing why; unable to distinguish between what is important or urgent and what is less so; disoriented, overwhelmed by the whirlwind, ready to call our doctor and, why not, the SAMU. What would a child do in our place? He would rush into his mother's arms, crying bitterly. What would his mother do? She would welcome him to her bosom, would say sweet nothings to him. But time has passed, the mother has disappeared, so what to do?
The real refuge to our fears is within ourselves
Let us sit down for a moment, just a moment and remember that day when, desiring to commit ourselves to Buddhism, we took refuge. Perhaps we held back a few tears, before abandoning ourselves to the joy of knowing intimately that, from now on, we would never be alone again, since by this act, we joined a sangha, a community of thought and heart. Let us concentrate all our remaining energy on the image of a benevolent master, our master, who on that day appointed us a protector, whom we can visualize, the Buddha himself, smiling, luminous!
Over time, we learned that this Buddha, this benevolent teacher, was none other than ourselves, in short that the solution was not outside of us, unattainable, but as present and near as our breath. And besides, let's talk about our breath! Exhale, inhale, be nothing more than this bellows aware of itself, able to follow its rhythm, to circulate the air from our lungs to the limits of our body, and in particular where it hurts. We may have told you about meditation, maybe you practiced it in calm weather, but it's now, when it pitches and rolls that it takes on its full meaning! She is the medication, she cleans up the useless, she throws anger and pain away! Just by breathing? For starters, yes! It is both our refuge and our GPS on the way to the refuge. Impossible to miss it! When it starts to get better, we'll smile at the triviality of this observation, why would we need a refuge if everything was still going well? Because we don't escape suffering like that, our own and that of others! It is therefore to this first truth, this first evidence, to which we have responded – or perhaps not yet, but there is always time – when, without necessarily knowing why, like the child we were talking about, we took refuge.
What drives us to take refuge
When I took refuge, I was in a period of great confusion, including some physical suffering. On the occasion of a report that I had been asked about a center that was being created in Burgundy, I had the chance to meet Kalou Rinpoche. Impressive ! But from there to take refuge… I thought that it was perhaps necessary, possibly, to prepare me there. And then, during a session I was attending, Ben, one of the humorous apprentice disciples, nudged me with his elbow as a monk passed by announcing that Kalu Rinpoche would collectively give refuge to those who wanted it, telling me "You should go, it doesn't hurt and it costs nothing". Faced with such evidence, I went there. That was forty years ago!
Since then, I have repeated this taking refuge, received several initiations, taken vows… But, at the start, it was the idea of an inner journey that motivated me.
In certain traditions of Buddhism, the "taking of refuge" can appear as a religious, cultural, ritualized gesture, but, while sticking to the sources of the tradition, it is less a question for us Westerners of a "conversion" than an awareness.
Something is wrong in our lives, in our beliefs, something is missing and yet, we sometimes feel a sense of overflow! We come to think that it is necessary to take off, to leave a habit, to leave there a behavior, acquired certainties. This soul-searching that challenges us begins with our need to respond to the Socratic injunction “Know thyself”. But we must add to him: “And leave yourself! “So you have to leave, start and, sometimes, the path can seem uncertain.
Over time, we learned that this Buddha, this benevolent teacher, was none other than ourselves, in short that the solution was not outside of us, unattainable, but as present and close as our breath.
The shelter promises nothing! It is the pure affirmation of our wish not to continue to suffer, not to continue to accept the suffering of others. And take action to achieve it. It's a hell of a risk taking, we are constantly stepping out of our comfort zone, but fortunately, we are not alone. In most schools of Buddhism, we are invited to see the Buddha in the person of the master who transmits the teaching. Thus, gradually, in all those around us. And finally in ourselves.
Yes, it takes trust! But let's not confuse everything: we are miles away from the spirit of submission. It is above all a question of a spiritual discipline that one gives to oneself, which passes through one's own reflection, a careful evaluation of one's strengths, of the steps taken and of the path that remains to be taken. I remember this recommendation from the Dalai Lama: “Be demanding with your masters, because through their teachings, it is a question of learning how to light your own lamp”.
To take refuge, therefore, is not to deny oneself or to conform, it is simply to feel present, attentive, acting. The Buddha, the teachings, the spiritual friends are there to accompany you. This is how the Sanskrit or Tibetan formula that you invoke must be read and recited: “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha”.
To be continued.