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The History of My Going for Refuge

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by Sangharakshita

... It is probably fair to say that the `Buddhist world' is changing even faster. In recent decades, the daily lives of people whose lifestyles had remained virtually unchanged for millennia have been subjected to major, irrevocable upheavals. And as the traditional Eastern Buddhist world continues to metamorphose almost beyond recognition, Buddhist teachers have been finding their way to the industrial, secular, and spiritually confused West. Perhaps the Dharma will take root here; given the extent of popular interest, there can be no question but that it is being warmly invited so to do. And perhaps some approaches to Dharma practice will be developed in the West which will in time be taken back to the East.

Sangharakshita has emerged in the past two decades as an extremely effective Dharma worker.

The secret of that effectiveness, however, and of the effectiveness of his movement - both in the West and in the East - has nothing to do with luck, little to do with organizational ability, and absolutely nothing to do with the wealth of his disciples! The `secret', such as it is, is to be found in this book. For if the Buddha Dharma is to have a real impact in the modern world it will surely be because its first teachers (and their disciples) will be prepared to make the Going for Refuge, the act of commitment to the Three Jewels, the first priority in their lives. It will be because that Going for Refuge - and its application - will have become more important to them than any detail of lifestyle, more important than the `orthodoxy' of their particular sect or school, more important than a glass of milk at the `wrong' time, more important in fact than anything else on earth.

Nagabodhi Padmaloka February 1988 To discover that within myself which I must obey, to gain some awareness of the law which operates in the organic whole of the internal world, to feel this internal world as an organic whole working out its whole destiny according to some secret vital principle, to know which acts and utterances are a liberation from obstacles and an accession of strength, to acknowledge secret loyalties which one cannot deny without impoverishment and starvation, - this is to possess one's soul indeed, and it is not easy either to do or to explain.

John Middleton Murry (1889 - 1957) 1 Introduction Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Western Buddhist Order, which came into existence on Sunday, 7 April 1968, when in the course of a ceremony held at Centre House, London, nine men and three women committed themselves to the path of the Buddha by publicly `taking' the Three Refuges and Ten Precepts from me in the traditional manner. In the terse phrases of the diary which I kept for the first three and a half months of that year, and which has only recently come to light: Arrived at Centre House at 10.15. Found nothing ready. Cleared and arranged room, set up shrine etc. People started coming, including bhikkhus. Started at 11.15. Welcome by Jack [Austin]. Had lunch with bhikkhus and Jack while Mike Rogers conducted first meditation. Emile [Boin] very worried, as Indians who had undertaken to provide lunch did not turn up until very late. At 12 o'clock spoke on `The Idea of the Western Buddhist Order and the Upasaka Ordination'. Then, while others were having lunch, spoke to the press. Many photographs taken. Guided group discussion. Meditation. Tea. More press people and more photographs. At 5.30 spoke on `The Bodhisattva Vow'. At 7 o'clock conducted ordination ceremony, which lasted till 8.15. Mike Ricketts, Mike Rogers, Sara [Boin], Emile [Boin], Terry O'Regan, Stephen [Parr], Marghareta [Kahn], Geoffrey [Webster], John Hipkin, Roy Brewer, Penny [Neild-Smith], and David Waddell received their [public] ordinations. Everything went off very smoothly and success=fully. All most pleased.

A further (visual) record of the occasion is provided by four colour slides taken by my friend Terry Delamare. The first slide is a close up of the shrine, the centre of which is occupied by a sedent bronze image of Amitayus, the Buddha of Infinite Life, flanked by slightly smaller images of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and Manjugosha, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. Behind the images is a miniature Japanese screen of white silk brocade; in front, an arrangement of white carnations, irises, lilies, and narcissi. The second and third slides show me giving one or other of my lectures, while in the fourth and last I am about to place the white kesa of the Order round the neck of Sara Boin (Sujata), who kneels on a cushion before me with joined hands. Since the seven other members of the Order who appear in the slide are not wearing kesas Sara may well have been the first person to be ordained.

Immediately after the ceremony I hurriedly dismantled the shrine and with Stephen (Ananda) caught the 9.50 train to Haslemere, where we spent four tranquil days at a semi-derelict cottage in the extensive grounds of Quarter=maine and where I worked on my memoirs and wrote a few `Chinese' poems. One of these poems read: Beyond the deserted paddock, a dark wood; Before our secluded cottage, wet strips of green and brown. Watching the incense burn in this quiet room We have forgotten the passing of days and hours.

We were not allowed to forget them for long, however. On the afternoon of the fourth day Ananda had to return to London and to his work as a recording engineer at Bush House, while I had to go over to Keffolds - the Ockenden Venture's other property in Haslemere - and lead the FWBO Easter retreat. This retreat was attended by several of the new Order members, some of whom indeed made themselves useful in various ways. The Western Buddhist Order had not only come into existence but had started functioning.

But what was this Western Buddhist Order - or Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha, as it was subsequently known in India - that after a year or more of preliminary work had suddenly blossomed lotus-like from the mud of the metropolis? Essentially it was a body of people who had gone for Refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha and who, by virtue of that common spiritual commitment, now constituted a spiritual community - a spiritual community that symbolized, on the mundane level, the same transcendental Spiritual Community or Sangha which was the third of those same Three Jewels to which they had gone for Refuge. Moreover, the twelve people who made up the Western Buddhist Order had not only gone for Refuge to the Three Jewels: they had `taken' the Refuges and Precepts from me or had, in other words, been ordained by me. Their understanding of what was meant by Going for Refuge must therefore have coincided with mine, at least to some extent. In what sense, then, did I myself Go for Refuge? How did I understand that central and definitive act of the Buddhist life and how had I arrived at that understanding? On an occasion like this, when we have assembled in (relatively) large numbers to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the spiritual community that forms the heart of the new Buddhist movement we have inaugurated, it is no doubt appropriate that I should cast a backward glance over the various stages by which the meaning, the significance, and the importance of Going for Refuge became clear to me. It is no doubt appropriate that I should endeavour to trace the History of My Going for Refuge, and that, having done this, I should share with you some of my current thinking as regards my own relation to the Order and the relation of the Order itself to the rest of the Buddhist world.

In tracing the History of My Going for Refuge I shall not simply be tracing a series of logical deductions from - or even of more and more extensive practical applications of - a concept or principle compre=hended in its fullness, and in all its bearings, from the very beginning. My progression here has resembled that of Yeats' butterfly rather than that of his gloomy bird of prey.

Indeed in order to make clear what follows, or at least avoid misunderstandings, at this point it becomes necessary for me to say a few words about my personal psychology. Some years ago an astrologer friend drew my birth chart, and according to this chart I had most of my planets below the horizon, which apparently meant that the influences which these planets represented were operating not in the field of consciousness but below it.1 Though I have never taken astrology very seriously, or indeed had any real interest in the subject, reflecting on this fact I nonetheless came to the conclusion that the course of my life had been determined by impulse and intuition rather than by reason and logic and that, for me, there could be no question of first clarifying an idea or concept and then acting upon it, i.e. acting upon it in its clarified form. An idea or concept was clarified in the process of its being acted upon. This was certainly what happened in the case of my Going for Refuge. The full significance of that supremely important Act became apparent to me only gradually as, over the years, I acted upon the imperfect idea of Going for Refuge which I already had and as, my idea of it being clarified to some extent, I again acted upon it and it was again clarified - the act becoming more adequate to the idea as the idea itself became clearer, and the idea becoming clearer as the act became more adequate. In tracing the History of My Going for Refuge, therefore, I shall be tracing the history of a process of discovery which follows a rather erratic course and which consists, besides, of a series of slow, sometimes virtually imperceptible develop=ments wherein are no dramatic breakthroughs except, perhaps, at the very beginning. So slow and so little perceptible, indeed, were some of those develop=ments, that they can be discerned only with difficulty, so that it is fortunate that some of them found expression ...

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