Taking Refuge

Refuge Jane O'CallaghanA mild, dry late December Sunday. I woke with an unusual sense of anticipation and well-being after one of those so-so Christmas parties, all chit chat and ever-so-slightly forced cheer. What’s happening? Then I remembered. Refuge Ceremony!

I and seven other refugees, all familiar from previous events, gathered at the center for a couple of hours of quiet meditation in preparation for the afternoon’s formalities.

We were invited individually into an interview room where Acharya David Hope, resplendent in his ceremonial regalia, and Shastri Jane Hope received our formal requests to take refuge and astutely sized us up for our new Buddhist names, taking our measure like skilled tailors.

This was clearly a serious undertaking but there was nevertheless the characteristic supportive Shambhala vibe. Taking refuge for me seemed like a logical next step on the path. As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes in “The Heart of the Buddha”, it marked an end to the tiring cycle of ‘spiritual shopping’: “By taking this particular vow we end our shopping in the spiritual supermarket. We decide to stick to a particular brand for the rest of our lives. We choose to stick to a particular diet and flourish on it…we take a definite vow to enter a discipline of choicelessness – which saves us a lot of money, a lot of energy and lots and lots of superfluous thinking.”

For me this came as something to be welcomed. I had become increasingly weary of the illusion of choice and freedom that fuels the samsaric world, the idea that there is something better around the corner that will magically rescue you from something else.

In the ceremony that followed, we individually took refuge in the Buddha (as example), the dharma (as path) and the sangha (as companionship on the way). David Hope snaps his fingers and in that moment of magical transmission you become part of a 2500-year old tradition and receive your new name, written by Jane Hope in beautiful calligraphy on a scroll.

Behind the waiting refugees the room had quietly and mysteriously filled up with kind people who had come to bear witness to this event – and toast us all with a few glasses of wine afterwards. It was a beautiful end to a beautiful day, and the good feelings generated buoyed me up over the Christmas period, which (for me at least) can be a bit of an emotional minefield, full of hidden traps that need to be negotiated with care.

I was intrigued by my new Buddhist name which, as Rinpoche wrote, “represents an encouragement for some kind of development in your personality – some sense of your individual style in approaching the dharma.” Tashi Choga means ‘Auspicious Dharma Joy’ which sounds very grand. But Tashi is also a common Tibetan and Sherpa name (it appears frequently on Everest mountaineering lists) that can be more colloquially translated as “Lucky”. I didn’t have a saint’s name, I had a dog’s name! What fun! And it provided me with plenty of food for thought. Maybe I am lucky after all.

By Jane O’Callaghan

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