Going for Refuge

There may come a time when you ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’

Do not be concerned; the answer is, ‘I am someone who is Going for Refuge.’

My teacher Akampiya said this to me one day as she described the disorientation that can occur when we choose to commit to deepening our practice… for this is, essentially, what “Going for Refuge” means. If you’re not familiar with this concept, scroll down to the “What is Going for Refuge” section 🙂

A few milestones in my Going for Refuge

A handful of school teachers taught me various forms of meditation as a young child, and again in high school… though I don’t recall any of them ever calling what we did “meditation.”

In the early ’90s, as a teenager, I started reading books about Buddhism I discovered on a friend’s father’s bookshelf. I also read Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums without having a clue what “Dharma” was; if I’m honest I don’t remember a single thing about that book other than he was living in a fire tower, which was once a dream of mine.

Lots opened up for me in 1998. I wrote a big long post about that experience; it was a pivotal time in my life! I’ve since shredded all my journals from that time but I remember feverishly copying paragraphs and paragraphs from Buddhist texts into them.

James Fox, Founder of the Prison Yoga project

James Fox was my first formal yoga and Dharma teacher. He actively encouraged me to deepen my meditation practice, and I am eternally grateful to him for that.

In 2007, James suggested I attend a Buddhist meditation retreat at Spirit Rock, an Insight Meditation Center. In the years following, I attended several 5-day, mostly-silent retreats there, but never managed to connect with a regular Sangha.

Having moved from California to New Zealand in 2016 very much looking for Sangha, I finally walked through the doors of the Auckland Buddhist Centre in February 2018.

I became a Mitra (“friend” of the Triratna Buddhist Order) through a beautiful Mitra Ceremony in December of the same year, and asked to begin the Ordination training program in August of 2019.

At the end of 2021 I moved from Auckland to Thames. A small town of ~8,000, Thames is home to a lovely and tight-knit Triratna Sangha who collectively manage a Buddhist Centre, a right livelihood business that’s both inspired by Buddhist principles and very much connected to the wider community, and a retreat centre on a beautiful piece of land that offers facilities for both group and solitary retreats.

What is Going for Refuge?

The term “Going for Refuge” has multiple meanings for Triratna Buddhists. It is often used as shorthand for “Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels” (which are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha). According to Triratna, this is “the act by which one becomes a Buddhist.”

When Mitras — those who have decided they are Buddhists and have formally become “Friends of the Order” — ask to join the Ordination training process, in New Zealand we are called “GFR Mitras,” where “GFR” refers to the fact that we have decided to Go for Refuge. (In other parts of the world, they changed this nomenclature to “TFO Mitras,” short for “Mitras who are Training For Ordination.” This resonates more strongly with me, as I am less motivated by “getting Ordained” than I am by deepening my practice and study of the Dharma in community with spiritual friends.)

During Pujas and other ceremonies, we chant Buddhist Refuges and Precepts in the ancient Pali language:

The Refuges in Pali

Buddham Saranam Gacchami
Dhammam Saranam Gacchami
Sangham Saranam Gacchami

Dutiyampi Buddham Saranam Gacchami
Dutiyampi Dhammam Saranam Gacchami
Dutiyampi Sangham Saranam Gacchami

Tatiyampi Buddham Saranam Gacchami
Tatiyampi Dhammam Saranam Gacchami
Tatiyampi Sangham Saranam Gacchami

English translation

To the Buddha for refuge I go.
To the Dharma for refuge I go.
To the Sangha for refuge I go.

For the second time to the Buddha for refuge I go.
For the second time to the Dharma for refuge I go.
For the second time to the Sangha for refuge I go.

For the third time to the Buddha for refuge I go.
For the third time to the Dharma for refuge I go.
For the third time to the Sangha for refuge I go.