“Taking refuge” refers to a ceremony or ritual in which a person ‘becomes’ a Buddhist, so to speak. It also refers to what all of us do almost all the time, every day. I’ll talk about the ceremony first, and then the other thing.
The Ceremony of Taking Refuge
The following comes from The Shambhala Sun, and I strongly recommend following that link if you really want to get a full picture of what taking refuge is all about.
Chogyam Trungpa wrote:
The refuge ceremony represents a final decision. Acknowledging that the only real working basis is oneself and that there is no way around that, one takes refuge in the Buddha as an example, in the dharma as the path, and in the sangha as companionship. Nevertheless, it is a total commitment to oneself. The ceremony cuts the line that connects the ship to the anchor; it marks the beginning of an odyssey of loneliness. Still, it also includes the inspiration of the preceptor and the lineage. The participation of the preceptor is a kind of guarantee that you will not be getting back into the question of security as such, that you will continue to acknowledge your aloneness and work on yourself without leaning on anyone. Finally you become a real person, standing on your own feet. At that point, everything starts with you.[/important]
Taking refuge day by day, moment by moment
Once you take refuge in the Three Jewels, you are on the Buddhist path, and the whole point of a path is to take you from one place to another. Or so it would seem.
Normally we take refuge in the things we think will make us happy: a nice Sunday morning sitting around listening to G-Strings on WPFW, drinking coffee; working on some project we enjoy doing – or feel we must get done; our boy or girlfriend(s), our family; our images of our-self. All of those things seem pretty normal, but from the FSATFOTI they might be seen as manifestations of The Fetish of The Individual.
All of those things, and most of the things we normally go to for refuge seem to be based and and to support our sense of being an atomist individual.
So I’m sitting here typing this on a Sunday morning, listening to G-strings and something happens to upset my ‘perfect Sunday morning’ – the dogs across the hall start barking, or the baby downstairs starts wailing. And if I try to hold on to taking refuge in the “perfect Sunday morning” I’m going to be unhappy at best. And if I get angry and pound on the walls or the floor, I’m spreading my misery to my neighbors, who might take out their annoyance on the dogs or the babies, or the person the scowl at on the street. Fractal Society in Action.
On the other hand, one could use those “annoyances” as wake up calls, and decide to take refuge in vivid awareness or in Bodhicitta. So just be aware of what is happening in the moment without judging or clinging or pushing it way. As that great Dharma teacher Buckeroo Bonzai said “wherever you go, there you are.”