The Triple Gem is a Three-Legged Stool

Most Buddhist converts are turning away from Christianity. As such they tend to avoid anything that looks like Christianity. This means organized worship services as well as rituals in general.

I can't tell how often I see someone write on-line that they are interested in Buddhism without religious trappings. hmmm. That doesn't sound much like Buddhism to me, but if it suits you go for it.

When Buddhists Take Refuge, it's much like Christian Baptism. It's signaling to the world that you are indeed a follower of the Middle Way and the teaching given to us by the Shakyamuni Buddha.

What do we take Refuge in?

The Buddha: The obvious relative truth here is that we take Refuge in the person that was our first teacher. However, he's dead so in that sense, WTF? It goes deeper than just the historical Buddha. We take refuge in our own Buddha Nature in the thread f pure enlightened being that lives within each of that binds us all together with all sentient life and the rocks and the sky and the sea as well. When we take Refuge in the Buddha we take Refuge in the Divinity of all things great and small.

The Dharma: The teachings of the historical Buddha are the obvious answer here. Some strict Theravadan scholars would conted that that is the only possible answer. However, some of the most profound Buddhist Scriptures weren't direct teachings of the Buddha. They might be framed as such but there's no logical proof that they were. Most Buddhists don't care too much what the Source is as the Dharma flows from within us. Our teachers aren't always scholars or priests and the Dharma isn't always expressed in words.

The Sangha: This, I think, is the most troublesome for Western Buddhist converts. Books are avaiable at book stores nationwide and to your doorstep from on-line retailers. However, without someone to discuss your Practice with you're missing out. Sometimes all we need are sitting buddies. Twitter and the Online Meditation Crew works well for that. There are a plethora of social networking options for baby Buddhists out there. However when it comes down to it, that's just not how we do what we do. Anyone can support your practice from the Bodhisattva that cut you off in traffic to the Arahant that dropped that paper cup that you picked up. Are these people your Sangha? In an absolute sense, yes they are. However I think you do need to form personal connections to help support your practice and give you a place to bounce ideas off of. Plus you need someone to tell you are messing up or on the right track. There's all kinds of reasons to Practice with others and all kinds of forms that a Sangha can take even virtual forms. One of mine is spread over the width and height of the whole USA. Those guys are great. We think alike, but I still need a teacher with some years on me. Someone who's been walking the path a while to set me straight. 

If YOU need someone to talk to about your practice, I'll be happy to talk with you, via e-mail, phone, skype or over a cup of coffee. I'm no expert but I'll support you if you support me and together we'll skip down the road of samsara to the place where we already are.

Gassho.
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