Many people who haven't studied Buddhism may think that's emblematic of the path. After all, if you're more calm, if you're not acting out the drama, if you're not your Self, then you must be a zombie, right?
Oh so wrong.
Being a Buddhist has made me more myself because I'm not as concerned about what others think about my Self. I feel connected to my buddha nature, my basic goodness, my center -- which is also your center, and takes me out of the anxious buzzing in my head where I wonder what you think of me, where I feel a need to prove my Self is worthy, where there's any question that it may not be. (Note: Am I always in that place? No. But I've been there enough to feel confident that it's there even when my awareness is elsewhere. That's why I meditate.)
I don't think anyone who knew me before would say I am more zombie-like. I think, in fact, that I'm more comfortable with being a little outrageous and daring, maybe even more fun.
Becoming a Buddhist doesn't mean giving up your personal quirks, although it means looking at how attached you are to those quirks and why.
Taking refuge -- which is when you officially become a Buddhist -- doesn't mean that you give up your own thoughts and blindly accept everything that teachers say. The Buddha himself told his followers not to believe anything just because it was in scripture or tradition or said by a teacher. "When you know in yourselves that a teaching is wholesome, blameless, wise, and when put into effect leads to happiness and well-being, that teaching you can believe," he is said to have in the Kalama Sutta.
Christina Feldman, in her excellent book "Woman Awake: Women Practicing Buddhism," writes:
Nurturing our inner capacity to question and inquire is essential in developing a path of spirituality that recognizes our uniqueness. A part of that questioning is learning how to honor our doubts. We must not be cowed or intimidated by the weight of authority or traditions if we are to be enriched by them rather than be oppressed by them.I took the refuge vow and got my cool Tibetan name four years ago. But it was a formality. I had already been saying a refuge vow and a bodhisattva vow every morning as part of my own practice. Why make it formal, say it before a preceptor? It's like getting married -- there's a force behind stating your intention in public and in accord with the ritual of the culture.
Having been raised a Roman Catholic, I was wary of surrendering to any ideal, no matter how admirable. In Buddhism, you take refuge in the example of the teacher, the teaching -- which you must experience for yourself for them to be true and valid, and the community.
This three-part refuge vow comes from Thich Nhat Hahn. I like it because it clearly states what you're taking refuge in, how you live it, and that it's in you.
I take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way in this life.
I take refuge in the Dharma, the way of understanding and of love.
I take refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness.
Dwelling in the refuge of Buddha, I clearly see the path of light and beauty in the world.
Dwelling in the refuge of Dharma, I learn to open many doors on the path of transformation.
Dwelling in the refuge of Sangha, shining light that supports me, keeping my practice free of obstruction.
Taking refuge in the Buddha in myself, I aspire to help all people recognize their own awakened nature, realizing the Mind of Love.
Taking refuge in the Dharma in myself, I aspire to help all people fully master the ways of practice, and walk together on the path of liberation.
Taking refuge in the Sangha in myself, I aspire to help all people build four-fold communities,* to embrace all beings and support their transformation.
*monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen
dakini image from sacredmysteries.com
Here is my friend Pablo Das singing about refuge.
Here are monks chanting the refuge in sanskrit.
Here is information about taking the refuge or bodhisattva vows at the Interdependence Project April 7-8.