Buddhism Taking Refuge or How Do We Make Ourselves Feel Safe?

One of our Live Conscious community members recently participated in a Buddhist dharma leadership retreat. He shared with us that in Buddhism taking refuge is a important concept, and he asked us to think about how we take refuge. He explained that we can “take refuge,” or we can “take false refuge.”

What follows is my response to him. Please share your responses.



Dear Michael,

Thank you for sharing  some of your recent experiences from your intensive dharma leadership program.

You have invited us to consider “how we take refuge in our lives.” I wasn’t completely clear about this concept until I explored some Buddhist texts, and I came away with the understanding that instead of looking for any external savior, Buddhism suggests that one can take refuge in oneself. We can protect ourselves. Specifically, Buddhist scripture states, “One truly is the protector of oneself, who else could the protector be?”

The idea of protecting myself feels a bit foreign to me, because I do not feel under siege. But the idea of creating safety for myself is something I relate to. So this is how I approached your question. How do I make myself feel safe? And, since you also asked us “how do we take false refuge,” I asked myself, “how do I fool myself into thinking I’m  safe when I’m really not?”

I fool myself, or take false refuge, when I become overly ambitious. I create a false sense of security by fantasizing about a grand future. This is a very familiar state, one that was primary to my way of being in my teens, twenties, and thirties. The way I know that this is false refuge is because I end up exhausting myself. Being exhausted is not safe. I do this less and less as I live more in the present and less in the future.

I take refuge—make myself feel safe—by honoring my own rhythm. I know what rhythm works well for me. When I honor this, I feel safe.

However, so as not to be overly ambitious, I want to acknowledge that when events in my life have been extremely chaotic, such as when my brother was dying, I did not find refuge—certainly not at that time. My rhythm, even when I could access it, seemed overshadowed by a more powerful rhythm. I know that the more powerful rhythm is also a part of me—a fearful part of me—it is not something external.

Consistently, the best way for me to take refuge is by conducting myself well—maturely. This sounds simple, but for me, it is profound. If you want to know more about what I mean by “maturely,” please read our article, “How To Express Emotions in a Healthy Way.”

Thank you again for asking this question. I’ve been busy so it took me a while to reply, but I connected more deeply with myself as a result of answering your question. I hope and encourage others in the community to consider and respond to your question. I perceive this as a valuable question, deserving of attention.

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