In Christianity, many people have conversion stories. They were sitting in a crowd at church camp and the presence of God was revealed. They felt a calling to the altar—a time to accept Jesus into their heart.
Do Buddhists have conversion stories? Is the concept of conversion antithetical to many Buddhist traditions?
In Buddhism, there is no God to convert to. There is only the self. The mind.
Though I have called myself a Buddhist for about a decade, I never thought that I converted to Buddhism. I simply believed in the practice of meditation and the values mindfulness possesses. I may have stated the phrase, “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha,” but this phrase seemed fairly empty to me for many years, until I converted to Vajrayana Buddhism.
I don’t always know how to describe Vajrayana to a person. Many friends and scholars refer to it as “Lamaism” and something that isn’t Buddhist at all. I hope my blog can change this stereotype at some point.
When I first took refuge in Tibetan Buddhism, there was, of course, the psychological effect of the lama in the front providing the instructions, the cutting of the hair ceremony, and prostrations for those converting. All these concepts were symbolic to me and held no deep meaning of a spiritual experience. After all, ultimately, I must take refuge in my own mind.
Any book or website on Karma Kagyu traditions might give you an idea about the next step in Vajrayana Buddhism. While we don’t like to discuss our conversations with our “Lama,” to the public eye, it is not out of secrecy but to respect the lineage, to limit pride and ego, and to keep other seekers from confusing my path with theirs, for we all have different karmic paths in the tradition to become a fully recognized Buddha.
My path began by saying the six-line refuge prayer 111,111 times. The prayer translates in English to the following:
I take refuge in all the holy lamas.
I take refuge in the assembly of the yidams.
I take refuge in all the Buddhas.
I take refuge in the teachings of the dharma.
I take refuge in the members of the sangha.
I take refuge in the herukas, dakinas, dharmapalas, and guardians protecting the wisdom eye of knowledge.
Being a “protestant” Buddhist, I refused to say this phrase without emotion or impact behind them. In the protestant world, we don’t always like to worship unless we feel like it. However, as I began saying these words quite often, a conversion to Buddhism began.
I gave up my protestant pride and reluctance.
I stopped feeling some impatience in my daily life.
My mind began to settle, as if this prayer became a mantra for compassion.
My life slowly connected to the Buddha, dharma, and sangha.
And, unlike an instant conversion to a religion, I began to see myself not only as a Buddhist but view the world through a Buddhist lens.
Finally, I realized that though I take refuge in my own mind, I also take refuge in the history before me. If I am not ready to be completely balanced as a human being, I can integrate the balance of the Vajrayana tradition to complete me. When I can become like Buddha, my mind will be Buddha, as it already is underneath the dump and lard I have placed over my true Diamond path.
Ultimately, I came to trust the mantra, devote myself to it, and have great faith in it!
Life is impermanent. There are some days I cannot say the refuge prayer with any devotion whatsoever, but I do what my teachers have told me. Even when the feeling isn’t there, I must continue to practice the path.
The refuge prayer is starter Vajrayana Buddhism for me. Some refer to it as a preliminary before moving to the more complex traditions. I might say this special preliminary has opened my doors of perceptions widely for other traditional teachings to follow.
Yes, a Buddhist can be converted. I am a converted Vajrayana Buddhist, and I am proud (not in the ego sense) of receiving such rare teachings in a place not always connected to other religions beyond monotheistic ones.
I take refuge!