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The Battle Between Good and…Also Good (or, A Jewish Buddhist Refuge Vow, Part II)


Last week was not so much fun, let me put it that way. In case you’re just tuning in now, I was struggling a great deal trying to figure out whether or not to take my Buddhist refuge vow this past weekend. Since the vow was taking place right in the middle of Passover, it brought up a lot of questions for me about my Jewish identity, and I felt anxious all week as I tried to decide.

Taking the vow, not taking it—both decisions seemed to carry with them huge importance regarding who I was, what kind of person I was choosing to be, who I was aligning myself with, who I was letting down, what it meant for my future. Even though everyone I talked to told me there was no right or wrong decision, I couldn’t seem to frame it that way in my own mind.

I was at war with myself. On one side, the “good” side, was the Emily committed to her Buddhist path, making healthy choices for herself, meditating daily, and working for the benefit of others. On the other side, the “good-in-a-different-way” side, was the Emily who recently realized she didn’t fully understand the label “Buddhist” and wasn’t ready to take that on. Though I knew in some sense both sides were good and contained wisdom, I didn’t think I could be both. One of them had to come out the permanent victor that would shape me for the rest of my life.

During all this, I felt the solidity of (or my attempt to solidify) my sense of self. I felt it very strongly. I felt it very strongly and because I didn’t know which self I was, I had little confidence in my own discernment.

So, as is my habitual pattern with most big decisions I make, (big decisions often turn into this war between two opposing pieces of myself), I ran my thought process by others first. Because since I don’t know which side of my self is the correct self, I don’t trust myself to make big decisions, even when those decisions don’t affect anyone else except for me. Writing this now, I can see the false dichotomy I created, but in the thick of it, it was hard to see. So I talked to a lot of people about my dilemma, all week, multiple times. A week of looping the same story over and over, hoping I’d get that AHA! moment I was looking for that would point me in the doubtless right direction.

I noticed how I reflexively placed each comment on last week’s blog post in the mental category “FOR” or “AGAINST” Emily-taking-the-vow (even if the post didn’t explicitly give an opinion, I gave it one.) I did this with people I talked to last week as well:

Person A: Oh, I’m so excited for you to take your refuge vow! I can’t wait to hear your Buddhist name.

My reaction to Person A: I like this person! They are fun and pretty and I want them to like me. It would be so fun to share my Buddhist name with this person. Yay! I should take the vow.

Person B: I’ve never really been into vows, but it’s a personal choice.

My reaction to Person B: I like this person! They are smart and question the status quo. I want this person to think I am also smart. I bet this person would respect me if I didn’t take the vow.

Person C: If you’re this confused about it, maybe you should wait.

My reaction to Person C: I like this person! They are wise and I trust them. If I don’t wait, this person is going to think I am crazy, so I should wait.

Person D: You might be overthinking this.

My reaction to Person D: I like this person! They are also wise and I trust them. If I don’t take the vow, this person is going to think I am totally neurotic, so maybe I should take it.

Notice how none of my reactions have much to do with what’s best for me. I kept disappearing into each person’s opinion. 

Towards the end of the week I was exasperated. If only there was one person I could totally trust, who knew my mind completely, who knew my inner thoughts and emotions, who knew the right decision for me.

Oh wait, that person exists.

It’s me.

I knew it wasn't time to take the vow, that I needed to get more clarity, to find out what all this stuff means to me. That would just take time and continued practice. I didn't like that decision because it didn't feel like a decision. It felt like waiting, and waiting is hard. 

I listened to myself and chose not to take the vow this past weekend.

I’m still committed to my practice. I’ve still meditated every day since the day of the vow I did not take. I’m still on this path, and I’m still exploring the dharma’s role in my everyday life. While I don’t yet know, for myself, whether it is possible to be both Jewish and Buddhist, I know it is possible for both of the sides of me engaged in this past week’s battle to exist simultaneously, without fighting one another. They are not really opposed in the first place. 

At last night's class on Spiritual Awakening NOT Spiritual Bypassing at IDP, Dr. Jeffrey Rubin referred to the Rumi poem The Guesthouse, "let them in, let them all in." Every part of me is on this path, and I'm working on letting all of me in.


(Daria image from Screened.com)

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Love this

It took me 2 years from the time I asked my zen teacher if I could take the Precepts to actually taking the Precepts in the formal ceremony. I read books, took my time sewing my rakusu and let it all sink in. When my teacher finally set the date, I went through a lot of emotions. It's such a personal experience and I think everyone approaches it differently. Actually, I think that is essential. Whether you take the vows or not, or whether you take them years from now, is all up to you. Thankfully. :)


"Towards the end of the week I was exasperated. If only there was one person I could totally trust, who knew my mind completely, who knew my inner thoughts and emotions, who knew the right decision for me.

Oh wait, that person exists.

It’s me."

So good! Wisdom. Mmmm! (I'm therapist moo-ing at you)

Welcome Monk

It's said that in the Buddha's lifetime, the vows weren't so elaborate as they are in some traditions today.

A student simply asked, "Can I take refuge with you?", and the Buddha replied, "Welcome, Monk."

Thanks for sharing. I'm reminded of something Robert Thurman often says and which I keep in mind here at the IDP -- "We don't need more Buddhists, we need more awakened beings."

I love this, Kim. Thank you

I love this, Kim. Thank you for sharing this. It resonates.

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