What if rituals feel contrived to me? Am I still welcome in the sangha?

A student writes:

I have never found it fully authentic to follow a ‘religion’ or the ceremonies of particular religions, but do as a matter of respect for others.

Lama Shenpen responds:

Ritual is different from simple ceremonies. If properly conducted it makes things happen – it shapes the universe if you like.  It isn’t just me doing something from my own side – or a whole lot of people doing something from their own side. The universe is changed by the ritual – it’s become a different reality in some sense.

It’s a matter of mandala principle and what the central principle of the mandala is in any particular instance.

The Refuge ritual invites you into the Mandala of Awakening – right from the Primordial State of Awakening through all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and practitioners up to our immediate connections with Sangha today – it’s one integrated whole. To re-affirm this within the mandala as it manifests today, can only help empower that connection you already have.  There is nothing inauthentic about that.


I have always sense that Buddha, Jesus and others would be a little dismayed of what has become of their memory and names. So, I address ‘Dear Ones’ and the ‘Nameless’ – that to me is what Buddha Nature is. Something utterly Real and always present.

Lama Shenpen:

Yes, and manifesting in this world in all sorts of forms, in other words, mandalas – each drawing beings into their sphere of influence towards the heart of Awakening. Each being comes from a distorted place and so the mandala is constantly having to struggle with forces that have a distorting potential – religious institutions and each individual person alike.

That is how it is when approaching reality from the point of view of a being in samsara.  That is what it is like for practitioners – right up to the eve of Enlightenment and the final attack of Mara!


It feels to me that it would be “contrived” in some way – to go through a Refuge ceremony and public recitation of something that for me, is already a deep and intimate unfolding  – to make a commitment I feel I have already made – not in the words of Buddhism yet, from the depths of my heart. I am hoping it is enough to come as I am to be part of this Sangha – to learn and grow and offer my sincere love and support?

Lama Shenpen:

You can come as you are to be part of this Sangha – especially if you come to learn and grow and offer your sincere love and support.

Maybe as you learn more about the meaning of taking Refuge – more about what Buddha, Dharma, Sangha means – it will change how you feel about formally taking Refuge.  After all if you have always had Refuge in your heart of hearts why wouldn’t you want to express and reaffirm that?  Isn’t it a way of strengthening and supporting the whole mandala?

Everyone comes as they are and it is not a matter of trying to not disappoint me or anyone for that matter – it’s a matter of deepening one’s understanding as time goes on – allowing things to unfold spontaneously and naturally as one’s understanding deepens.

That sounds right to me – not just for you but for everyone.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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