Community Highlights

'Going For Refuge' As Idiom And Metaphor by Dhivan Thomas Jones

On Tue, 22 October, 2013 - 17:21
Candradasa's picture
A thought-provoking essay on the language associated with a central feature of our community’s approach to the Dharma, by the excellent Dhivan Thomas Jones. Dhivan is an impressive essayist, editor, scholar, linguist, translator, poet, speaker, and man! He’s got a great blog of his own and also writes for the Western Buddhist Review here on The Buddhist Centre Online.

Read the full essay here

“Anyone familiar with Buddhism will know that Buddhists say that they ‘go for refuge’ to the Buddha, the Dharma (the Buddha’s teaching), and the Sangha (the Buddhist community). This usage goes back to the time of the Buddha, so it is rightly hallowed. Moreover, in the Triratna Buddhist movement, in which I practise, going for refuge is seen as especially important, because not only is it the one thing that all Buddhists have in common but, as Sangharakshita puts it, it is the central and defining act of the Buddhist life. [1] However, it seems to me that the English expression ‘going for refuge’ is also a piece of jargon, and a good example of ‘Buddhist Hybrid English’, that is, an expression which nobody else uses except Buddhists. [2] In this essay I want to explore how this expression ‘going for refuge’ is (i) an inexact translation of (ii) an ancient Indian idiom, which (iii) even in its day was a metaphor in Buddhism. I want to open up some imaginative space in which to explore how to give better expression in English to the central and defining act of the Buddhist life.

[1] This is explored by Sangharakshita in The History of My Going For Refuge, Windhorse Publications, Glasgow, 1988.

[2] See Paul J. Griffiths, ‘Buddhist Hybrid English: Some Notes on Philology and Hermeneutics for Buddhologists’, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 4 (1981) 2:17–32. Buddhist Hybrid English is ‘a dialect comprehensible only to the initiate’ (p.17).”
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