Taking Refuge

Excerpt from “Family Dharma:Taking Refuge: ” by Beth Roth - FULL ARTICLE

In the Buddhist tradition, Taking Refuge means to cultivate an unshakable sense of safety, protection, and belonging. Taking Refuge provides a context for our spiritual journey. We take three refuges, which are often called The Three Jewels or The Triple Gem: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

In the Buddhist tradition, each of the Three Refuges can be interpreted in a variety of ways. By considering these different interpretations, we discover how each refuge resonates for us, what its deeper meaning is, and how it might best serve us in our lives.

The first refuge, “I take refuge in the Buddha,” can mean bringing to mind the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in what is now the border region between India and Nepal approximately 2,500 years ago. This Buddha vowed to discover the end of suffering, and by his own efforts achieved enlightenment. He then spent the rest of his life sharing his realizations with others. We can draw inspiration from this person, a human being like ourselves.

Taking Refuge in the Buddha can also mean taking refuge in another inspirational figure. This could be an historical or contemporary person, a deity, or a mythological being. It is someone who embodies boundless wisdom and compassion, in whose light and presence we feel held and loved. This being offers us a strong sense of connection and belonging, and provides strength and safety with which to celebrate our joy and experience our pain.

Taking Refuge in the Buddha can also mean taking refuge in a very specific quality of ourselves – our true nature, which contains our potential for awakening. Often called our Buddha-nature, it is the capacity to use this lifetime to grow in wisdom and compassion, in order to achieve personal happiness and for the benefit of all beings. As Thich Nhat Hanh interprets this refuge for the Western practitioner, “I take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way in this life.”

The second refuge, “I take refuge in the Dharma” also has a literal and historical meaning, as the Dharma refers to the actual teachings of the Buddha. The Dharma includes The Four Noble Truths that illuminate suffering and the end of suffering; The Noble Eightfold Path that describes how to live wisely and create the conditions for happiness and peace; The Four Foundations of Mindfulness that explain how to cultivate the quality of attention that allows us to be present in our lives; and Karma, often called the law of cause and effect, that shows how all actions have consequences, and helps us to understand that our thoughts, speech and behavior will either give rise to greater happiness or create further suffering.

To take refuge in the Dharma has other interpretations as well. It can mean to take refuge in the truths that have been revealed by our everyday experiences, the laws of nature, or the principles that govern our individual and communal lives.

To take refuge in the Dharma can also mean to take refuge in skillful means, in our capacity to live in harmony with the truths of human existence. One example of skillful means is practicing the art of the Sacred Pause – that brief moment of non-action when we stop all activity in order to fully inhabit time. In this moment we are still enough to feel the body and the breath, and quiet enough to notice thoughts and emotions. This Pause, practiced repeatedly over time, enables us to interrupt automatic pilot mode. We realize we have options. We learn to replace destructive habitual reactivity with healthier, consciously chosen behaviors.

Other examples of skillful means include training in the Five Precepts of ethical conduct to live a life of non-harming, enjoying and protecting nature and the natural world, and practicing lovingkindess meditation for ourselves and others. To take refuge in the Dharma means to trust in our ability to engage mindfully with the entirety of our life. When we take refuge in the Dharma, however we interpret it, we embark on the path that leads to the end of suffering. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “I take refuge in the Dharma, the way of understanding and love.”

The Third Refuge, “I take refuge in the Sangha,” also has an historical or literal meaning. In the days of the Buddha, the Sangha was the community of monks and nuns who dedicated their monastic life to spiritual growth through meditation and study of the Buddha’s teachings. In the most fundamental way, taking refuge in the Sangha means to remind ourselves that we are not alone. It is to recognize that we are in good company. We belong to all those who long to awaken, who seek practices and understandings that lead to peace and happiness for all beings. Our Sangha may be our family, our friends, our meditation group, our religious community, our pets, or even our favorite place in nature. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “I take refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness.” He further explains, “When members of a community live in harmony, their Sangha is holy. Don’t think that holiness is only for the Pope or the Dalai Lama. Holiness is within you and within your Sangha. When a community sits, breathes, walks and eats together in mindfulness, holiness is there… Because the problems facing the world are so great today, …the art of Sangha-building is the most important work we can do.”

Like all spiritual practices, Taking Refuge is a continuous process, a gradual learning. As with breathing practice, walking meditation, lovingkindness practice or living in harmony with the precepts, we take refuge over and over again. We make progress, we slip backwards and sideways, we get distracted, we get discouraged, we get elated, and we begin again. As the practice of Taking Refuge becomes established in our lives, its meaning and significance deepen. Tara Brach describes this process in her book Radical Acceptance. “As with any spiritual practice, developing a genuine sense of refuge can take time. Over the years, taking refuge nourishes a profound and liberating faith in our belonging. The Buddha taught that our fear is great, but greater still is the truth of our connectedness.”

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Only One Drop Needed

“Verses of Consecration” from “Chanting of the Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh

This water’s shape is round or square according to the container that holds it.

In the spring warmth, it is liquid; in the winter cold, it is solid.

When its path is open, it flows.

When its path is obstructed, it stands quiet.

How vast it is, yet its source is so small it is difficult to find.

How wonderful it is in its streams, which flow endlessly.

In the jade rivulets, the footprints of dragons remain.

In the deep pond, water holds the bright halo of the autumn moon.

On the tip of the king’s pen, water becomes the compassion of clemency.

On the willow branch, it becomes the clear fresh balm of compassion.

Only one drop of the water of compassion is needed and the Ten Directions are all purified.


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Blame Negates Responsibility

Excerpt from “Empty Graves and Empty Boats” by Rachel Neumann

There are as many different kinds of anger as there are waves in the ocean. When my older daughter gets angry, there is a deluge of tears. As I watch, she goes limp and sobs into the floor with the unfairness of it all. My younger daughter’s anger is a tornado of hits, kicks, and screams. She can’t be comforted, reasoned, or carried out of the storm until it has run its course. My partner’s anger is quiet and sullen, thick as the southern Mississippi air. Only a slam of the door or a fist on the table occasionally punctuates the silence. Me? I shake with a blaming, seething anger, full of my own righteousness and ready to enumerate the faults of everyone around me.

How do I undo a lifetime of blaming habit? I’ve found there are only two effective antidotes: gratitude and co-responsibility. But gratitude is a tricky emotion. As soon as I think I’m supposed to feel it, as soon as I catch a whiff of even the slightest hint of obligation, any gratitude I might have felt is replaced immediately with resentment. So I was taken off guard when, a couple of years ago, I came across the Kataññu Sutta, a Pali teaching on gratitude. It says: “Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder and your father on the other shoulder for a hundred years, and you were to look after them by anointing, massaging, bathing, and rubbing their limbs, and they were to defecate and urinate right there on your shoulders, you would not in that way pay or repay your parents.”

Blaming is neither true nor not true. It doesn’t take me even one tiny step closer to my or anyone else’s happiness or freedom. Lately, whenever someone is blaming or praising me, or when I’m blaming or praising myself, I practice this response from Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: “You are partly right.” “You are partly right” means that there is some truth to the story, but it’s not the whole story. I love this because it acknowledges responsibility but also acknowledges that each story has more layers than one person can possibly see.

While “fault” isn’t a particularly useful idea, “responsibility” is. We humans are intricately and necessarily connected to each other, not just for our happiness but also for our very existence. If this is the case, then it makes sense that we are responsible for what happens to each of us, both the good and the not so good.

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Invoking Avalokiteshvara

from “Chanting from the Heart”, Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh and the monks and nuns of Plum Village

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara.  We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world.  You know how to listen to understand.

We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and openheartedness.

We will sit and listen without any prejudice.  We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand.  We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid.

We know that by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.


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Nirvana Means Extinction

Buddhism speaks of Nirvana, which is the cessation of all suffering. Nirvana means the cessation, the extinction, of all suffering. But our suffering comes from our wrong perceptions, Avidya, misunderstanding. And that is why the practice of meditation, the practice of looking deeply, has the purpose of removing wrong perceptions from us. If we are able to remove our wrong perceptions, we will be able to be free from afflictions and sufferings that always arrive from wrong perceptions.

You have wrong perception on your self and on the other. And the other has wrong perception on themselves and on you, and that is the cause of fear, of violence, of hatred.  That is why trying to remove wrong perceptions is the only way to peace, and that is why Nirvana is, first of all, the removal or wrong perceptions. And when you remove wrong perceptions, you remove the suffering.

To meditate deeply, you find out that even ideas like being and non-being, or birth and death, or coming and going, are wrong ideas. If you can touch reality in depth, you realize that suchness, which means ultimate reality, is free from from birth, from dying, from coming, from going, from being, from non-being. That is why Nirvana is first of all the removal of notions, of ideas, that serve the basis of misunderstanding and suffering.

If you are afraid of death, of nothingness, of non-being, it is because you have wrong perceptions on death and on non-being.  The French scientist Lavoisier said that there’s ‘no birth, there’s no death.’ He just observed reality around him and came to the conclusion that ‘rien ne se crée, rien ne se perd.’

When you look at a cloud, you think that the cloud has being. And later on when the cloud becomes the rain, you don’t see the cloud anymore and you say the cloud is not there. You describe the cloud as non-being. But if you look deeply, you can see the cloud in the rain. And that is why it is impossible for the cloud to die. The cloud can become rain, snow, or ice. But the cloud cannot become nothing. And that is why the notion of death cannot be applied to the reality. There is a transformation. There is a continuation. But you cannot say that there is death, because in your mind, to die means from something you suddenly become nothing. From someone you suddenly become no one. And so the notion of death cannot apply to reality, whether to a cloud or to a human being.

The Buddha did not die. The Buddha only continued by his samgha, by his dharma, and you can touch the Buddha in the here and the now. And that is why ideas like being born, dying, coming and going,  being and non-being, should be removed by the practice of looking deeply. And when you can remove these notions, you are free and you have non-fear. And non-fear is the true foundation of great happiness. As so far fear is there in your heart, happiness cannot be perfect.

And that is why Nirvana is not something that you get in the future. Nirvana is the capacity of removing the wrong notions, wrong perceptions, which is the practice of freedom. Nirvana can be translated as freedom: freedom from views. And in Buddhism, all views are wrong views. When you get in touch with reality, you no longer have views. You have wisdom. You have a direct encounter with reality, and that is no longer called views.

–Thich Nhat Hanh

See more at: http://www.meditationplex.com/zen-meditation/thich-nhat-hanh-nirvana-suffering/#sthash.AaLRvzsA.dpuf

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Optical Delusion of Consciousness

A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affections for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.

~ Albert Einstein

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Happiness Comes Naturally

Excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Practice of Mindfulness”

The opposite of forgetfulness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you are truly there, mind and body together. You breathe in and out mindfully, you bring your mind back to your body, and you are there. When your mind is there with your body, you are established in the present moment. Then you can recognize the many conditions of happiness that are in you and around you, and happiness just comes naturally.

Mindfulness practice should be enjoyable, not work or effort. Do you have to make an effort to breath in? You don’t need to make an effort. To breathe in, you just breathe in. Suppose you are with a group of people contemplating a beautiful sunset. Do you have to make an effort to enjoy the beautiful sunset? No, you don’t have to make any effort. You just enjoy it.

The same thing is true with your breath. Allow your breath to take place. Become aware of it and enjoy it. Effortlessness. Enjoyment. The same thing is true with walking mindfully. Every step you take is enjoyable. Every step helps you to touch the wonders of life, in yourself and around you. Every step is peace. Every step is joy. That is possible.

During the time you are practicing mindfulness, you stop talking—not only the talking outside, but the talking inside. The talking inside is the thinking, the mental discourse that goes on and on and on inside. Real silence is the cessation of talking—of both the mouth and of the mind. This is not the kind of silence that oppresses us. It is a very elegant kind of silence, a very powerful kind of silence. It is the silence that heals and nourishes us.

Mindfulness gives birth to joy and happiness. Another source of happiness is concentration. The energy of mindfulness carries within it the energy of concentration. When you are aware of something, such as a flower, and can maintain that awareness, we say that you are concentrated on the flower. When your mindfulness becomes powerful, your concentration becomes powerful, and when you are fully concentrated, you have a chance to make a breakthrough, to achieve insight. If you meditate on a cloud, you can get insight into the nature of the cloud. Or you can meditate on a pebble, and if you have enough mindfulness and concentration, you can see into the nature of the pebble. You can meditate on a person, and if you have enough mindfulness and concentration, you can make a breakthrough and understand the nature of that person. You can meditate on yourself, or your anger, or your fear, or your joy, or your peace.

Anything can be the object of your meditation, and with the powerful energy of concentration, you can make a breakthrough and develop insight. It’s like a magnifying glass concentrating the light of the sun. If you put the point of concentrated light on a piece of paper, it will burn. Similarly, when your mindfulness and concentration are powerful, your insight will liberate you from fear, anger, and despair, and bring you true joy, true peace, and true happiness.

When you contemplate the big, full sunrise, the more mindful and concentrated you are, the more the beauty of the sunrise is revealed to you. Suppose you are offered a cup of tea, very fragrant, very good tea. If your mind is distracted, you cannot really enjoy the tea. You have to be mindful of the tea, you have to be concentrated on it, so the tea can reveal its fragrance and wonder to you. That is why mindfulness and concentration are such sources of happiness. That’s why a good practitioner knows how to create a moment of joy, a feeling of happiness, at any time of the day.


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