January 30, 2019

On Taking Refuge

Granted, I’m one or two years and some spare months late in publishing, or finishing, this article. But perhaps it will still be of use, entertainment and may serve in some minor way a higher purpose. These are perhaps my last written thoughts on some of these themes in which I have little, or no, formal instruction. So in a few months’ time I may gain a more doctrinal understanding of these core concepts from the teachers in Nepal- but for now, the playful thoughts of a profane perspective.  

Each December I retreat into melancholy and loneliness. A few days after the Solstice I can feel the Sun returning earlier and staying later.  But the Sun seems to rise alone and makes its steady journey across the heavenly canopy, our distance so far that we can scarcely feel it’s heat. Yet the knowledge of Spring’s return and the promise of Summer’s rewards bring Hope, and in that Hope I find my strength. 

“I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha”

This phrase has been knocking around my brain since the beginning of Winter.

What does it mean to take Refuge; what or who is Buddha; What is Dharma and what is Sangha?

Always starting from the basics- what does it mean to take Refuge? Let’s refer to the trustworthy Oxford English Dictionary for some Light on the matter.

“.. the state of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger or difficulty”

There is an old Sanskrit mantra that I particularly resonate with, which is sometimes called the Mantra of Peace, dedicated to Avalokiteshvara. Here it may bear repeating that “mantra” itself means “protection of the mind”:

“Aum asato ma sat gamaya

tamaso ma jyotir gamaya

myrtior ma amritam gamaya

Aum shanti shanti”

The human experience is that of a formerly blind man opening his eyes in a bright and beautiful garden beyond his comprehension. The millions of forms and colors, the movement of all things too much to behold- and even more so to understand. We retreat by the imposition of survival into a smaller perceptive space, focused on the immediate and run wild within it. Or imposed solitude, the perhaps necessary separation from ultimate reality. We are bound to our gross form, to the material experience. In our lives we encounter need, pain, sadness-suffering in all its many colors. We are born in the pain of delivery into the world, we suffer it’s inevitable ailments and disappointments. In this we learn that all things are in transition, that impermanence is the nature of existence. It is no accident that the ancient teachers all ask us to meditate on decay and the corruption of the physical. The flowers of our garden fill our hearts with the pollen of love; yet they too must dry up, shrivel, leaving those bright petals to fade and fall away as emotions lost to the silent passage of time. It is our attachment to the moment of our sensory exploration of time that is the natural source of suffering. We can only appreciate what is past, for we know not where we are, and in so doing grasp hopelessly at what is no more. The movement of time, the decay of all we build, this is the storm of life. In its bellowing winds, under the pressure of all human suffering, we hear that eternal cry for mercy, for help, for compassion.

“In the beginning there was the being and also the end,

Lead me from Illusion to the Truth

Lead me from Darkness to Light

Lead me from Death to Immortality,

In the beginning there was the being and also the end, 

Peace, peace”

In the infinite sea of our solitude, in our ignorance, we create suffering for ourselves and for those around us. In our projections in the present we defy reality insisting on our own delusion, we create and promote attachments of all sorts. In these attachments we insist on the perceived Was and refuse to allow the movement of the Present Being. Our death is inaction, our death is accepting suffering in the face of redemption. But there can be no help, no mercy, when we immerse our selves in struggle. As a drowning man, the more hectic our movement, the closer our death. 

As our ancestors did in times of violent weather, so too must we take shelter. Bring hazard to a stop. Refuge is where we come in search of safety, we come together perhaps under the threat of lightning and thunder, of deadly cold, with strangers, travelers and our own community. We tell stories and form bonds and make plans. Refuge is recollection, reconnection. It is being still in the fullness of the breath, the blessing of being together as one whole.  And perhaps, the storm is so great that we are caught unexpected and unprepared- and we might take refuge alone. Separated from our pack, our loved ones, our sources of support. It is even so, that in the darkness of that night we can find our eternal flame shining, our personal narratives emerging to share in singular togetherness- to  give us the option of integrating our shadows into our highest self. Community, or Sangha, is with others and in the fellowship of our true self. The Buddha consciousness is an ideal, something that we recognize we can strive for.. something achievable by even one as lowly as myself, and indeed in some sense we already have. When one has gone, we can all follow his path into that mysterious foreign country. The map is within us, and when we stop, when we purposefully discriminate against the tumult of our passions and empty desires, the vain clinging to transitory experience… yes, this is when we can begin to see the world anew. The place of Refuge gives us a point of stability, a stable point within the circle of our compasses. A temporary physical space, from whence we may start our daily travels again, bringing the Light we found within to those without. In peace we can be together, with the beginning, in the now and the end. 

I take refuge in being my highest self that i can, in the truth and the path, in the community of my peers, teachers and ancestors. May the shelter I find here be extended for the highest benefit of all beings.