Going for refuge in the Dharma is seeking refuge in Truth. Dharma can be interpreted to mean “cosmic law and natural order” but it also, and most often refers to the teachings of the Buddha, which are meant to direct one to the Truth. Taking refuge in the Dharma is similar to how, in Christian faith, the Gospels lead to understanding and the teachings of Jesus. The Dharma provides a path and practice so we can be freed from dissatisfaction, frustration and suffering.
It is in Going for Refuge in the Dharma where we learn and apply the teachings of the Four Noble Truths, as taught by the Buddha. At first we look to the Four Noble Truths and other teachings to learn the Dharma, but eventually True Dharma reveals itself to us simply by living our lives and in practicing Compassion, Attention and Gratitude.
In talks and in the chants you will often hear, “I go for refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.” Which are often referred to as the Three Jewels or Three Treasures. What does that mean? What does it mean to go for refuge? What are you seeking refuge in?
Going for refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is fundamental to our practice. To seek refuge means to look for a place that is safe, a place we can rely on, a place of peace, love and presence, no matter what our situation. Often we get caught up in negative thinking, become overly busy, feel disconnected. In those moments, we can go to the refuge of the three jewels by remembering we have access to peace, gratitude, openness and the experience of full presence.
Going for Refuge in the Three Jewels are the doorways back this full presence.
We go for Refuge in the Buddha to remember our awakened presence, of which we all possess.
We go for Refuge in the Dharma to remember that the teachings and practice can free us from suffering.
We go for Refuge in the Sangha to remember that the spiritual community, it is to find refuge in compassion and gratitude.
Going for refuge is shared in some form of another in all faith traditions. The Christian equivalent to the Three Jewels are Jesus (the Buddha, the awakened one), the Gospels (the Dharma, the teachings) and the church congregation (the Sangha, the sacred community of love).
Going for refuge in the Sangha is seeking refuge in the spiritual community. The spiritual community is made up of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. The Buddha said, “good friends are the whole of this holy life.” In the same vein, Christians find strength in the community of the church. Practicing with a Sangha is essential for spiritual growth and development. Even if we have a sincere desire or appreciation for practice, our ability for our efforts to bear fruit can be difficult without the support of friends and people of like minds working together. Being with a Sangha, investing in a Sangha, supporting a Sangha is putting Compassion, Attention and Gratitude in motion.
Thich Nhat Hahn says, “The best way to practice [mindfulness] is with a Sangha: the collective energy of mindfulness deepens in practice. The presence of the Sangha is a protection and an empowerment, and this presence sustains us during the rest of the week as well.”
The individuals of a Sangha produce collective energy that help each other to become more mindful of his or her actions. We practice individually at home and our work-a-day lives, but it is the Sangha, coming together to practice that offers safety, support and empowerment so that the practice continues outside of the practice center.
Thich Nhat Hahn, again, “When members of a Sangha live in harmony, their Sangha is holy. Don’t think that holiness is only for the Pope or the Dalai Lama. Holiness is also within you and within your Sangha. When a community sits, breathes, walks, and eats together in mindfulness, holiness is there. When you build a sangha that has happiness, joy, and peace, you’ll see the elements of holiness in the Sangha.”
Going for refuge in the Sangha is actively breaking down the artificial barriers that separate us from each other. This helps us to see that the spiritual community extends beyond this group of people that come together to practice and includes all beings. Other people, the trees, the plants, the animals, the stones, the sky, the sun, etc. all become connected and holy. But to truly understand the wider, outer Sangha, we need the smaller inner Sangha of our own loving, compassionate self.
Going for refuge in the Buddha is to find refuge in the enlightened nature we already innately possess. Just as the Christian aspires to become Christ-like through words, thoughts and actions. Taking refuge in the Buddha we enter the path of transformation, through word, thought and action, we walk the path to end suffering.
When we go for refuge in the Buddha, we are entrusting ourselves to our own innate nature to walk in beauty, truth, and wisdom, which is a result of our own experience of the practice itself. Going for refuge in the Buddha is entering into pure awareness. It is acknowledging that our innate nature is closer to us than anything. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “what we are looking for is what is looking.” All we must do is to relax back into what we are by remembering that all beings share this full presence, this awakeness, which is our true essence.
A blog by Ven. Do'an Prajna and Lotus Heart Zen sangha members.
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