On Sunday, May 26th, Lotus Heart Zen gathered to celebrate the Buddha's birthday. For the second year in a row, we held a Refuge Ceremony, in which those attending, if they chose to, could go for refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Going for refuge in the Three Jewels is how one becomes a Buddhist. Just simply stating that you seek guidance in, shelter with and to support the Three Jewels is all that is required. There is no need for a special ceremony. It can be declared alone or among a crowd. However, having the opportunity to seek refuge in the Three Jewels among friends and fellow practitioners is a wonderful way to make such a commitment solid and perhaps more honest. It is also a way to show others in the community that you are available to others. This is important.
Refuge in the Buddha (the teacher) and the Dharma (the teachings) are important, I believe that in our current culture they greatly overshadow the value and importance of the Sangha. In order to fully realize the value of the Buddha and the Dharma in this life, going for refuge in the Sangha is necessary. A two legged stool provides little stability, but add a third leg and it is stable.
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. Being with a sangha, investing in a sangha, supporting a sangha is practicing Compassion, Attention and Gratitude.
The collective energy of the individuals of the Sangha will aid in one becoming more mindful of his or her actions. Practice is required and it is the Sangha that protects and empowers the individual to sustain mindfulness from one day to another.
“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.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
This helps us to see that the spiritual community also extends beyond the group of people that come together to practice and includes all beings. Other people, the trees, the plants, the animals, 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.
Taking refuge in the Buddha is to take refuge in the awakened nature we already innately possess. Just as the Christian aspires to become Christ-like in word, thought and deed. Taking refuge in the Buddha is acknowledging that as St. Francis said, “what we are looking for is what is looking.” When we take refuge in the Buddha, we express trust in our capacity to walk in the direction of non-harm and deep understanding, based on our experience of the efficacy of the practice. We take refuge in the Dharma to remember that the teachings and practice provide a path to lead us away from confusion and ignorance to a life of compassion, attention and gratitude.We take the refuge in the Three Jewels together, because in truth they are inseparable. Each connects and embodies the others within them. One jewel cannot exist without the other two. If you are caring for a member of the Sangha who is suffering, you are caring for the Buddha. When the Sangha is harmonious and practicing diligently the Dharma becomes clearer. Recognizing the Buddha within is to know the truth as taught by the Dharma.
As we draw closer to the Five Mountain Zen Order National Sangha Family Weekend Retreat, I believe it is important to remember to hold the Sangha in equal measure to the other two jewels. In July, we have a wonderful opportunity to share our small LHZ Sangha with our larger FMZO Sangha family and experience the Three Jewels in action working together. Please join in and take part in this special weekend, giving yourself the opportunity to bring "going for refuge" in the Three Jewels to life within you and for your sangha sisters and brothers.
By Wonp'ung (Miyo Wratten)
As the summer months quickly approach, and I pass my anniversary of having taken refuge in the Three Jewels (that was at last year’s celebration of Buddha’s birthday!), I find myself contemplating how much has happened in that year.
Back in July of this past summer, I was lucky enough to join the Five Mountain Zen retreat that took place in Oneida.
As the July retreat closed, one of our members handed out a very nice gift to us - a tile with a Chinese character engraved in it. There were four different characters from which we could choose.
The tile I chose was one for the character representing “friend.” This choice was a no-brainer for me. Since joining Lotus Heart Zen, and especially after attending the July retreat, the importance of Sangha was brought home to me.
Like many from our North American culture, I was brought up in a home where independence is valued. Asking for help from others was thought of as weak--and certainly, sharing with anybody outside of our home any of the details of what happened within the walls of our family was a big no-no. In my adolescence, I remember being shunned by my mother for weeks because I had tried to confide in my best friend some of my worries about what had been going on in my family at that time (nothing serious, but they caused me concern at that point in time).
Constant messages we received while growing up included: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Make your own way in the world! Make your own destiny! Climb the ladder, step over people if you need to!
Through a few circumstances in my adult life, I’ve thankfully started to learn the value of opening up, sharing what’s troubling me, and seeking help from others. Reaching out can still feel like a difficult thing to do--especially as a mom and a wife, the message that we need to be all things to all people at all times, is pervasive.
Watching people in this Sangha offer, ask for, give and accept support has been truly humbling. Last year’s July retreat showed me the importance of this together work that is done when we are in a group, and when we are practicing.
This “friendship” tile is my constant reminder that progress is rarely ever truly made alone--and we as humans weren’t meant to function in isolation from one another. It holds a special place on my altar as I meditate and chant daily--with gratitude in my heart for the Dharma brothers and sisters I have acquired over the course of this year.
I am looking forward to seeing old Dharma friends return in July, and am hopeful to make some new ones as well.
Photo credit: Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members