October 5, 2011

Notes on Taking Refuge

Dear Friends,
Here are notes prepared for my dharma talk last Sunday on Taking Refuge.

Much Metta, Rebecca

Dhammapada verses 188-192:
They go to many a refuge,
to mountains and forests
to park and tree shrines:
people threatened with danger.
That's not the secure refuge,
not the supreme refuge,
that's not the refuge,
having gone to which,
you gain release
from all suffering & stress.
But when, having gone
to the Buddha, Dhamma,
Sangha for refuge,
you see with right discernment
the four noble truths
stress,
the cause of stress,
the transcending of stress,
the noble eightfold path,
the way to the stilling of stress:
that's the secure refuge,
that, the supreme refuge,
that is the refuge,
having gone to which,
you gain release
from all suffering and stress.

Other false refuges: eating, sex, drugs, shopping, gossiping, surfing the web, watching TV, etc. Distraction through the illusion of pleasure, like smoking – thought the first puff was gratified the desire, by the 3rd puff it was yucky. The real benefit was pausing to light up, taking a deep breath or many, just taking a breath = refuge.

One friend started a job in a nursing home and the sights and smells horrified her. Every cell in her body screamed at her to run. But she'd just been reading about the refuges. She stopped and took a breath.
She said, "I was able to identify fear – of suffering, aloneness, and confinement. At that moment I realized I was fully present and willing to, as Sharon Salzburg says, 'just see what happens now.'"

Another friend worked with developmentally disabled college students with poor social skills, many aggressive. If he was reactive, their interaction would be impaired, possibly permanently. So each time a student was difficult, he would take refuge and
1) let himself feel the stress,
2) breath and watch it release, and then notice and respond to the situation as a whole

Historically, 'taking refuge' has many meanings: taking robes, becoming "Buddhist" etc. I think of it as making a commitment to live a spiritual life, to turn 1st to my Buddha nature, or the teachings, or to a spiritual friend, rather than turning to false pleasures.How you deeply understand the 3 jewels is very personal.

Blanche Harman of the San Francisco Zen Center offered these options:

  • Trusting your own fundamental wisdom and goodness
  • Accepting unreservedly the perfection you share with all being
  • Trusting that you don't need anything – that you and all being is perfect
  • Abandoning oneself to the security of having no attachments and no aversions
  • Making full effort, with no attachment to outcome


For some people, taking refuge in Buddha can be finding strength and comfort in the presence
of one's own Buddha nature - accessible when we think of it. For people in 12 steps  their Higher Power often serves this purpose.

Deb Kerr says:
Remember to take refuge, return to mindfulness, "safe space" of cushion or confidence, or remember your  commitment to the path of awakening.

I take refuge, something useful to cling to until you don't have to cling any more to any thing,which is a shorthand to the entirety of practice. My experience with guy throwing up at Zen Hospice Project, I remembered how it felt to meditate and gag response gone, forever, I could help my clients.

Samyutta Nikaya says:
I have heard that at one time the Blessed One was staying in Savatthi at Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monastery. Then a certain deva, in the far extreme of the night, her extreme radiance lighting up the entirety of Jeta's Grove, approached the Blessed One. On approaching, having bowed down to the Blessed One, she stood to one side. As she was standing there, she addressed him with a verse. 
"Many devas and human being
give thought to protective charms,
desiring well-being.
Tell, then, the highest protective charm." 
The Buddha replied:
"Not consorting with fools,
consorting with the wise,
homage to those deserving of homage:
               This is the highest protective charm. 
Broad knowledge, skill,
well-mastered discipline,
well-spoken words:
               This is the highest protective charm. 
Giving, living in rectitude,
assistance to one's relatives,
deeds that are blameless:
              This is the highest protective charm. 
Avoiding, abstaining from evil;
refraining from intoxicants,
being heedful of the qualities of the mind:
             This is the highest protective charm. 
Respect, humility,
contentment, gratitude,
hearing the Dhamma on timely occasions:
             This is the highest protective charm. 
A mind that, when touched
by the ways of the world,
is unshaken, sorrowless, dustless, secure:
             This is the highest protective charm. 
Everywhere undefeated
when acting in this way,
people go everywhere in well-being:
            This is their highest protective charm."

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