Updated: Aug 2, 2018
AMC Dharma Talk Summary
We seek a path of practice because we suffer. The world overwhelms us, life overwhelms us, our constant stream of thoughts and emotions overwhelm us. When this happens, it helps to take refuge.
Taking refuge means turning towards the path of freedom. Traditionally, people become Buddhists when they take refuge in the Three Jewels - The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. But we don’t have to declare ourselves Buddhists to take refuge. We can take refuge in the path of freedom without ‘becoming’ anything.
Our Refuge Chant shows us three ways of turning to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha for support - by seeing the path of freedom, walking the path of freedom, and sharing the path of freedom.
Seeing the Path - Our first refuge occurs when we notice that a path exists. We see that there are teachers, that their teachings offer liberation, and that there are people already practicing and transforming. We initially perceive these as possibilities outside ourselves and take refuge in their energy and protection.
Walking the Path - As practice deepens, we learn to see the beauty of the teachers, teachings, and community for ourselves. We take refuge in our own experience, returning again and again to the practice forms, and witnessing their effectiveness. We trust our teachers and Sangha to hold us because we have tasted their wisdom and love. We settle into this practice rather than that practice, this life rather than some hoped-for life, and this Sangha rather than an idealized practice community.
Sharing the Path - When the path is fully integrated into our lives, we experience the joy of sharing it with others. Self-love expands into universal love. We let go and become Bodhisattvas, sharing the many gifts we have received as an expression of gratitude. Helping others wake up becomes joyful because we know they are our continuation.
These three types of refuge happen sequentially, but they also happen simultaneously. We aren’t a single self-entity that moves from seeing to walking to sharing in a unified, linear fashion. Rather, we are many threads transforming in their own time. We might be sharing our deep joy of compassion while just becoming aware of our connection to nature, or walking the path of Sangha building while just beginning to touch the power of concentrated awareness. There’s no end to practice, no finish line to cross: just an ever-deepening spiral of loving awareness.
And if we think we’ve accomplished something by ‘conquering’ the refuge practices, we find there’s yet another refuge - The refuge of having no refuge. In reality, there is nowhere to turn, nowhere to hide, nothing we can separate out and use to protect ourselves. Vulnerability is our nature.
As poet David Whyte writes: '...our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant, and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.’
When we take refuge in having no refuge, we discover our shared fragility. Life becomes precious and worthy of protection where ever we find it. Our hearts open with compassion to whatever presents itself: the coyote and the fawn; the immigrant and the politician; the poor and the rich. We offer compassion without judgment or rejection because we know that none of us escapes the poignancy of having no refuge.