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Straight to the Source

November 25, 2012

Faced with another difficult and challenging week, I found myself walking along and reciting the words of the refuge prayer:

“I and all sentient beings, until we achieve enlightenment, go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”

The meaning behind these words are the very core of what it means to be a Buddhist. And I find that just bringing them to mind helps to make my mind calm and peaceful no matter what situation I am in. Geshe-la teaches that the words are like a stick which we can lean on as we develop the strength to support their actual meaning in our mind.

So what is the meaning behind these words and why do they have such power to help me? The meaning is actually vast, but I would like to share a few things from my own experience.

Copyright Leonida 2012

The first thing about this prayer is that it reminds me of who I really am, who the living beings around me are and what is our situation now and also our potential. The immediate effect is that my mind literally becomes more open and balanced. This begins to solve any problem I have because it opposes one main characteristic of unhappiness, which is the narrowing and shrinking of the world until its populated almost entirely by just one or two points on which we fixate and from which there seems no escape. The sun may be shining, flowers blooming, children laughing, but the unhappy mind sees none of it.

“I and all sentient beings”

These words remind us that far from inhabiting a small world of one (“I”), defined and filled by our own problems, we are part of a vast world populated by countless (“all”) beings just like us, each with their own problems and each wishing to be free from suffering.

Sound miserable? Well its not, this view, I think, is a little like what the British refer to as, “The war spirit”. This is the spirit of coming together to face a common adversity, it is an attitude of putting the needs of others above our own. One perverse thing, is that for all its horror, many people will tell you that the darkest days of the second world war in Britain also brought out the best in others, that adversity led to some of the happiest times and closest friendships. I think one of the reasons for that is that people found humility, realizing that they depended completely on others and that the only way to solve individual problems was to help everyone else solve the common problem.

Of course, Buddhism doesn’t teach that our common problem is the army of a foreign power, or a different political ideology to our own. It teaches our common problem is that we wish to be free from suffering but are unable to fulfill this wish because we misunderstand its cause. If we are not careful problems ensnare us and mesmerize us until they are all we can think of. In this way we bind ourself to our problems with the rope of our own mind and we reduce the whole world to “our problem” and “me”.

The first words of the refuge prayer immediately break the spell. If we think about the words as we say them our mind naturally moves from thinking about “I”, to thinking about “all”. In the context of all living beings, our problems suddenly have a proper perspective and seem manageable.

The Meaning of our Life

When I am in the midst of stress and worry, it feels like the meaning of my life is to solve that stress and worry. But the refuge prayers says

“Until we achieve enlightenment”

Again, if I lean my mind on the walking stick of these words it reminds me that the potential of my life, of every life, is to become enlightened, or put another way, to be completely or perfectly loving and wise. Able to solve my own and others problem of suffering permanently, able to enjoy real happiness and love. This of course is a bold statement, and I don’t have space to explore it here, but here are a couple of things to consider.

Geshe-la often observes that no one likes to be told that they are making themselves worse. Instead, they like to think they are getting better. They especially like to be, the best! He also observes that no one wants to be called a “Bad person”, instead, they feel very happy if they are thought of as “a good person”. In these two observations is the clue that, Buddhist or not, we recognize we can be better than we are and that the route to being better is in being good. So, we don’t want to be “an angry person” or a “hateful person” or a “bitter person”. We aspire and know we have the potential to be the opposite of these, and more. If you take this to its fullest conclusion, we each want to be what Buddhist’s call enlightened.

In the midst of suffering, part of my ignorance which prolongs and deepens the suffering is the mistaken idea that the meaning of my life is to solve that problem, even that if I can’t solve the problem, then I am failure. Thinking about the refuge prayer immediately dispels this ignorance. And the result is the problem takes its proper proportions in the scheme of my life and I feel confident in my potential and hopeful for the future. A great place to work from.

Go for Refuge, or Problem Solving Advice

Copyright Leonida 2012

Buddha Shakyamuni

There is no problem which can’t be solved by going for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, because all problems come from ignorance and confusion, whilst Buddha, his teachings (Dharma) and the community following those teachings (Sangha) are the actual methods to abandon ignorance and confusion. They teach the real nature of existence. This is not just small problems, like learning to stay calm in a traffic jam, but all problems, for example, in one of his books, Geshe-la says that if everyone practiced cherishing and consideration for others, the problems of war and hunger would end in just a few days. I think that statement is irrefutable. By studying Buddha’s teachings, its also possible to understand that it is credible.

The function of a Buddha is to bestow blessings, which means they transform the mind of suffering beings from a negative to a positive state. Thinking of Buddha, seeing an image of Buddha and especially developing faith in Buddha are very powerful methods to receive Buddha’s blessings. And in the most difficult moments, when I am so wrapped up in my problems, its all I can do to think of Buddha. It works every time. Try it, next time you are angry or upset, try and imagine Buddha or look at an image, and see for yourself how hard it is to to hold on to stubborn negative unhappy minds at the same time!

So, saying those last words of the refuge prayer, leaning on them with my mind, I open up the vast potential and connect with tried and tested methods to really solve my problems. And I know, whatever life might throw at me today or tomorrow, the most important thing is to use that experience to become a better person, and the way to do that is to rely on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. And all of a sudden, those ropes loosen and more often than not, just by changing my mind, the original problem itself, falls away 🙂

Your Refuge?

I’d love to hear how you use refuge practice in daily life and what you have learned. So please do share your comments and feedback.

Thank you once again for reading! I hope you found something useful to take away.

Other useful sites

If you are interested to read more about blessings, I strongly recommend you check out this series of articles on Kadampa Life, What Are Blessings, especially interesting are the comments where you get  a diverse range of experiences which people have been kind enough to share.

Also the subject of Refuge as I alluded to is vast. My “go to” book on the subject is definitely Joyful Path of Good Fortune.

Lastly, Vide Kadampa keeps a great blog detailing their daily lamrim meditation practice, there you can find their experience and use of different ways of meditation on refuge.

From → Fundamental

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