2020-06-12: Refuge (5 of 5) Being A Refuge to Others
3:08PM Jun 12, 2020
buddha dharma sangha
So then we come to the fifth of the five talks about refuge, saraṇa. And so the concluding thoughts about this topic. One of the strong emphases I've made in these first four talks is how much the Buddha himself did not emphasize refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, especially not as something external. But rather kept pointing, we talked about refuge, more often than not pointed back to one's own experience, and in oneself. When, in oneself one finds refuge or one makes a refuge for oneself, that refuge is found essentially, the most deeply, in the absence, in the letting go, and the destruction of these human tendencies for greed and hatred and delusion.
And one of the words that one of the ideas that is kind of associated with refuge in this kind of focus on this discovering refuge here, is a word in Pali that's called avecca-pasāda, a compound. And some translators will translate it as "unshakable confidence" or "unwavering faith." And it's kind of powerful the idea of unshakable or unwavering, like we know something so clearly, that it can't be taken away. This is what the basis of our life is. The word avecca that's translated as unshakable means what is known for oneself. What one knows. What one has come to know. And so, even though unshakeable maybe speaks to what it feels like, it again points to what is known. And when the Buddha was most clear about what's known is we know the difference between a mind or a heart, which is caught up in greed, hatred and delusion, with avariciousness or conceit or resentments or envy. He goes through a list of a whole bunch of unhealthy mind states, painfully. The word is afflictive, it hurts us to have these mind states. And we don't like to have them and we really know what it's like not to have them to have them drop away, to know it in such a strong qualitative way. That now I know this is possible and this is worthwhile to base one's life on, to go in this direction, this kind of freedom. And now one knows what the Buddha Dharma Sangha is about. And the unshakable faith in Buddha Dharma Sangha comes from knowing in oneself, what those three are really pointing to or what they really represent.
So I've been emphasizing how much it's here in oneself. However, it is at the same time, a radical, letting go of self so that we're not really self-centered. But we become, in a sense, situation-centered. It's not really right to say that instead of being self-centered, we're other-centered. That lends itself to almost the same some of the same problems that can exist with being self-centered, just in a very different way. But the idea of self-centered, or situation-centered, is to get this the conceit of self, the attachments to self, all the kind of complicated ways that we get entangled with ideas of who we are that interfere with our ability to see clearly and feel clearly and participate in the world in a clean way. We let go of the kind of self-preoccupation which is itself stressful and suffering and you can feel that it doesn't feel good to be in it if you're really sensitive.
But instead of being other-centered, it's to still be centered here in this situation. So we really take into account what's happening here in this body of mine. We're conscious, responsible, clear about what we feel, what we believe, what we're thinking. And we are clear and aware of what's happening around us. And there isn't this sharp, really sharp line or wall or barrier between self and other, but there is clear awareness of both. So we can find our way and be in a healthy relationship with all things.
So, what I want to point when I say here today is that this notion of going for refuge in Buddha Dharma Sangha, that represents one of the deep experiences or deep expressions of Buddhist faith is in its essence, is also a way of saying I trust something, I have faith in something, that is different than my little self, my self preoccupation, my conceit, my, you know, all these kind of problematic ways in which we construct a sense of self and defend it and assert it. And do all these things. Many people, whether it's conscious or unconscious, have so much focus on themselves. That it's almost like that's what they have faith in. In our culture, sometimes family, schools will often reinforce this faith, we have, this sense of importance of the self.
I remember a friend of mine moved here from Japan, and put her child in kindergarten, and was horrified at the ways in which the kindergarten was immediately trying to create kids who all thought that they were special, and highlight their specialness. It's certainly a wonderful thing in some ways for people to feel like they're special. But to have it solidify as a way of viewing oneself and needing to be a certain way can cause suffering. And so this practice of meditation, this practice of going for refuge, is to trust something that's other than the small self, other than the contracted, constricted self. To trust nature, to trust something, some people might say that's larger than self, more glorious than this little self. And it's not a diminishment of who we are. It's an enhancement. It's a heightened, what it looks like from the outside, it's a real confidence. It's a real willing to show up and be present and intentional and engaged in the world. It's not a disappearing of being in the world, but it is a disappearing of this small little contracted self that somehow gets in the way of things.
So when we chant or go for refuge, it's also a reminder that there's something else that's supporting us here than our own efforts. In practice, of course, we have to make our effort. But we're being supported by so much more. We're being supported by nature. We're being supported by the Dharma. We have amazing healing capacities. We have amazing capacities within for human development and growth. We don't just stop growing and developing as human beings when we turn 18 or 21. There are psychological and continuation of human development and growth that happens that if everything is normal and healthy, it keeps growing into old age. If we practice Dharma, it's kind of a way of supporting this natural phenomenon of growth, healing, development, liberation, that is kind of inherent in our whole system. There's an inherency to this movement to wanting to be free. And to take refuge in the Buddha Dharma Sangha is to trust this inherency that something more than myself is supporting me. And by trusting that, we allow what's more than self to operate. If we're the only one responsible, only one who has to figure out how to make it work, we actually, at some point start interfering with a deeper process to happening. So part of what it means to go for refuge is to trust something, trust nature in a deep way.
As we trust ourselves, as we trust the situation centered world. At some point in this developmental process, at least that the Buddha talks about, at some point, the refuge gets turned inside out and rather than being the one who receives refuge, or experiences the refuge, we become the kind of person who offers refuge to others. And the orientation becomes much more being a person of refuge than being a person who has refuge or receives refuge.
The Buddha talks about it as making oneself safe for all beings. What a gift! He said, the gift of safety, the gift of fearlessness, that we can live in such a way that other people have nothing to fear from us. And it might take a long time to develop and grow in confidence and skills and freedom to feel we're ready to be a refuge for others or to offer people the gift of our fearlessness that they don't have to fear us whatsoever. But that's the direction of refuge - that it isn't just I go for refuge, but it's also at some point, I offer refuge, I will become now a refuge for all beings. And this way, going for refuge in the Buddha, going for refuge in the Dharma, going for refuge in the Sangha, is going to that space, that place of refuge, where we ourselves can be a refuge for all beings. And this is what the world needs and more, maybe I don't know, I don't have more now than ever, but it certainly feels like we've come to a point where, really, let's be a refuge for all beings. Let's be a refuge for black lives. People who for centuries have not felt safe, to say it mildly. And now is the time to offer them safety so that they can be supported. It's their turn.
So thank you for doing this. And I will see you on Monday, and we'll start a new theme on Monday. And I'll stay here for a little while if you'd like. And I'll try to look at the chats. If anyone has any questions you'd like to make, I'll try to answer. And probably take about 10-15 minutes here before I have to go. So if you like to please. I'll wait a little bit here. It takes a while for it to make its way.
So the question here I see is "Why are you talking about emptiness?" Emptiness is a very profound topic in Buddhism. Maybe one of these weeks I can make that the topic, the theme of the talks. But certainly I'm talking about the emptiness of self, the emptiness of self-concern self-preoccupation, self-attachment,
And, "Was the retreat tomorrow canceled?" Yes. So maybe I didn't cancel it on the website. I'm sorry, if it's still up there. But yeah, that's not happening.
"How to meditate with pain?" Well, that's a good question. That question requires a lot of respect. Pain can be quite difficult and challenging. I've known people who've learned to meditate with very severe pain. So it is possible. And to say just one word briefly about it, is that one of the things that's helpful with pain is to really study our relationship to the pain, because sometimes that there's a second arrow that we add to it. We make it worse than it needs to be. It can be bad enough to have pain, but then there's a lot of reactivity that can happen to it. And the practice can help us a lot with the reactivity. And sometimes as the reactivity settles down, the pain can be much more bearable. And so that's just one thing. I'm sorry that does not really have time to talk a lot about pain, but maybe another time we can spend more time on it.
SN Goenka talk about - oops... Let's see. Please be patient with me... "SN Goenka talked about vipassanā being body scanning. And I think ānāpāna, breathing meditation. Can you comment?" Yes. So SN Goenka was in Indian vipassanā teacher, insight meditation teacher, who had a very particular technique for doing vipassanā. The word vipassanā originally means... it's not a name for a practice. It was a name for insight. It was the insights that we had as we do deeper and deeper Buddhist meditation practice. And in the modern world, in part because of SN Goenka and others, vipassanā has become now a name of a technique, the practice of - the practices that lead to the insights. And there are many different ways and techniques, and ways of practicing mindfulness. So it leads to these insights of vipassanā. And SN Goenka has one. He does body scanning, just really staying and scanning through the body and feeling sensations of the body. And then ānāpāna means mindfulness of breathing. And, and so it's a powerful way of practicing. It takes a limited range of our human experiences and really goes deep with it. The way we practice vipassanā here, it's leading to the same goal, leading to the same purpose and the same insights. But we have a little different - we have a different approach. And that is to not take such a narrow bandwidth of our human experience as the focus, but to be much more broad, to include all of what we're experiencing. The result of that sometimes we're a little bit slower to go deep, but then it's sometimes broader and more stable at the same time, very roughly, but the Goenka practice is quite effective and wonderful.
"Why is it a good thing to make a child feel special or that he has special qualities? Not a good thing?" Oh, I'll give you when I when my children growing up. We would, when they did something wonderful fun and nice, like draw a nice drawing or something really small. We did not say, "Oh, what a good boy!" We said, "Oh, you had so much fun doing that," or "It's so much fun to watch you do that," or something. We wanted to celebrate the activity that the child was doing. Because as soon as we started saying, "You're a good boy; you're a special boy," it starts to reify the expectation that they're supposed to get that kind of approval, and they deserve that kind of approval. And then they start looking for it and wanting it, and they become more fragile if they don't get it. They feel upset if they don't get it. And what we're trying to do with our kids is to have them really engage vigorously. Fully confidently in the world, but without needing to define themselves by the idea of being special. And because they found out in studies in education now that it turns out this whole movement of developing self-esteem in children was certainly pointing to some kind of need, but that need to be met by emphasizing self-esteem led to children who felt they deserved to be privileged. They deserved to kind of be able to provide it with things rather than work for things. So that's a good note. I know it's a short little conversation - something like that.
Something about witnessing and having our hearts broken. Let's see, witnessing and having our hearts broken. It's a little hard to get this. See if I can get this to just move a little bit that can't get the last sentence here. "Can you say something about how witnessing and having our hearts broken can change in ourselves?" Oh, I think that it's very important to be a witness of what's happening in the world, and to be a witness of suffering. I think without really seeing and recognizing what's there, we can't be changed by it. We can't really see and see what's really true in the world. You know, vipassanā that we talked about earlier, literally means clear seeing. And so the ability to see clearly is what you know, partly a witness. And it's really helpful for others that other people know and feel and experience their suffering. When a lot of people have suffered in isolation, so many people in our society where society has caused a lot of suffering, they look around and no one seems to understand the suffering they have, or understand how the oppression of society has caused them suffering. And when they bring up and talk about that suffering, they're told they're wrong, or it's not that way or, that wasn't the intention or something. But to really have our hearts broken, it actually makes it easier for other people to know that they're not suffering alone. And it's also just a very human natural thing to break a heart. It shouldn't be a problem to have a broken heart. It's painful for sure. But a broken heart is how we grow and how we develop. And to learn to use this mindfulness practice, to learn how to not have second arrows, how not to add reactivity, then a broken heart does not have to be a tragedy. It's something actually through which we grow and develop. And to witness and experience the suffering of the world is for the growth of all of us. It's how to find freedom and peace. And it can be - the idea in Buddhism is that as we experienced a broken heart, as we experience the suffering of the world, we want to change ourselves. We don't just want to wait and expect someone else to change things. The more we're distressed, the more the heart is broken, the more important is for us to to do something to make the world better. For us to be changed by the experience. It doesn't mean we go out and fix the particular problem that broke our heart if it's a social problem, but we do change ourselves so we become someone who's part of the greater solution. Part of what makes a difference. And it could be as simple as we make a donation someplace, or now we go down and we volunteer someplace to make a difference, or we have stronger connections and care for our neighbors, or we have work that is meaningful, and we devote ourselves more to that work to really help society even more.
Okay, I think that I'm out of sequence here now, somehow.
"How are equanimity and detachment different?" Detachment is a closing down, a constricting. Detachment, if you're really mindful and attentive to it, has qualities of tension and suffering within it. It's not comfortable to be detached. Equanimity might look the same, but equanimity is not aloof; it's not removed; it's not contracted; it's not a shutting down. It's really an inability to really stay open to the situation to be a witness and not have reactivity. Second arrows.
Well, I think the way that I did it I came to... Here is one more: "Is it the experience of absence of clinging that dissolves the stickiness of self?" It's a great question. I'm not sure exactly. You know, I'd like to say yes. But the issue of self that we're looking at, the particular kind of formation of self that we're looking at in Buddhism, is not all ideas of self, but the attachment to it, the clinging to it, that itself is a clinging. So discovering the absence of the clinging to self dissolves the stickiness of self. And sometimes we can have very clear experiences where that self-attachment, self-preoccupation, completely falls away. And we even can see, like, there's no self here, just life being lived. And self will come back later, and the stickiness the attachment, but we know this other place so clearly, that we have a very different perspective on the self that comes back. Now we can really recognize, "All a lot of what I thought I was is a construction. It's a convention. It's a learned behavior and idea of who I am that's been taken on by my culture and my family, my religion, all kinds of things. It's provisional. It's conditional, and whatever is useful about it, maybe I'll participate in. And whatever is not useful and painful, maybe I can let it be."
So thank you for participating, and I hope my answers were adequate in response. They're great questions, and very important issues and not always so easy to answer, especially in this format, and not getting much of the context for the questions. And I look forward to being together next week. Thank you.