For this Monday talk, I begin a new five part series. In some ways, it continues from the long series we had on mindfulness of breathing – mindfulness of breathing meditation in general, not just mindfulness of breathing,
To settle in and discover the value of meditation, we discover that it is not all about me, myself and mine. In fact, to be involved in thoughts and ideations of me, myself and mine, limits our ability to settle deeply in to meditation – to, in a way, get out of the way of our meditative process, out of the way of what feels more like a natural process of the Dharma moving through us.
At some point we begin to appreciate how powerful it is to no longer interfere unnecessarily with the natural process of the Dharma within. The unnatural ways, the unhealthy ways, are to be caught up in our thoughts, preoccupations – to be lost in thought. Or to be caught in what often are the motivating factors for preoccupation. It could be greed, resentment, ill will, doubt. It could be anxiety and fear. It can be conceit. A high percentage of many people's thinking has me, myself and mine at the center of our thinking – somehow that concerns ourselves.
Of course, we want to make ourselves safe. Of course, we want the best for ourselves. Somewhat a paradox is that the less self-preoccupation we have, the more happiness and well being there is for us. We begin slowly to learn that there is another way of living that is not centered on self. It might be centered on this body/mind that we have. It is not that we discount this being that we are. But the ideations, ideas, and identities we take on – me, myself and mine – we begin to see that even those which are true enough – those which are useful at times – interfere with our deep well-being.
I've often, when I've been in the natural world like I am now, become acutely aware of how some of the preoccupations and concerns I have living in an urban environment seem to just fall away. Many things don't matter so much that I need to get concerned with. Maybe in the urban environment, in the cities, there's much more ongoing concern about how other people think about us. "How do people think about me?"
If I spilled my breakfast all over my shirt, I probably wouldn't feel very comfortable walking around my neighborhood. But if I spill on my shirt when camping, it's kind of unfortunate, but there's all kinds of levels of preoccupations I don't have – me, myself and mine, what other people are thinking. Rather, I stay in touch with – stay connected to ease, peacefulness, openness – a feeling that's more closely related to the natural world than what we might feel as part of an urban environment in our social times. If you're following what I'm saying, we start feeling there is safety, support and guidance. There is profound wisdom in letting go of self-preoccupation, distractions, greed, hatred and delusion.
What results from that letting go is vitality, wisdom, safety, inspiration, that we want to make part of our lives. "This is the center of my life. This is what makes sense. This is how I want to live. I don't want to get swept away again in distractions, greed, fear and all the things that I get caught up in. I want to live in this natural mind, natural heart, that is at ease with itself – that allows operating without contraction, recoiling and constantly being for and against everything."
This strong orientation – strong, heartfelt wish to stay close to this and make this the center of our lives – for Buddhists is often represented by, or expressed through, the notion of going for refuge. It is represented by going for refuge, sometimes, in the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha – where the Buddha, most simply, is the exemplar. The Dharma is his teachings that arise out of his awakening, and the Sangha are the witnesses who have discovered, seen for themselves, that what he teaches and is the exemplar for, is true.
That's one traditional way of understanding refuge. There are other ways that the Buddha taught about refuge, that have to do with other things besides the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. There are six things.
One of them – which is a big surprise for some people to hear – is that oneself becomes one's own refuge in this process. Another is that one's actions and choices become a refuge. Another is that the Four Noble Truths are a refuge. The last refuge the Buddha talks about is the refuge of deep letting go of greed, hate and delusion – ending them.
During this week, I would like to talk about refuge. This is, for many people, a topic of deep faith. It certainly is for me. In an ancient Theravādan tradition, the commentators talk about refuge as existing in the seat of our emotions, which is said to be the heart. Refuge is a heartfelt phenomenon. It is an element of the heart, this refuge. Maybe it has more to do with a feeling, an inspiration, than almost anything else.
But it is not only a feeling, inspiration, or religious sentiment. Rather, it is intimately connected to the understanding and wisdom we get as we do this practice. That is why the more people practice, the more understanding they have of where true refuge is.
Refuge is also closely connected to our motivations and sense of purpose. Refuge provides a direction, a purpose for our lives. It's an orientation. Having all these things together – a deep faith, heartfeltness, understanding, sense of orientation, and purpose that we trust – means that when Buddhists go for refuge, they often will feel reminded of this. There is trust, faith, and knowing, which they immediately feel, "Oh there is safety." They immediately feel a sense of context for our lives of safety. There is an order, a lawfulness in this life. There is a natural process that I can trust.
Going for refuge is an affirmation – but not a blind faith, not a blind adherence to a religion. It is an affirmation of what we are growing into, of what is growing and developing within us. We begin understanding and having faith in this – a connection that is so meaningful. For some people, it becomes the center of their lives.
Maybe, they would even say it is the most important thing in their lives. Not more important because other important things have become less important. If they really are important, keep them as just as important.
But something about the refuge in the Dharma – because it is so heart-based maybe – it is so beyond, bigger than any kind of self-preoccupation and self-concern. It feels almost like the world. It feels like we're part of something that is bigger than ourselves, that connects us to all the other things that are important to us.
In fact, as we become freer and more compassionate through practice, then the inner freedom and compassion we have benefit all the other things we take as important in our life. The Dharma is most important, and this actually improves the quality of our relationships to all the other things that are worthy of keeping important in our lives.
To have this at the center of our lives – refuge. Sometimes the idea is that refuge is a passive thing. It is not passive. It has to do with how we live our lives, and how we engage in the world around us. This, they say in Buddhism, is a gem, a treasure.
So that will be the topic. This talk today was an introduction to it. I won't spend so much time on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. That will be the topic for tomorrow. Some of you have heard lots of talks on that. Though I'd love to do a whole series of talks on that, I want to cover the different areas of refuge that the Buddha pointed to, as a way of understanding the full depth and range of something that can be the heart of our lives.
In doing so, we become a refuge for others. Not that we are making them be Buddhists, but rather, we are a person with whom people feel safe and inspired – that there is another way to live that is not based in greed, hatred, or fear.
Thank you for allowing me to share this beautiful place that I'm in. It's a nice coincidence that we're in the natural world for talking about refuge in the Dharma, I think of the natural world and refuge as being somehow closely connected.
Thank you very much and I look forward to continuing tomorrow. Tomorrow I should be back at IMC.