Friday, February 1, 2008

taking refuge


Chapter 88 of Dogen's Shobogenzo is entitled, "taking refuge in the three treasures."

The idea is expressed in Chinese characters which carry the literal meaning of "returning to and depending on." Let's keep that in mind as we look at the three things that we are supposed to rely on and take refuge in:

I take refuge in Buddha
I take refuge in Dharma
I take refuge in Samgha.

Taking refuge in Buddha
From what I can gather after extensive study, the Buddha may indeed be a historical personage, but in exactly the same way that Christ consciousness is not only an individuality (conscious entity,) "Buddha" is also also an energy that penetrates all living matter. "Buddha" represents something much larger than a person, even though the aspect of His person is real.

This paradoxical existence of individuality within universality does not subject itself to reductive analysis; we can only breathe the concept in and out with our experience. I have encountered the living reality of it myself, and am unable to explain how it "works," even though I know it is true.

It seems clear to me that taking refuge in the Buddha does not mean paying homage to the historical individual (even though this would be meritorious.) It means relying on and dwelling within the inner, within something higher in ourselves.

Taking refuge in Dharma
The Dharma is reality. We are asked to inhabit reality. In a world where most of us seem determined to flee reality in every way, shape, and form (especially through the abuse of media) the idea of taking refuge in reality seems peculiar, perhaps. After all, reality, in the form of time, is a ravenous beast that ultimately consumes all of us. Unsurprisingly, most of us would prefer to forget this as often as possible, in any way possible. A vast, colorful, and depraved array of human vices proves this point out quite admirably.

Yet everything we do lies within the realm of reality. Even indulging in fantasy does not remove us from reality. We could view it from this perspective: there is no escape from reality. As such, we are asked to accept reality by taking refuge in it, that is, inhabiting it. In this sense, to me, taking refuge in the Dharma implies acceptance of reality above all else.

I am moved once again to remember my teacher Betty Brown's question, "What is the truth of this moment?"

We can run but we can't hide. Reality with all its broken glass, pins, and needles needs to become our ally, not our enemy.

Taking refuge in Samgha
This means to take refuge in the community. We are asked to be in relationship with others. We come back again to the subject explored in taking refuge in the Buddha: individuality within universality.

Observe the symmetry: individuality, reality, community.

I am an individual, but I belong to a community of other individuals. Together, the community is one whole thing: it is an organism that I participate in. If I begin to understand my existence as being that of one cell in a larger organ, perhaps I can begin to see that it is not all about my individuality. Instead, every action I take contributes to the health of the whole organism. In this way, I come to a new sense of responsibility that I cannot see from the point of view of individuality alone.

Taken all together, the idea of "taking refuge" in these three aspects of existence means returning to them. The idea presents a key understanding within the Gurdjieff work: we are not "with ourselves," we are identified, we live within the external, which takes us away from what is real. That is to say, in our ordinary existence, we continually, through what Gurdjieff would call sleep, leave what is real behind us through a lack of attention.

It is in attending that we return to ourselves.

In addition, we depend on these three aspects of existence, that is, our existence cannot be there unless they, too, exist. There is a reciprocity here which reminds us of Gurdjieff's Law of reciprocal feeding. It is understood that the community feeds the individual, and the individual feeds the community.

Instead of turning away from reality, Buddhism asks us to dwell within it in acceptance.

Paul's efforts to help the Corinthians and Romans understand community from this point of view seem to approach the same question. In both cases -- Christianity and Buddhism alike -- we are informed that the approach does not begin with the way we behave outwardly.

Nothing deep and real can come from that; it is all just aping one another, the activity of the monkey mind. If that is the best we can do, I suppose we will have to settle for it -- after all, it is better to achieve peace through monkey-imitation than to have no peace at all -- but lasting peace can only come when it is born from within the flower of each soul, not copied on a Xerox machine of intellectual ideas and distributed like a pamphlet.

The most difficult thing about achieving peace of this kind is that I don't want to give anything up. I have to be willing to put everything on the table to acquire something real, and I just won't do that.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

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