One thing about this world, it’s unreliable. They say if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.
Being in such a shaky reality is painful. Actually, it’s not inherently painful. Our inability to deal with the shakiness is painful.
Unfortunately, that’s how it is.
The thing is though, we have to have some response to all this that gives us a shot at a happy life. What to do?
Byron Katie talks about ‘Loving What Is’.
If you put yourself in opposition to reality, you lose. So, she argues, don’t just accept it, love it.
You don’t know what the big picture is, you might as well trust it.
Buddhism calls this a ‘true refuge’. Reality is a true refuge. You can find refuge in it. It won’t let you down.
Of course, in order to go for refuge to reality, you have to radically change the way you go about living your life. You need to stop running after this bit and running away from that bit.
You need to love what is.
That’s what Buddhist practice is all about. Letting go of needing things to be a certain way in order to for you to feel OK. It’s a challenge for sure, but it’s the only challenge I’ve ever found that was worth taking.
The three jewels
The traditional Buddhist take on ‘going for refuge’ is that there are three true refuges, and a whole bunch of false ones.
The three true refuges are called ‘the three jewels’. They are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
To me this always sounded a bit too much like a standard religion to get too excited about. It doesn’t sit so comfortably. But I totally get the principle. And here’s how I see it. My take on it is reasonably traditional, so maybe it’s not that ‘religious’ after all.
Going for refuge to the Buddha
The Buddha is you. The enlightened you. Your potential.
The Buddha is also a principle, an archetype.
The Buddha in later Buddhist tradition is present right now. We’re just blinded by delusion. Some practices involve seeing everyone and everything as different expressions of the Buddha. Everything is teaching you right now. Since everything is simply expressing what is, everything provides you with an opportunity to awaken, every moment.
‘Dharma’ has a bunch of meanings. It means the teaching, it also means ‘reality’ or ‘how things are’. In the sense of a ‘true refuge’ it means reality. And the path to that is Buddhist practice, so that’s a kind of path or vehicle for getting there. In that sense, it’s kind of a refuge on the way to the refuge.
People use the word ‘sangha’ to mean ‘Buddhist group’ or ‘monks and nuns’. As a true refuge though it means the enlightened ones. When you become enlightened, you join them. But also, they’re the ones that can guide you there. The sangha on the ground are the best we’ve got, unless we’re very lucky. For me, the sangha on the ground is anyone who can teach me something useful. I don’t care if they call themselves Buddhists, anarchists, Christians or pink elephants.
False refuges are places we try to hide that aren’t really safe. Drink, drugs, sex, youth, health, TV, retail therapy. They’re OK as far as they go, in that they do provide some relief, at least some of the time. But there’s no way to really get anywhere with them. Eventually you’re addicted, penniless, old, ill and there’s nothing good on TV.
Eventually, we have to try a new path. That’s when we start getting interested in spiritual stuff. We get a glimpse of something out of the corner of our eye one day and set off.
After some time we realise that there’s nowhere to go, and no one to go there.
We’ve been right here, right now all along. How could it be any other way?