This seven week course examines the Three Refuges as a central practice of discovering, clarifying, and strengthening one's spiritual aspiration. Without understanding the purpose or goal behind the practice, we tend to drift.
Seven Mondays, June 25- August 13, 2012 (no class on July 9), 7:30-9:00 p.m.
Optional sitting period, 7:00-7:30 p.m.
The Three Refuges
Follow the link below to hear the Nuns at Plum Village chant the three refuges:
Three Refuge Protection Ceremony: From two Dharma Talks by Tara Brach; January 2008 and January 2010
(Gratitude to Michelle Raymond for taking these notes. The following notes are a merging of the transcripts from two talks and so they are not verbatim)
This ceremony is a chance for you to honor your own path and really dedicate yourself, your life, to deepening on the path. It is a beautiful support for that. In Buddhist Asia and Hindu countries the red thread is a symbol of blessing. It is considered to be a thread from a robe of a monk. It is said that once you are wearing this red thread from the robe of a monk around your wrist or neck that you are actually going into the market place in drag, except you are remembering what your true home is. Some of you may choose not to wear it. Some people wear the same cord for years, others may do another ceremony and then put the previous cords on their alter. You can use it as a real vehicle for remembering. This symbol or blessing is a way of remembering what you really want to come home to.
It is called a protection cord. When Chogyam Trungpa was asked, “What exactly do these cords protect us from”? He answered, “Why yourself of course”. He didn’t mean they protect us from who we really are. They protect us from our stories, they protect us from our reactivity, and they protect us from the way this self takes false refuge. They are a way of remembering.
In the ceremony we will reflect together on these archetypal refuges, these ways of turning towards reality. With each reflection I’m going to ask you to tie a knot in the cord and then with the help of a partner have the cord tied around your neck or wrist so that you can wear it and have a way of remembering.
Take your cord and hold it in either hand by the ends and, if you’d like to, just to close your eyes and I’m going to name each refuge and as I name the refuge, and they say this refuge is where we rest our heart, as I name each refuge, sense what it means for you in your life. Make this truly a living ritual that can hold your life and help you remember what matters.
So we begin and sense what it means to take refuge in the Dharma, to take refuge in truth, to take refuge in the reality of our moment to moment experience, this aliveness, this vividness, this mystery of being here, really here. So when you take refuge in the Dharma, you take refuge in the life that is really here. The invitation is to mentally whisper the words, “I take refuge in the Dharma, in sacred presence.” And when you feel that sincerity of taking refuge in sacred presence, sense your aspiration to take refuge in truth, when you sense what that means to you, your commitment to it, please tie the first knot into your protection cord.
The second reflection on what it means to take refuge in the Sanga is to take refuge in love, what for you in your life is cherished about that, what your commitment is, what your longing is – and as you sense the meaning of refuge in love, who we are (it’s a homecoming to the truth and fullness of what we are), you might whisper the words, “ I take refuge in Sanga” and know that your intention, your aspiration is to bring your whole being awake in loving relationship. When you feel that sense of fullness, of taking refuge in the Sanga, the spiritual community, in conscious relationship, please tie the second knot into your cord.
And our third reflection, I take refuge in Buddha, refuge in Buddha nature, is ultimately taking refuge in the awakeness, in the presence that is really our source. Taking refuge is Buddha is taking refuge in awareness. So take a moment to feel presence and the cherishing of that. To take refuge in Buddha nature is to take refuge in what we are. Again sensing for yourself what this means to turn toward the awakened heart-mind, to sense how it lives in an awakened being and how this awareness shines in your own being. As you feel your dedication to taking refuge in the awakened heart-mind, when you feel that sincerity, please tie the third knot.
When you’re done, you can choose whether you want it around your neck or around your wrist. If you want it around your neck take the cord and put it so the two ends hang in front of you. If you’d like it on your arm you can just have it dangling. For this next part we stand up because it requires Sanga in order to actually manifest it. Now officially the three knots means your cord is infused. It is charged now fully. Find one other person and mostly in silence, if you can, take turns completing the cord by tying a knot. Please do have someone else do this, it is part of the ritual to have another person complete the cord and tie the knot for you.
[Followed with chanting the refuges.]
Please read the first chapter in this small book by Ajahn Sumedho. These ten pages provide a practical view of how the three refuges operate in our practice.
Pema Chodron on Taking Refuge, Excerpt from: 'The Wisdom of No Escape'
The whole process of meditation is one of creating that good ground, that cradle of loving-kindness where we actually are nurtured. What's being nurtured is our confidence in our own wisdom, our own health, and our own courage, our own good heartedness. We develop some sense that the way we are the kind of personality that we have and the way we express life - is good, and that by being who we are completely and by totally accepting that and having respect for ourselves, we are standing on the ground of warriorship.
I've always thought that the phrase "to take refuge" is very curious because it sounds theistic, dualistic, and dependent "to take refuge" in something. I remember very clearly, at a time of enormous stress in my life, reading Alice in Wonderland. Alice became a heroine for me because she fell into this hole and she just free-fell. She didn't grab for the edges, she wasn't terrified, trying to stop her fall; she just fell and she looked at things as she went down. Then, when she landed, she was in a new place. She didn't take refuge in anything. I used to aspire to be like that because I saw myself getting near the hole and just screaming, holding back, not wanting to go anywhere where there was no hand to hold.
In every human life (whether there are puberty rites or not) you are born, and you are born alone. You go through that birth canal alone, and then you pop out alone, and then a whole process begins. And when you die, you die alone. No one goes with you. The journey that you make, no matter what your belief about that journey is, is made alone. The fundamental idea of taking refuge is that between birth and death we are alone. Therefore, taking refuge in the buddha, the dharma, and the sangha does not mean finding consolation in them, as a child might find consolation in Mommy and Daddy. Rather, it's a basic expression of your aspiration to leap out of the nest, whether you feel ready for it or not, to go through your puberty rites and be an adult with no hand to hold. It expresses your realization that the only way to begin the real journey of life is to feel the ground of loving-kindness and respect for yourself and then to leap. In some sense, however, we never get to the point where we feel one hundred percent sure: "I have had my nurturing cradle. It's finished. Now I can leap." We are always continuing to develop maitri and continuing to leap. The other day I was talking about meeting our edge and our desire to grab on to something when we reach our limits. Then we see that there's more loving-kindness, more respect for ourselves, more confidence that needs to be nurtured. We work on that and we just keep leaping.
So for us, taking refuge means that we feel that the way to live is to cut the ties, to cut the umbilical cord and alone start the journey of being fully human, without confirmation from others. Taking refuge is the way that we begin cultivating the openness and the goodheartedness that allow us to be less and less dependent. We might say, "We shouldn't be dependent anymore, we should be open," but that isn't the point. The point is that you begin where you are, you see what a child you are, and you don't criticize that. You begin to explore, with a lot of humor and generosity toward yourself, all the places where you cling, and every time you cling, you realize, "Ah! This is where, through my mindfulness and my tonglen and everything that I do, my whole life is a process of learning how to make friends with myself." On the other hand, this need to cling, this need to hold the hand, this cry for Mom, also shows you that that's the edge of the nest. Stepping through right there-making a leap-becomes the motivation for cultivating maitri. You realize that if you can step through that doorway you're going forward, you're becoming more of an adult, more of a complete person, more whole.
In other words, the only real obstacle is ignorance. When you say "Mom!" or when you need a hand to hold, if you refuse to look at the whole situation, you aren't able to see it as a teaching, an inspiration to realize that this is the place where you could go further, where you could love yourself more. If you can't say to yourself at that point, "I'm going to look into this, because that's all I need to do to continue this journey of going forward and opening more," then you're committed to the obstacle of ignorance.
Working with obstacles is life's journey. The warrior is always coming up against dragons. Of course the warrior gets scared, particularly before the battle. It's frightening. But with a shaky, tender heart the warrior realizes that he or she is just about to step into the unknown, and then goes forth to meet the dragon. The warrior realizes that the dragon is nothing but unfinished business presenting itself, and that it's fear that really needs to be worked with. The dragon is just a motion picture that appears there, and it appears in many forms: as the lover who jilted us, as the parent who never loved us enough, as someone who abused us. Basically what we work with is our fear and our holding back, which are not necessarily obstacles. The only obstacle is ignorance, this refusal to look at our unfinished business. If every time the warrior goes out and meets the dragon, he or she says, "Hah! It's a dragon again. No way am I going to face this," and just splits, then life becomes a recurring story of getting up in the morning, going out, meeting the dragon, saying, "No way," and splitting. In that case you become more and more timid and more and more afraid and more of a baby. No one's nurturing you, but you're still in that cradle, and you never go through your puberty rites.
So we say we take refuge in the buddha, we take refuge in the dharma, we take refuge in the sangha. In the oryoki meal chant we say, "The buddha's virtues are inconceivable, the dharma's virtues are inconceivable, the sangha's virtues are inconceivable," and "I prostrate to the buddha, I prostrate to the dharma, I prostrate to the sangha, I prostrate respectfully and always to these three.--Well, we aren't talking about finding comfort in the buddha, dharma, and sangha. We aren't talking about prostrating in order to be safe. The buddha, we say traditionally, is the example of what we also can be. The buddha is the awakened one, and we too are the buddha. It's simple. We are the buddha. It's not just a way of speaking.
We are the awakened one, meaning one who continually leaps, one who continually opens, one who continually goes forward.
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