Monday, November 7, 2011


"Do not expect to reestablish good taste. We are in every way in a time of horrible decadence." Voltaire in 1770. 

"Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves, and do not rely on external help. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Seek salvation alone in the truth. Look not for assistance to any one besides yourselves." Buddha's last words to his disciples.

 E. Ethelbert Miller asks: "What does taking refuge in the Dharma mean to you? How do you practice this on a daily basis?" 

Why do we need to take refuge?

Just look outside your window at the world. Read the stories in today's newspaper. Is it possible not to see a world awash in suffering? I think not. But what does it mean to take refuge within this world? It means following a daily practice that becomes our path. That practice consists of constant alertness, vigilance, and mindfulness. Everything we do---large and small, public and private---is the occasion and a precious opportunity for practice. True Buddhist practice begins when we get off our cushion (or zafu) and engage with this world. For as Zen master Hakuin said, "Meditation in the midst of activity is a thousand times superior to meditation in stillness."

 Our era looks eerily (to me) like the time of Petronius, author of the Satyricon, at the end of the Roman empire. A time of late cultural decadence, confusion, and incoherence. So many people are scarred and scared, stressed and depressed, angry and willful. Given that fact, we need a place for spiritual renewal and healing. That place is within ourselves. It is always available to us. We need not look outside ourselves in order to achieve happiness and freedom from suffering. As it says in the Digha Nikaya:

          "You should be an island to yourself, a refuge to yourself, not dependent on any other but taking refuge in the truth and none other than the truth. And how do you become an island and a refuge to yourself? In this way. You see and contemplate your body as composed of all the forces of the universe. Ardently and mindfully, you steer your body-self by restraining your discontent with the world about you. In the same way, observe and contemplate your feelings and use that same ardent restraint and self-possession against enslavement by greed or desire. By seeing attachment to your body and feelings as blocking the truth, you dwell in self-possession and ardent liberation from those ties. This is how you live as an island to yourself and a refuge to yourself. Whoever dwells in this contemplation, islanded by the truth and taking refuge in the truth---that one will come out of the darkness and into the light."

That, in part, is what taking refuge means to me.


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