I just got back from attending the Opening of the Sixth World Peace Temple and International Kadampa Spring Festival in Malaga, Spain. It was magical in many ways, not least because when you are surrounded by thousands of practicing Buddhists and meditators, you feel supported and inspired in profound ways it is hard to explain. Sangha Jewel are one of the Three Jewels of Buddhist refuge, and one thing they offer is real hope that we can, after all, solve our problems and find lasting happiness.
This coming Saturday is our annual Refuge Day – to my mind, one of the best days of our calendar! Refuge is the method for finding solutions to our everyday and long-term mental and physical suffering by coming under the care and guidance of the Three Jewels -- Buddha, Dharma (the teachings and experiences of the teachings), and Sangha (the spiritual community).
What is refuge?
Refuge is what we turn to in order to get rid of our suffering. We go for refuge because we need refuge, or protection, from our various problems, big or small. We arguably spend all day going for refuge, trying to get rid of one thing by turning to something else.
Like, just now I was feeling a big sleepy in this heat wave, so went to grab a cold drink from the coffee shop. (Passing waves of people on the street seemingly on their way somewhere, no doubt in pursuit of relief just like me.) If we are feeling unwell, we turn to medicine; if we’re lonely, maybe we turn to friends or Tinder; if we’re hungry, we eat something if we can; if we’re bored, maybe we go online; if we’re uncomfortable, we shift our body into another position. Etc. Those are relatively tame things to do – we also have a large variety of more suspect things we turn to, such as opioids or the pursuit of power, status, and extreme wealth.
You know those sped-up movies? Watching them, we can see how we’re always on the go — going here, doing this, going there, doing that. Getting up, sitting down, propping ourselves up, lying down, walking around, sitting down again. Each day is a constant pursuit of little relief hits from what are basically physical or mental aches and pains. And we’ve been doing this our entire life. In all our lives, since beginningless time.
But the interesting thing is that we have just as many problems to solve as ever, don’t you find? We have just as many physical aches and pains, quite possibly more given that this body doesn’t get more comfortable as it gets older. Not to mention the near-constant mental aches and pains. So, we’re turning for refuge to other things all the time, but they are clearly only providing some temporary relief at best.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t eat, drink coffee, get a job, surf the internet, etc. That’s not Buddha’s point. His point is, are we finding the lasting happiness and freedom that we all long for? Are these temporary refuges sufficient for us, or could we actually be doing more? Could we be getting rid of our aches and pains more effectively?
And this is not even talking about those BIG problems — namely ageing, sickness, major loss, catastrophes, and death — just the run of the mill irritations and discomforts. Coffee, the internet, power/status, and hot dates don’t even touch the big problems.
Right now the world is in a ridiculous mess. Not surprisingly, there is an increase in depression and loneliness and anxiety in all age groups. People are experiencing drought and famine and starvation. Economic uncertainty is worldwide. There is so much hatred and division. Animals are being tortured and butchered, as always. I won’t go on, you know what I mean. But we need guarantees that we will not continue to experience these awful sufferings, and an effective way to protect our loved ones from them. Refuge provides that. It is through seeing suffering that Buddha decided to leave his cushy life in the palace and attain enlightenment, then showing the rest of us how to do the same. Instead of missing the wood for the trees, Buddha has invited us to broaden our perspective and understand the whole context, see the whole forest. Why? Because all these problems have a deeper cause, one that only Dharma can touch, that Dharma DOES touch.
The three things I am really hoping everyone can take away with them are: (1) at heart you are sane and have huge potential, and nothing can take that away. (2) Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are actual sources of protection, and the closer you get to them, the safer and happier you will become. (3) We can become sources of refuge ourselves, bright lights and shelter in this dark and confused world.
Basically Buddhist refuge means that instead of turning to worldly solutions, or sense pleasures, or indeed anything outside our mind, we turn inside to the practice of Buddhadharma.
The main object of refuge in Buddhism is our own efforts in practicing Dharma: such as increasing our inner peace, getting rid of our delusions (sometimes known, with good reason, as “afflictions”), practicing patience, love, compassion, and wisdom. We turn to Dharma experience because we appreciate that it is the effective and lasting protection from our problems.
There would be no Dharma without Buddha Shakyamuni -- he taught it in our world, and Buddhas also emanate as Spiritual Guides who can guide us and bless our minds. Without Buddhas, or enlightened beings, it would be impossible to practice Dharma. And we also turn to Sangha, such as our fellow Dharma practitioners – others who are also interested in solving their problems, if you like, from the inside, not always from the outside.
This uplifting Talk & Ceremony is a wonderful conclusion to all the teachings we have been receiving at our Center this year, and a way to deepen our connection and experience by going for refuge and becoming a Buddhist, or so-called “inner being”, seeking happiness and freedom from within. For some, Refuge Day is an opportunity to receive inspiration and begin exploring the richness of this very beautiful spiritual tradition. For others, Refuge Day is a turning point in their lives where they start traveling the spiritual path as a Buddhist.
The day is divided into two parts. First there is a teaching on refuge. After a break comes the actual Refuge Ceremony, a blessed ritual meditation dating back to the time of Buddha Shakyamuni; and of course it will be up to you whether you use this to formally become a Buddhist or simply as a powerful blessing and inspiration. As well as drawing us closer to the love and protection of all Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – the Ceremony also serves as a powerful method to purify a lot of negative karma and create huge good karma.
A great highlight of the day is the Sangha community lunch we enjoy together after the Ceremony – so please stay for that as well. I very much look forward to spending time with you!
With love and prayers,