[image] I recently got together with one of my sangha mates for a social visit, outside of the sangha, on the Upper West Side, for a snack-and-chat. (We’d intended to walk in Riverside Park, but it was a particularly sweltering day, so we opted to stay in the AC.) We caught up on various things in our personal lives, but since we share an interest in Buddhism and its expression in the Triratna-NYC sangha, we naturally discussed that. At some point he asked me a really interesting question, “What does taking refuge in the three jewels mean to you?”
It’s a great question, and really basic to Buddhism. The three jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Buddha is, well, the Buddha. The image of a compassionate being, the example of enlightenment, the embodiment of the goal of ‘waking up.’ Not a god, just a person who some 2500 years ago achieved something that all Buddhists aspire to achieve. The Dharma is the path and the teaching, either his or others’, that lead to compassion, enlightenment, seeing the truth of reality, figuring out a way to live in a world that is marked by suffering (along with happiness) and impermanence and loss. The Sangha is the community of others on the same path, in their different ways, toward that goal. It may be the small group of people you see regularly and meditate with, discuss the Dharma with, and hang out in Riverside Park with. And it is also the worldwide community of Buddhists who are on the same path.
When someone becomes a Buddhist, one of the things they do is to ‘take refuge in the three jewels.’ This is not an à la carte proposition. There’s a formula, a fixed and traditional meaning. But there’s a lot of room for interpretation in it. What exactly does the example or image of the Buddha mean to an individual? What type of relationship to the Dharma does an individual have? How do they experience and access it? What does the person consider to be the Dharma? Is it just the Pali canon, or is it more expansive, with other Buddhist traditions or even art, poetry, nature, or quantum physics? What is the Sangha? Is it a small group of people you see regularly? Is it a sense of a global community of people you don’t know personally? Or can the Sangha be an ad-hoc group that you suddenly see as instrumental in your personal spiritual path?
I thought about that great question and answered, and the idea also came to me that this would be really good material for this blog. Rather than sharing my answers, which I suppose I’ll do at some point (and sort-of have above), I emailed several of my sangha mates and asked them the same question. This is the first installment of answers. This first post comes from Gary. Others will follow.
What does ‘taking refuge in the Buddha’ mean to you personally?
Consideration and emulation. Holding the key characteristics of the Buddha in my mind, and using them to influence my own actions. Acknowledging that the Buddha found/rediscovered something powerful, a positive way to approach the universe and the human condition, and striving to live by his example.
What does ‘taking refuge in the Dharma’ mean to you personally?
Making study of all sorts an integrated and daily part of my practice. This can run the gamut, from books by Sangharakshita to books on meditation, mindfulness, non-violent communication, and other topics by John Kabat-Zinn, Marshall Rosenberg, Sharon Salzberg, Thich Nhat Hahn, Eugene Gendlin, and many others. It may also include listening to talks on FreeBuddhistAudio, and even Krista Tippet’s On Being Podcast.
What does ‘taking refuge in the Sangha’ mean to you personally?
Acknowledging that the community is a powerful and critical component in my practice. The support and acknowledgement I get from my Sangha-mates nurtures and sustains me. Knowing my community is out there, even when I can’t make it to Sangha night, helps me to maintain my commitment to practice. The love I feel from my Sangha mates just feels right.
Thank you, Gary, for sharing!