Last week with started the theme of getting to know the sangha by hearing the answers different sangha members give to questions about what the three jewels mean to them. Now we’ll continue with Liesl’s answers.
What does ‘taking refuge in the Buddha’ mean to you personally?
Any image of the Buddha is so peaceful and comforting to me, and given the popularity of this image in the west, I am afforded many opportunities to take refuge in the peace of his image daily. The statue on my personal shrine is a way for me to visually connect with my intention to wake up. I spend a minute or two before I start meditating, just looking at his calm face, his relaxed and confident posture, and I can connect with those qualities in myself.
What does ‘taking refuge in the Dharma’ mean to you personally?
There are many suttas and lists I’ve been exposed to since becoming a Buddhist, and they are all meaningful to me. The eightfold path and the four reminders are two teachings that I really find helpful. When I find myself suffering, which is daily, I can bring these to mind and know that this human life is precious and there is a path out of suffering if I choose to take it.
What does ‘taking refuge in the Sangha’ mean to you personally?
The sangha is the jewel I take refuge in most tangibly at this time in my life. Moving to a new city that fortunately has a Triratna Buddhist community is a huge comfort and support. Sangha night, when we meet as a community to meditate and discuss the dharma is a highlight in my week. And I’ve made connections with some sangha members and we meet up on other days too. It’s like having an instant family of like-minded people.
[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 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.