Excerpts from “True Refuge” a new book by Tarchin
147 pages; $20 + postage
Irony will sometimes teach us more than earnest explanations. Too often I meet Buddhists who, in the temple or as part of a session of meditation, chant refuge prayers to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and then, in their day to day living, seek refuge in dramatically different ways. Sometimes, when the opportunity has seemed right, I have suggested to them that if they had the courage, they could try being a bit more honest. Instead of chanting “I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”, which for many people are little more than pious concepts, they could look at where they actually go for refuge, on a daily basis, and then to name it as it is.
Imagine the following situation. You are standing in the presence of your object of ‘reverence’. Your palms are held together in a gesture of prayer. Perhaps you are in front of the refrigerator. “I take refuge in compulsive snacking.” Or before the TV, “I take refuge in zoning out”. Looked at this way there are an astonishing number of ways people try to find refuge. There is refuge in defensiveness. “I take refuge in irritation, prickliness and self justification.” There is seeking refuge in travel, novelty, money, credit ratings, pensions, and insurance. There is looking for refuge in sex, relationships, romance, or companionship. How about refuge in sleep, withdrawal, or even in passive aggression? Some seek refuge in overt addictions such as drugs, alcohol, coffee, tea, TV, movies, music in the background, texting and social networking. Some seek refuge in routine – in habitual activities. Some take refuge in pausing and breathing. They’re not all negative! There is seeking refuge through hiding from people and situations and seeking refuge through fixing or controlling people or situations. A big one is hoping to find refuge in what others think of me.
Try doing this for a day or two, hands folded, head bowed in prayer, gazing at your current source or object of refuge and at that very moment, recite the words, “I take refuge in _____”(and baldly state it as it is). Notice your response.
At the same time, you are saying this prayer, gently float the following question. Is this particular matrix of body, speech and mind a realistic place of refuge that can give me a sense of safety, well being and belonging in any life circumstance? Will this refuge sustain me in the face of sickness, old age and death? Will it sustain me in the midst of recognizing that life is vast and ultimately unknowable in all its detail, and that everything exists dependent on other things which themselves depend on other things? Will it sustain me when I find myself in new and unfamiliar territory, where my native wit and intelligence are my only guide? Equipped with your wholeness/fragmentation compass, really look into this. Over the course of days and weeks check it out – again and again. These are attempts at refuge, but are they broadly useful or do they just create more trouble? In the process of exploring this way, can you begin to discern the possibility of ‘true refuge’?
Rather than a blunt black or white, yeh or nay, it can sometimes help to think in terms of less functional and more functional places or sources of refuge. Less functional refuge tends towards withdrawal and disengagement – hunkered down behind a rocky outcrop in a storm (which may be necessary in a crisis but not in daily living). More functional refuge tends towards expansion and engagement – lucid, loving, open and accepting.
After you have observed some of your habitual attempts at refuge, take a large sheet of paper and on it, write something like this:
less functional refuge < – – – – – – – > more functional refuge
withdrawal < – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – > expansion
Now jot down the various refuge attempts that you know are familiar patterns in your life. Arrange them along the line between less functional and more functional. What is actually important to you? As a refuge, does it work?! Does it really lead you to an experience of well grounded, thoroughly integrated, wholesome functioning? Can it support a sense of fundamental goodness, wonderment and reverence through all the unavoidable stages of life, including dissolution and death?
I take refuge in wholeness,
the natural state of complete authenticity and presence.
I take refuge in playful experimentation,
the great flowing, the universal teachings of awakening.
I take refuge in daily practicalities, this unfolding communion of all life.
To order a copy of “True Refuge”
In New Zealand, e-mail <books [at] greendharmatreasury [dot] org>
or in Auckland, contact Janet at janete1 [at] ihug.co [dot] nz
In Melbourne, Australia, contact Kathryn at kathryn [at] openpathmeditation.com [dot] au
In Hobart, Australia, contact Margaret at msteadman [at] trump.net [dot] au
In Canada, contact Samaya at bgordon [at] magma [dot] ca