“True Refuge”, an inspiring new book by Tarchin Hearn, is now available from Wangapeka Books for $20 plus postage. To order copies, contact us at <books [at] greendharmatreasury [dot] org>
Some of you may have heard that Tarchin has been having some health issues. We are pleased to announce that not only has this book, ten years in the gestating, been born, but at the same time, Tarchin ‘gave birth’ to a kidney stone and stent and is now blissfully recovering from what has seemed like a long labour!
In the Buddha, the Dharma and the excellent Sangha,
I take my refuge until enlightenment is reached.
By the power of generosity and other good deeds,
May I realize buddhahood for the sake of all living beings.
At this very moment, in Buddhist temples around the world, devotees with palms joined at the heart are reciting verses of refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, in a ritual called ‘taking refuge’, or ‘going for refuge’. For many of these people, this act of devotion is a practice they learned from their parents or grandparents and has become something of an ingrained habit; a largely unquestioned part of being the person they are. Christians, Moslems, Jews and Hindus, along with practitioners of other institutionalized forms of religion can be seen performing similar rituals in similar moments of devotion.
For some people, taking refuge is much more than just a religious habit. It can be a powerful moment of emotionally charged poetry that helps them touch a place of deep inspiration and uplifting aspiration. For others, contemplating refuge becomes a doorway into a lifetime of questing and questioning that takes them far beyond the gates of the temple and the religious symbolism of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In their quest, they may even find themselves asking, what is refuge? Who goes for refuge? And for that matter, what do we actually mean by Buddha, Dharma and Sangha?
For some, the journey of refuge can expand in the direction of a vigorous exploration of what we are, and where we are, and how we as human beings fit in with the rest of the world and the cosmos around us. Questioning this way, we may find ourselves asking what we actually mean by ‘going for’ or ‘taking’ refuge. Is refuge to be found in a location, something one can ‘go’ to? Is refuge a thing, something that can be taken or held? If we really look deeply, enquiring with the whole of our being, we may end up feeling our way into a fresh understanding of the very fabric and functioning of life and, in doing so, touching a sense of vast meaning, profound belonging and unfathomable completeness. At this moment we might realize that the contemplation of refuge has brought us back to the fullness of what, where and who we are. We will have recognized and realized our true home.
Years ago, I set out to write a booklet on refuge, one that would be filled with explanations and clarifications of Buddhist tradition. As time passed, my expanding reflections and explorations, coupled with teaching and working with people both in cities and in retreat, took me ever more deeply into a vast and complex weaving of life experience. I began to sense that truly seeking refuge and actually resting in or realizing refuge, were the underlying themes of everyone’s lives whether they had heard of refuge or not. Refuge is the concern of everyone, not just Buddhists.
As I pointed out in the preface, all of us are participating in a turbulent world of climate change, political instability, social upheaval, economic uncertainty and natural disasters. For the millions of people finding themselves engulfed by fire, flood, earthquake, war and rising poverty, the search for meaning and physical and emotional resilience is no longer a mere philosophical diversion. It is central to their survival as well functioning, decent human beings. This search for meaning, in the midst of emotional stress and increasing feelings of disempowerment, is the viscerally real work of refuge in action. I would say that it has been our central human work throughout history. The capacity to wonder about what we are and where we are going and how we are connected with others and what we can contribute to the world, is what makes us humans fully human. Whether we grapple with this as a religious concern or as a secular practicality for survival and success, these questions are profoundly at work in the bones and marrow of beings from all cultures.
Celtic tradition sings of home and belonging. Deep ecologists celebrate their inseparable interweaving with all life. Physicists feel their way towards a beautiful theory that links everything. Devotees of religions of all kinds, yearn for union. Buddhists honor the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Sufis embrace the beloved. Christians give themselves over to the Christ Consciousness or to Godhead – “Not my will be done but thy will be done.” Muslims practice surrender. Agnostics let go into the ineffable. Sufferers learn to embrace their life situation. This journey towards refuge, towards safety, belongingness, well being, meaningful being, and a fundamental sense of home, is the underlying dominant theme of all human endeavor. It is the beginning, the middle and the end of all paths of awakening. It is initially felt as a deep emotional yearning. It unfolds through mindful life experience. It culminates in the manifesting of a richly matured human being. Refuge is both the starting point of our explorations and the final realisation.
In these pages, I hope to share with you some glimpses into what could become a life long journey of contemplation and practice. Rather than a traditional presentation with methodically developed themes and arguments, I have opted for a collage of poetry, observations and, hopefully, some fresh avenues for question and enquiry. I’m trusting that your intuition will knit these various offerings together, in ways that are relevant to your own unique situation and circumstance.
For practicing Buddhists, I hope this small book will revitalize your understanding of what, in my life, has become a deep and fertile ground of contemplation. For those of you who are rooted in other traditions of enquiry, I hope you will taste the flavor of refuge or at least have a tantalizing whiff, a possibility for living that seems vast and profoundly universal, yet is arising, at this very moment within you and around you in the dance of living relationship which is our very beingness.