Fundamentals of Buddhist Religiosity: Refuge

Uposatha Day, February 3, 2012

Index to this series

Chapter 3. Refuge.

RefugesFlowerIn summary of the last chapter, reverential trust (or faith) in the Triple Gem, that is, of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, is what nourishes our Buddhist aspirations and practice just as sun, water and soil nourish a flower. This is what first turns our heads toward virtue, wisdom, peace and the rest of our highest values. Furthermore, this is in Core Buddhism, it is present in the original teachings of the Buddha and it is upheld in any Authentic Buddhism ever since. I would like to explore this Refuge thing more fully here.

Trust in the Triple Gem is essential. Until we understand what what it is the Buddha realized, what it is the Buddha taught and what it is the Sangha has upheld for one hundred generations, we cannot be certain where this way of life and Path of practice will lead us. Until we have experienced deeply this way of life and traveled far on this Path of Practice we will not understand what the Buddha understood, taught and entrusted to the Sangha. Therefore, until we have experienced this way of life and traveled far on this path we require trust, ardent trust in the Triple Gem. Those born into Buddhist cultures and families learn that trust from infancy, others acquire it through sometimes accidental means. Sariputta, who would one-day become the Buddha’s leading disciple in wisdom, gained it first simply by observing the deportment of one of the early Noble One on alms rounds.

There is nothing unusual or uniquely religious about any of this: Any decision, whether secular or religious, requires Trust because we live in a hopelessly uncertain world. Trust is the only thing that can bridge the gap between the little we actually know and the heap we would need to know to make a decision with certitude. It is either the nuts or the bolts of human cognition. We may try to bring as much discernment as possible into the decision but in the end we necessarily make a jump, big or little, into the unknown, “[Gulp] Well, here goes!” In this way we have entrusted ourselves for good or bad to our baby sitters, to our teachers, to our accountant, to TV pundits and to our dentist. Those born into a modern nation state at one time learned to trust its leaders and its military from childhood often through ritual pledge and incantation and to trust science as the most reliable information source. Discernment may or may not back up our trust, but some degree of trust in one thing or the other is an unavoidable part of any decision.

Life-altering decisions require big acts of trust and therefore great courage; they are way beyond the reach of the timid who cling fearfully to certitude and baby steps. This is the courage of the hippies of yore on quest in India with nothing but a backpack, and more commonly of the betrothed or of the  career bound, stirred by deep longing or desperation. The Buddhist Path fully embraced by the one who will ascend the stem toward Nibbana will shake one’s life to the core and this will demand a particularly courageous trust in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, stirred by samvega, a kind of horror at the full realization of the nature and depth of the human condition. It is said that the Buddha-to-be experienced samvega when as a somewhat frivolous Nepalese playboy he learned to his dismay of sickness, of old age and of death, and thus began his quest to India.

Trust driven by desperation is appropriate even where little certainty can be discerned. Suppose the flood waters are rising and huts at the river’s edge are already being swept away. The villagers panic as they recognize the foolishness of building their village against a sheer cliff. Most of them begin running frantically back and then forth along the river bank. The chief, on the other hand, grabbing up his youngest daughter in one hand and his exquisitely embellished staff of authority in the other, shouts, “Follow me, villagers!” and plunges into the water. Many others follow immediately. Still others, the more timid, wait until they ascertain the chief’s ascent up the opposite river bank, but many of the timid are tragically swept away in the still rising waters for having hesitated. There is no discernment in timidity, to trust is to take control of our fate.

The safety we seek, should samvega arise, is already at hand in the bridge of Refuge in the Triple Gem. Underlying both metaphors of Refuge・and Gem・is the property of Protection.・A refuge at the Buddha’s time was the protection provided by a mentor, patron or benefactor in return for a vow of allegiance. Gems were generally believed to have special protective properties. Generally there is a sense of calm relief and confident safety associated with taking Refuge in the Triple Gem known as pasada, the antidote to the distress of samvega. It is said that the Buddha-to-be experienced pasada at the sight of a wandering ascetic before he left the frivolity of the palace life. The Triple Gem along with the life of the Buddhist community is a precondition, a kind of launch pad, for the Magga, the Path of practice toward Awakening.

Refuge in the Buddha

Such indeed is the fortunate one, the worthy one, the supremely awakened one,
Endowed with knowledge and virtue, well-gone, knower of Worlds,
Peerless tamer and driver of the hearts of men, master of gods and men,
The awakened one, the exalted one. – AN 10.92

Most religions worship some personality. Buddhism is striking in that that role of deep veneration is occupied by a (now deceased) human being rather than a deity or supernatural being, albeit a person who attained some remarkable attributes. We already tend to venerate people with remarkable qualities, for instance, our favorite geniuses like Einstein or Mozart. The Buddha was a three-fold genius!

First, the Buddha became a supremely awakened one, a Buddha, worthy, exalted, with no one to light the Path for him. He thereby attained perfect mastery of the mind, achieving perfect wisdom, virtue and equanimity. This was his first genius.

Second, he was able to teach what he had attained, to lay out the Dhamma, the proper knowledge of the world and the means to tame, drive and master humans and whoever else wanted to travel the Path. This was his second genius.

Third, he organized the Buddhist community, in particular the institution of the Sangha, to support, propagate and perpetuate the understanding and practice of his teachings. His third genius is rarely mentioned as such, but the reader should appreciate the immensity of this accomplishment by the end of the next chapter. In short, the Buddha’s three-fold genius is directly tied to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

When we take Refuge in the Buddha we see in the enormity of this personality the highest qualities we might choose to emulate. Refuge in the Buddha is nonetheless an act of trust, trust that such a personality is even possible. It is only with deep practice and study, with our own progress on the Path that we begin to see how his qualities of mind actually start to begin to commence emerging gradually. Trust is necessary in the beginning until we see for ourselves, veneration encourages trust, it opens up the heart and mind to the influence of the Buddha.

Veneration is a Core Buddhist practice that is rather simple in Original Buddhism but assumes sometimes wildly embellished forms in some of the later traditions. Veneration gives Buddhism much of its religiosity. Veneration, or its stronger version, worship, may be the primary practice of many religions. So let’s look at its forms and functions in Original Buddhism. Two chapters from now we will see how it evolved in some of the later traditions of Buddhism.

The living Buddha was venerated and expected to be venerated in a number of ways according to the customs of the culture in which he lived. These included a number of physical expressions, most significantly  anjali, produced by bringing the palms together before the chest or face. Anjali is a quite ubiquitous expression of respect or greeting in its land of origin. What is significant is that Buddhism has carried it from India to every land in which Buddhism has taken root regardless of how dissimilar the culture. This is evidence of the importance of the function of veneration in Buddhism. It is at the same time evidence of how a particular cultural artifact is quite readily carried along to a new land when that artifact is the established expression of some Core Buddhist function in the old land. Sometimes this process even leaving traces of one-time Buddhist influence where Buddhism is no longer evident, as is almost certainly the case in the Christian use of anjali for prayer.  We will see further examples of this in chapters to come when we consider the evolution of religiosity in the later traditions.

Veneration to the Buddha was also originally expressed through full prostrations sometimes touching the Buddha’s feet, by circumambulation keeping the Buddha on one’s right, by covering one’s otherwise bare shoulder with one’s robe and by sitting on a lower seat than the Buddha, by standing when the Buddha entered the room, by walking behind the Buddha or not turning one’s back to the Buddha and by proper forms of address. In the early scriptures the Buddha occasionally actively chastised a visitor for not showing proper respect, beginning with the Buddha’s re-encounter after his Awakening with the five ascetics to whom he delivered his first Dhamma talk. His Vinaya also required of monks that they not offer Dhamma talks to those who do not offer proper respect to them.

The original practice of veneration to the Buddha applied of course to a living being. Nearing his parinibbana he anticipated that his relics, the remains after his cremation, would become objects of veneration and accordingly specified, as described in the Parinibbana Sutta (DN 16) that they be divvied up and distributed to specified clans of lay devotees, so that they might build stupas over them. This became the primary physical symbol of the Buddha for purposes of veneration; Buddha statues were a much later development. I also mentioned in the last chapter that the Buddha specified four sites associated with his life as places of pilgimage. The Buddha also recommended contemplations about himself for recitation such as the one that began this subchapter, alongside contemplations of the Dhamma and Sangha.

The way the Buddha set himself up, albeit in a modest way for the times, as an object of veneration had nothing to do with an “ego trip”; that would contradict all we know about the personality of the Buddha, about the doctrine and practices he espoused which were directed unambiguously toward selflessness, and with the trajectory of development dedicated disciples of the Buddha have experienced throughout history. It was as if Gandhi, realizing the veneration that would continue after him and realizing that this veneration would serve to keep his project alive, had left us with an ample supply of portraits of himself to hang on our walls. The Buddha undoubtedly was well aware of the importance of his Awakening for mankind and understood the value of refuge in a human personality and would have defined practices around this accordingly.

There is also subsidiary value in veneration itself in developing wholesome states in its practitioners. Bowing and other expressions of veneration powerfully generate personal humility, they deflate the ego, knock it out of its privileged position in the universe by deferring to another. This seems to be a function of veneration or worship in all religions I am aware of, and I presume an essential function of the God idea in most. Prostration in particular seems to be a natural embodiment or enactment with deep genetic roots; consider how lesser dogs instinctively make a similar gesture to express submission to greater dogs. This practice is an easy and profound antecedent to the gradual weakening along the Path of self-view. Expressions of veneration result in calm and the stilling of inflictive emotions as self-centeredness relaxes. The Buddha states,

When a noble disciple contemplates upon the Enlightened One, at that time his mind is not enwrapped in lust, nor in hatred, nor in delusion. … By cultivating this contemplation, many beings become purified. (AN 6.25)

Refuge in the Dhamma

Well expounding is the teaching of the Buddha,
To be seen together, with immediate fruit, inviting investigation, leading onwards,
To be realized by the wise each for himself.  – AN 10.92

Most religions have some form of doctrine or belief system, generally providing a metaphysics, an account of the origin of the world, of mankind or of a particular tribe. The Dhamma stands out in its sophistication and its emphasis on the mind rather than on external forces. It deals with the human dilemma, existential crisis, anguish, suffering and dissatisfaction, delusion, harmfulness, meaninglessness and the rest, as human problems with human causes that arise in human minds, and require human solutions. It provides a program whereby the mind is tuned, honed, sharpened, tempered, straightened, turned and distilled into an instrument of Virtue, Serenity and Wisdom. The Dhamma itself is among the greatest products of the human mind, skillfully articulated by the Buddha. On the basis of trust in the Triple Gem we begin to study, practice, develop and gain insight through the teachings of the Buddha. As the Buddha states,

He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Teaching and his Order, penetrates with transcendental wisdom the Four Noble Truths — suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of suffering. – Dhammapada 190-191

The Dhamma also stands out in its empirical quality, “inviting investigation.” This phrase translates Pali ehipassiko, which is an adjective formed from “come and see.” The Dhamma points almost entirely to what can be verified in our direct experience, or instructs us in ways to move the mind into certain experiences. Many in the West are first inspired to trust in the Dhamma in the first place upon learning of this refreshing quality of the Dhamma.

Some caution is however in order lest one think this means that we should trust our own experience. In fact for the Buddha the typical “uninstructed worldling” is actually astonishingly deluded and the Dhamma quite “against the stream” from his perspective. We get hopelessly confused in trying to see or interpret our own experience. For this reason the Buddha in the famous but often misquoted Kalama Sutta warns us not to base one’s understanding on one’s own thinking:

… don’t go … by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability … (AN 3.65)

In fact, when the Buddha says “come” he is shouting down to us flatlanders from the mountaintop. To arrive at his vantage point we need to scramble up hills, struggle through brambles and ford rivers. When the Buddha says “see” we need to focus our eyes intently in the right direction to barely make out what the Buddha sees with great clarity of vision. In order to be willing to do any of this we have to establish from the beginning great faith and trust that the Buddha knows what he is talking about. This is Refuge. What else would induce us to make the difficult climb up the mountain? Investigation and personal verification are necessary parts of following the Dhammic Path but they take time and effort before we can say, “I’ve come and now I see.” Until then trust or faith is essential.

For instance, the Buddha taught that craving is the origin of suffering (the Second Noble Truth). At first this will seem an abstract proposition which we ponder and try our darnedest to match up with observation. The most likely early outcome is to dismiss this proposition as faulty.  It seems pretty clear to us, for instance, that buying that snazzy shirt would  make us exceedingly dashing and that that would lead to improved prospects for romance and other forms of social success. Therefore craving clearly leads not to suffering but to happiness.  Refuge entail instead the we decide to trust the Buddha before what we think we are experiencing.

Eventually through years of examination on and off the cushion we might discover that the Second Noble Truth is not an abstraction at all; it is something that bites us on the nose over and over all day every day. As soon as the craving comes up the suffering is right there with it. As soon as we “have” to have that shirt there is stress and anxiety, unmistakenly. We would discover we had been living in a world of incessant suffering, a world aflame, all along and not noticing it! Without Refuge we would never have scrambled to the mountaintop. As the contemplation at the beginning of this subchapter states, it is the wise who realize for ourselves.

The Japanese-American Zen master Shohaku Okumura in a similar vein once said of Zen meditation, “It takes a lot of faith to do zazen. Otherwise nobody would do something so stupid.”

Although the Buddha’s quite empirical methods seem generally to turn away from what we tend to think of as religiosity — the Buddha quite clearly had no sympathy for blind faith — I should in all fairness point out that his teachings are not entirely empirical. The ultimate criterion for Dhammic truth is not verification, but benefit. This again is made clear in the Kalama Sutta:

“Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them. ” (AN 3.65 )

He then goes on to argue how belief in rebirth, apparently as controversial in Buddha’s day as it is today, fits this criterion, as a working assumption if need be for the unconvinced. He does not argue for rebirth on the basis of criteria of objective verification but of ethics. This brings myth, or what many will interpret as myth, within the Buddha’s purview, even while it is rare that it is found a Core role.

Certainly the primary original way to venerate the Dhamma would have been to listen to discourses attentively and to recite and memorize them.

Refuge in the Sangha

Of good conduct is the Sangha of disciples,
Of upright conduct is the Sangha of  disciples,
Of wise conduct is the Sangha of disciples,
Of dutiful conduct is the Sangha of disciples,
Namely the four pairs of persons and the eight kinds of individuals,
Worthy of offerings, worthy of hospitality,
Worthy of gifts, worthy of reverential salutation,
An incomparable field of merits in the world. – AN 10.92

Living, breathing role models are found in every religious tradition, but in Buddhism these become primary objects of veneration and faith. This makes perfect sense since living breathing persons have the most immediate influence on our lives and are most likely to have brought us to Refuge in the Triple Gem in the first place. Unfortunately sometimes we accord this privilege unknowingly to ruffians and scoundrels rather than to admirable friends. For the Buddha the Ariyasangha is most worthy.

The line in the verse above, “Namely the four pairs of persons and the eight kinds of individuals,” refers to the four stages of Awakening, beginning with Stream Entry, and subdividing each of these by “path” and “fruit,” that define the Ariyasangha in terms of spiritual attainment. The subsequent lines refer to the practice of giving alms to monks and nuns, the Bhikkhusangha, along with veneration. The idea is that the Sangha brings great benefit to the world but that their attainment and presence are enabled by those who sustain them and thereby share in bringing benefit to the world, as it were watering a fertile field. The generosity of alms is thereby the primary means of expressing veneration to the Third Gem. Both practices, veneration itself and generosity as a specific expression, are important elements of Buddhist religiosity in cultivating wholesome mental factors for the actor, which is what merit really is.

I’ve written a bit about the relationship of the Ariya- and Bhikkhu-sanghas, the soil and the roots, in the last chapter, and will examine this in detail in the next chapter. Suffice it to say here that there is an ambiguity between the two. Recall that the former are individuals of great attainment, the Noble Ones, and the latter the members of the monastic order, who individually may or may not be so Noble. Generally when we extol the virtues of the “Sangha,” as in the contemplation above we speak of the Noble Ones, yet the most common formula for first taking Refuge in the early discourses usually in the Buddha’s presence, explicitly uses the word Bhikkhusangha.  It gets confusing but the confusion seems to be deliberate. If we think of the Bhikkhusangha as a school that trains people to become Ariyans but actually includes some monks and nuns of little attainment, for instance, the newly ordained, we realize that offering alms to the Bhikkhusangha is a necessary function for ensuring that there are Noble Ones in the world. Moreover it is the monks and nuns who are readily recognized as a Sangha thought their distinctive attire. As such the Bhikkhusangha not only sustantially includes the Ariyasangha, but nuns and monks collectively or individually symbolize it, even if sometimes much as a piece of plaster sitting on a modern altar might symbolize the Buddha. It helps if the practice of giving alms is thought of not as the practice of giving to a particular Noble One or a particular nun or monk, but to the Sangha as a whole, undifferentiated, on behalf of which a particular nun or monk receives the alms. Accordingly the Buddha said,

“An offering made to the monastic Sangha is incalculable, immeasurable. And, I say, that in no way does a gift to a person individually ever have a greater fruit than an offering made to the Sangha.” – MN 141

Although the Buddha included himself in the Sangha it is remarkable that the “person individually” referred to was specifically himself in the context of the discourse, the Noble One of the Noble Ones. For the Buddha the Refuge in the Sangha was huge.

Continuity.

The Buddhist Path fully embraced by the one who will ascend the stem toward Nibbana will shake his life to the core and this will demand a particularly courageous trust in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. I want to return briefly to the theme of urgency that impels this level of faith.

The Great Cathedral in Cologne, Germany began construction in 1248 A.D. and was to be magnificent. It was completed in 1880, over six centuries later! This makes me think of the original founders of the Cathedral, and marvel at what their motives were and what inspired them to start a project of this size that would not live to see past the very earliest stages. This undertaking certainly required a great trust that others will be there to continue the work through the generations and centuries to come. It certainly required patience when progress must have seemed so gradual in their lifetime. Along with patience it must have fostered a sense of urgency as the significance of this project dwarfed all other considerations in the lives of these founders; after all every decision they made was for an eager posterity, for untold generations to come, long after the ephemeral gains, losses and fatigue of their small lives had long been forgotten. Their small lives must have acquired huge meaning in the context of this project. I imagine that sicknesses, deaths, births, droughts barely deterred the founders in their determination to see the work continue without interruption.

This particular sample of selfless urgency and determination, of meaningfulness and zeal, comes out of a religious context, but similar examples are found in secular realms as well, for instance, in science or in art or among explorers, in which practitioners characteristically give themselves over completely to a project perceived as somehow greater than themselves, sometimes even to their personal neglect and peril. That greater context or perspective is often ill-defined, the glory of God, the march of human knowledge, Lasting Beauty. It is this kind of “religious” zeal that produces genius. It is also akin to the zeal evoked by samvega, horror at the human predicament, and pasada, trust, that turns to Refuge and goes on to produce Awakening. The aim of our practice is about the perfection of the human character, it is about making something no less magnificent than the Cologne Cathedral: a Buddha.

If we fail to find that greater perspective our practice can easily slip entirely into making our present lives temporarily more comfortable until we die, at which point any horror we may have at the human predicament will disappear anyway. Our practice will be like beginning construction on a village church, rather than a Cathedral, which we expect to occupy and preach in this very life. The result might indeed be competent, but hardly magnificent. We will have failed to transcend a petty fathom-long body and few decades of life and thereby failed to secure the condition for an Awakening that might otherwise have been possible even in this very life and body.

What would be missing in this picture is a sense of continuity with what goes on before this life, after this life and all around this life. Our practice is about our “ancient twisted karma,” about developing from what we understand as the content of our character, our deeply rutted habit patterns of body, speech and mind, our views, our identities, our pleasures and our anguish, our strengths and weaknesses. When I use the phrase “ancient twisted” I acknowledge that this karma has for the most part obscure antediluvian origins. We repeat in our lives what our ancestors have repeated before us, what our culture is accustomed to repeating, what our evolutionary history has passed on to us.     Just as ancient twisted karma has all been transmitted to us as the stuff of our practice, so do we transmit it further as a hopefully less twisted result. We are like pipes; if karma goes in one end karma has to come out the other. In short, we are embedded in a matrix of beginningless and endless cause and effect, that passes through countless lives.

This is what makes the horror of the human predicament as well as our practice toward its resolution huge. The realization that the fruits of our practice are forever, fosters a sense of urgency as what’s at stake in this project dwarfs all other considerations in this life; after all every decision you make will be for a world eager to end suffering, long after the ephemeral gains, losses and fatigue of your small present life are long forgotten. This means you will continue to practice virtue, even under the pressure of bad times or of good short-term gains, because it is your virtuous kamma that will carry over into future. The fruits of the practice of this small life will acquire huge meaning in the context of this project. Sicknesses, deaths, births, falling stock prices will barely deter you in your determination to see the work continue without interruption.

This deeper perspective is the function of Rebirth in Original Buddhism, and explains why the Buddha, otherwise scrupulously wary of metaphysics or philosophical speculation, took a clear stand in this case. What is really at stake, as with Refuge, is the attitude behind our practice. In  terms of rebirth Bhikkhu Bodhi states more succinctly the point I present here:

To take full cognizance of the principle of rebirth will give us that panoramic perspective from which we can survey our lives in their broader context and total network of relationships. This will spur us on in our own pursuit of the path and will reveal the profound significance of the goal toward which our practice points,…

I bring up rebirth in the context of religiosity because it like Refuge expresses a Core part of the mindset, the infrastructure, the launch pad, the preconditions necessary to fully embrace the Path toward Nibbana. It also incidentally gives us an opportunity to explore the boundary of Original and Core Buddhism, that is to start with an understanding of the Core functionality that needs to be preserved then to test the range of expressions of that functionality. For instance, admirable friendship itself can be viewed as channel for conveying karmic results. Modern science has revealed many new channels, genetic, behavioral, social, environmental, that would have been dimly understood at the time of the Buddha. Or we might find the more traditional linear model of pipe linearly aligned to pipe entirely satisfactory. In any case we are each engaged in an epic struggle with karmic forces from the ancient past and outcomes that will reach endlessly into the future.

Buddhism without Refuge?

The tyke born of a devout Buddhist family is likely to live out his life centered in religiosity; he will live in the roots and leaves, not in the stem. His is a world something like the grass of the next illustration. The little seedling will have been brought into the presence of Buddha altars, and of monks, nuns and Noble Ones, and will have been taught the forms of veneration. He will learn to recite the Refuges. He will begin to absorb a few Dhammic aphorisms and learn to recite five Precepts. With growing conviction he becomes increasingly involved in the community life, developing merit in taking care of the temple and the needs of the monastics, in chanting vigorously, and such things. He will someday become aware of the stem and may consider broadening his world to include the Path upward, perhaps ordaining. A full encounter with samvega will likely bring him to that decision. In any case he will be inclined support generously the aspirations of those who do make that choice, for he will understand the civilizing force of the Noble Ones.

DevoteeFlowerLiving in this world seems in itself capable of achieving remarkable results. I see this in most Asian Buddhists I’ve known. I also see it in other religious traditions with similar forms of religiosity, which one way or another seem to produce some people of great attainment, even without a Noble Eightfold Path or anything resembling it! It has a remarkable capacity for generating confidence, zip and many wholesome mental factors in its adherents, and can produce centered, selfless, composed, kind and insightful people. One can thrive in the grass.

A totally different profile would be someone who does not grow up with a foundation in Buddhist religiosity. He might be reluctant to commit to the Refuges or Precepts, has not lived in a Buddhist community, knows nothing about Noble Ones, does not know what function nuns and monks could possibly serve or why they don’t go out to get jobs. He might have begun by reading about Buddhism, inspired perhaps by a vague sense that Buddhism is a good thing, maybe having seen the Dalai Lama on TV or inspired by Buddhism’s reputation as “peaceful,” or by reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. In any case he has been moved to take up Buddhist practice, particularly meditation, much as he had when taking up working out in a Gym the year before. Just as the gym membership had made his body stronger, he hopes that joining a 都angha・will make his mind stronger. He likes the idea of Awakening and might even expect to if he meditates ardently for a couple of years, but has no perspective beyond improving this one life.

This chap lives in the world of the stem, as shown in the next illustration. Without deep veneration nor involvement in a Buddhist community he is nourished only by the experience of practice itself. He lives more accurately in something like mistletoe hanging off the stem which has grown from a seed (his initial intention) that had been deposited in a bird dropping. Mistletoe is a parasite that develops enough of a root to absorb water and minerals from the host plant. It has no sense of where this nourishment comes from nor responsibility for preserving it for future generations. It gazes down upon the grass with disdain, little comprehending the roots and soil and the spiritual growth that is happening down there. I know this profile well; it used to be mine. His practice is likely to be precarious for a time, but he might eventually gain some strength if he manages grow deep religious roots. Notice that each of these illustrations omits the blossom of Nibbana.

MeditatorFlowerPeople who grow up steeped in (perhaps Jewish or Catholic) religiosity have an easier time. They are like a graft rather than mistletoe. Much of the growth of the roots and leaves has already been experienced and is, probably with mixed degrees of success, translated into Buddhist religiosity.

One Response to “Fundamentals of Buddhist Religiosity: Refuge”

  1. Kevin Says:

    The only reason I am is the Dharma and the 12 steps. Foundation of the short time I have here. My teachings have to continue. I never want to ” get it” If I think I ” got it” I am doomed.

    Like

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