The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Triple Gem

The Triple Gem

I take Refuge in the Buddha
I take Refuge in the Dharma
I take Refuge in the Sangha

When I first recited these words to myself, so many many months ago, I had only a rudimentary understanding about what any of it meant.  I understood the concept of refuge, but how to apply it to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha made little sense to me. 
The only "vows" I had ever taken were as a Brownie (never even made it up to Girl Scouts), and later, wedding vows--was the Triple Gem anything like that?
My habits of religious experience as a child could be considered "patchwork"--sometimes I went to Mass with my best friend, other times the Unitarian House with my mother.  I attended Temple, then spent several years outdoors in the Church of Mother Nature.  
In other words, there was no context for something as simple and profound as the Triple Gem.  I didn't know HOW to allow it to mean anything.
Initially, when I began studying Buddhism, taking refuge in the Buddha was where I began to feel connected to the physical entity of Gautama Buddha, the Historical Buddha. I identified with his struggles, and found myself rooting for him when reading the wonderful history--"You go Buddha!"
It didn't occur to me until later that I was essentially rooting for myself.
Then, when I began Priest Studies, it seemed that the Dharma was to be my focal point. And for awhile, I could see little glimmers of where I might just get my head around such teachings as the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra and others.  But what does Dharma mean?  I kept asking myself.  
I recall seeing an enormous Koi in a garden pond, the fish was easily 2 1/2 feet long, and it swayed back and forth through the water like a dream.  I watched for awhile before I realized it was trailing a long, black snake. The snake had bitten the Koi's tail, and was being dragged along indiscriminately, sort of like a Nantucket Sleigh Ride for snakes!
How long the snake had been attached was impossible to determine, but the Koi occasionally just flicked its tail in annoyance.  Eventually, the snake opened it's jaw and slid to the edge of the pond, immobile for a long time
Sometimes I think of the fish/snake image when studying the Dharma--here is a fish whose size I might never comprehend!  Do I have a tendency after all, to cling too tightly to words, to lessons, to teachings?  What is there when I release my grip?
Lately, I've been considering what taking Refuge in the Sangha might mean.
I feel such intense, complex emotions for my Sensei, for my Dharma Brothers and Sisters, all of whom, I imagine, feel similar ways about me.  This isn't something we've ever talked about, or even felt the need, but I know at my core that this is true.  I experience it. It's unconditioned love, Metta.   
I come from a long line of judgmental, sensitive, sarcastic Swamp Yankees, and I have to say it's taken a lot of work to begin the process of undoing generations of negative conditioning.  And while I love my family with all my heart, they can not offer what the Sangha offers.  In fact, it's absurd to compare the two.  I can only accept and give them both a place in my being.
Lately the concept of Sangha has expanded to include people I don't know, places I've never seen, ideas and experiences I never imagined I could plug into.
The Triple Gem appears to me, like a giant energy pack, a battery that never runs out, a breeze that never stops blowing, a big wide open expanse that offers this small Sentient Being a moment of connection.  

Namu Amida Butsu! 

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