There’s not only not an individual self (an I) but when you rest deeply in experience one begins to see that there’s nothing to experience either. Right now anger comes up; it feels like something really solid. A crisis comes up and you’re like, ‘This actually exists and something has to be done and it has to be this way!’ and it all becomes very rigid and very concrete.
But the more deeply you rest in experience the more you see that nothing is absolute. Things come and go, they come and go in relationship with each other, and it’s kind of mysterious and kind of wonderful. And you begin to see more and more that the problem comes from trying to hold on to things, hold onto a sense of self, hold onto a certain experience, keep a certain experience away, whatever. It’s all open, it’s all empty. Not in the sense—and this is very important—that there’s nothing there but in the sense that there’s nothing to anything. It’s different.
That’s buddha. That’s being awake, which is what buddha means.
The foundation for taking refuge
Mr. U Sapukotana
Buddhists world over take refuge in `Buddha’ `Dhamma’ and `Sangha’. As we chant the stanza `Buddham saranam gachchami’ etc visual mental impressions associated with these stanzas get surfaced. With the chanting of the first refuge comes an impression of a Buddha Statue or a Buddha picture. `Dhamma’ is often associated with the books or `ola leaves’ on which the original `Tipitaka’ was committed to writing. `Sangha’ of course we see often, the Budhist monk in yellow robes.
Do these mental impressions offer a true refuge to us?
Could it be that Buddha asked us to take refuge in our own `Buddha nature’? Our Buddha nature may be yet in an elementary embryonic stage. Yet it is that nature, though infinitesimal, that establishes a link between ourselves and the larger Buddha nature (Samma Samsuddha).
What is Dhamma refuge? The literal meaning of `Dhamma’ is what is contained or harboured within us. (Dharetiti Dhammam) "We take refuge in the quality of mind that harbours the Buddha nature". (`Dhammo have rakkhati Dhammacari’ `He whose mind harbours (Buddha) Dhamma is protected by such Dhamma’).
`Sangha’ means a `group’. In this context it could mean `putting together’ or `consolidating’. Consolidating what? What do we take refuge in? `Sangham saranam gachchami’ could mean we take refuge in the quality of our mind that has consolidated the Buddha nature within.
This process will help us prepare our minds to establish communion with the real Samma Samsuddha, Dhamma and Sangha and to find refuge in them. This form of thinking is supported by Buddha himself when he said "Atta Dipa Viharatha" make a lamp (a refuge) unto yourself. Elsewhere Buddha says `Attahi attano natho – ko his natho parosiya’. `One is the master of oneself. Who else could be the Master’?
Perhaps if we appreciate them deeply enough, we will realize what it means to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha; to vow to save all sentient beings, to put an end to desires, to master the dharmas, and to accomplish the Way. Perhaps we will understand what it means to be one with this unwavering lineage of ancestors who have handed down this dharma from generation to generation, without holding anything back. They gave their lives to it; not three months, six months, a year, five or ten years, but their whole lives. They turned themselves inside out. They renounced everything else to make the Way clear. Why? So we can have it, here and now, served to us on a platter. It is ours for the taking. All we have to do is reach out.
What does it mean to reach out? It means to have exhaustively asked the questions: What is Buddha? What is Dharma? What is Sangha? What does it mean to take refuge? What does it mean to vow? What does it mean to be one with? What does it mean to commit? What does it mean to have a relationship with a teacher? The answers are all available. Nothing is hidden.
We can find it in books. We can find it in the sutras. We can find it by asking. And, most important, we can find it simply by looking into ourselves. Why do we practice? What is it that we seek? What is it that we want? What is it that we are prepared to do to get what we want? Are we willing to practice the edge, take a risk, unreservedly throw ourselves into practice? Or are we just being opportunistic and calculating, ready only to skim a little cream off the top to take care of the immediate problems, but not ready to go to the depths?
Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
It is also interesting to reflect on ordinary taking refuge and extraordinary taking refuge and on the different levels of understanding they reflect. How can we look at Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as aspects or ways of talking about the qualities of emptiness, knowing, and lucidity? One way of speaking about lucidity is to regard it as being a combination or the coexistence of knowing and emptiness. Another is by seeing the two as manifesting together as compassion, or innate compassionate activity.
I find this a very helpful way of talking about it: the Buddha is that which is awake, that which knows, so taking refuge in the Buddha is taking refuge in the awareness of the mind. The Buddha arises from the Dharma. The Buddha is an attribute, knowing is an attribute of that fundamental reality. The Dharma is the ultimate object, the way things are. Its characteristic is emptiness. The Buddha is the ultimate subject, that which knows, that which is awake. So when the ultimate subject knows the ultimate object, when the mind that knows is aware of the way things are, what comes forth is Sangha, compassionate action. Sangha intrinsically flows forth from that quality.
When there’s awareness of the way things are, then compassionate skillful means naturally arise and flow from that. The three refuges, as you can see, are all interwoven.
It is useful to think of them simply as separate attributes of the same essential quality. For example, water has wetness. We can talk about wetness, but we can’t separate wetness from water. And there’s such qualities as the fluidity and the temperature of the water that we also can’t extract. They are distinct qualities; we can distinguish them, but we can’t separate them.
When we are investigating this quality of rigpa, the nature of mind, it is helpful to see how all its attributes are intrinsically interwoven and intermingled with each other. We can’t actually separate them out; they are of one piece.
A way of holding this all together is reflected in a phase often used by Ajahn Chah: “Inside is Dharma. Outside is Dharma. Everything is Dharma.” Whether we can see it or not, it is all Dharma. It is like saying of the sea: “This is water. Inside is water. Outside is water. Everything is water.” The mind is Dharma.
The knowing is Dharma. The physical world around us is Dharma. All the beings around us, every one, are all a part of nature. “Nature,” by the way, is another translation for Dharma.
―Ajahn Amaro, pp. 99-100 in Small Boat, Great Mountain: Theravādan Reflections on The Natural Great Perfection