February 2016: Taking Refuge

In February our Dharma topic is Taking Refuge. All branches of Buddhism incorporate taking refuge in the three treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

According to Karen Armstrong, author of The Buddha, the practice goes back to the Buddha’s day. Lay people who couldn’t take up the lives of mendicants took refuge in these three treasures.

In our precepts class we’re studying pre-Buddhist thought, and have learned that the Upanishadic sages wanted to find the essence of three worlds: the microcosm – our self; the macrocosm –the external world; and the mesocosm – the intermediary world between inside and outside, which is the world of ritual and sacrifice.

This theme of three – heaven (inside/spirit), earth (outside/society), and the link between the two -comes up in other traditions. In the Christian trinity for instance: God in heaven, Christ on earth, and the Holy Spirit as the messenger between heaven and earth.

As for our three treasures, for me the Buddha is the essence of ourselves – our Buddha nature. Our practice to discover that is zazen.

Sangha is our practice of living our everyday lives, off the cushion. Relating to people – whether at the Zen Center or at home or work.

Dharma is the link between these two. Dharma teaches us to make sense of our Buddha experience. And it teaches us some of the innumerable ways we may bring that experience into our lives.

Those embarking on a Practice Plan starting March 1 are now considering what to commit to in these three areas – Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

In February we will sing the Three Refuges in Pali after every sitting. Thanks to the Red Cedar Zen Community in Bellingham for inspiring me to try that.

I’ll be gone for the first half of February in Norway, where I travel twice a year to teach at the Rinzai Zen Senter in Oslo. I always appreciate my time there, and come back refreshed, usually with a new idea or two for the PSZC sangha. I would for instance like for our sangha to work toward running 7 day sesshins, like the ones I lead in Norway each summer. There is nothing like sitting in silence for a week.

In the meantime, feel free to join me in Oslo in late July/early August for the Rinzai Zen Senter’s summer sesshin. It is my hope that in future more connections develop between these two sanghas.