The early Buddhists seemed to love making lists - the Four Noble Truths, the Ten Perfections, the 108 Cravings (comprised of six groups including the 18 Cravings Through the Sense of the Nose for Sensual Pleasures Associated with a View of Eternalism or Nihilism, Internally or Externally, of the Past, Present, or Future). Out of curiosity, I had a look at the 38 Blessings. It turns out the first one is Not Associating with Fools. Who knew?
I think because I’m a bit of a minimalist (read: simpleton), lists enumerating the Virtues, the Hindrances, the Dwellings of the Noble Ones and the Unwholesome Actions just don’t ring my bell. I guess that’s why I’m attracted to the simplicity of Zen - even the name only has three letters.
There is one little list, however, that I have grown very fond of: the Three Jewels - the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, a.k.a. the Three Treasures.
Many folks with great scholarship and great insight have already written about the Three Jewels. This little offering is just a freehand sketch of what they mean to me. I know that as soon as I open my mouth, I fall into error, creating artificial separations, but here goes.
First off, the Three Jewels are not separate 'things' - more like one thing seen from three different directions. For the same reason, our take on them will be different, each from our own vantage point.
Buddha - not just the chap who sat under a tree and noticed something important. Buddha nature may be a better term. Vast emptiness. All-inclusive. Capable of becoming anything. Capable of awakening.
Dharma - the teachings of the Buddha and more. The laws of cause and effect. Change. Unfolding. Awakening. Relieving suffering.
Sangha - for sure everyone who follows the teachings of the Buddha - but also every other being of every kind, everywhere.
Taking refuge in the Three Treasures is a formal Buddhist ceremony. It is also a personal act we perform with our whole being - not just our thoughts and words - but our whole lives: a lifelong, intimate love affair.
We take refuge in the Buddha whenever we sit down, let go of our thoughts (including the thought of taking refuge) and simply pay attention. A little habit has crept up on me: last thing at night, if I snuggle up with the universe, for want of a better term, my iron grip on my little sense of self seems to loosen and I'm asleep in a few seconds.
My mental picture of taking refuge in the Dharma is going for a joyful swim in a river, doing a playful dance with the currents of cause and effect. It's also expressed in our sincere efforts to do the right thing, to be a manifestation of wisdom and compassion.
Taking refuge in the Sangha. Group hug. How wide can we spread our arms? We support and nourish and heal and cherish. And we are supported and nourished and healed and cherished. How cool is that?
Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
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