As a buddhist practitioner, we are invited to take refuge in the three jewels: the buddha, the dharma, the sangha.
In my own practice, I find safety and comfort, my picture of a refuge, in the first two. There is effort and challenge and frustration along with the experiences of ease and understanding in finding refuge in the buddha and the dharma but there is a sense of containment within the “self”. It is readily apparent that the variables and obstacles are all self generated when I am sitting by myself on a river and the sangha is made up of trees and animals and rushing water and sky. These sangha members are teaching and pointing and engaging but I still have the experience of being in control of what enters or what I allow to participate in my practice. The practice is predominately within the abode of the buddha and the dharma. There is extraordinary value in this encaved practice with a focus on the first two jewels. It allows me to develop and strengthen the muscles of concentration and inquiry and to more readily see habitual thought streams and the debris of karma.
When the practice in these hermit-like settings opens up to an experience of clarity, a taste of true nature, and an understanding of the cause of suffering, there is always a deep impassioned call to move out into the world and share this understanding. There is a call to meet suffering and to offer ease. At the core of the call is not a desire to fix or “show the way”, but to be a clear reflection for folks to see their original, unique nature.
And then there is the reality of taking refuge in the sangha. When I think of refuge, I think of a safe haven, a place to curl up and be held, a place to be shielded from the storm. Coming out of the month-long retreat on the road, I find the sangha to be not that at all. I find that it is extraordinarily challenging to be the still reflection pool when everyone I meet is providing a crystalline reflection of my own obscurations and obstacles. Where I can see the shadows of harm that I have inflicted on others, by my actions and words, flitting across their expressions and echoing in their cautious speech. And when I encounter the courageous folks who are willing to speak their experience clearly, it initially feels like being slapped… hard. This is hardly the refuge I was expecting or hoping for. Yet, when I relax my hardened shield of self importance and allow the courageous words to enter, I experience a teaching, a reminder, a pointing. The practice shines out and I experience the sangha not as a refuge away from something, or a place where I can share the wealth of my hermiting practice but a refuge into the teaching. I experience a welling up of trust not only in the teaching but the manifestation of its truth in the sangha of other human beings. I experience refuge not as a protection or a shield but as an all encompassing and constantly opening door to glimpsing the true nature of reality as compassion, kindness, joy and equanimity.
So it seems that, when the time is appropriate, the practice calls me out of the cave of inner development and into the jewel of the sangha, not to teach what I have learned, but to broaden my awareness and understanding, to blow open the doors of self realization to expand and include universal realization.
i.e. It’s not about me. ; )