#3: Refuge

19 January 2010 - 8:43pm Comments Off

When you are in deep trouble, who do you call?

The final object of meditating on death and the dangers of being reborn in the lower realms is fear.

This fear is not the same as anxiety or worrying. Worrying is like wishing for something that we don’t want. If we have contemplated correctly, this fear is an aspect of wisdom which is accompanied by a very strong motivation to do something about it, to seek for a remedy in earnest. In the process, we realise that nothing within the sphere of worldly knowledge nor one’s possessions and friends can help us.

Buddha’s wake up call is very clear – it is not ONLY about dying per se. And it is not enough to fear.

The reality one should come to terms with is that one’s suffering will not end with death. The real fear should be our inability and helplessness to stop the unending cycles of suffering. If we stay complacent and wait for death to come, and do nothing to change the course of things, ending in the lower realms for countless lifetimes is more of a certainty than just a possibility. This is due to the innumerable negative actions we have committed now and in our past lives, knowingly and ignorantly.

Now that we know we are in deep trouble, WHO DO YOU CALL?

Buddhists know where to seek relief – they go for refuge in the Triple Gems or Three Jewels.

If we are going to entrust the welfare of our countless future lives to the Three Jewels, it makes sense to ensure they are proper and reliable objects of refuge.

What are the Three Jewels?
We cherish and value diamonds and jewels so much, we place them close to our body and heart. We need to do the same for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha Jewels.

The Buddha Jewel

A Buddha is any enlightened being. Specifically we can understand Buddha as the historical Shakyamuni who attained enlightenment 2500 years ago. What is so special about a Buddha? Getting enlightened is really the biggest deal you can get. Even Superman is ordinary compared to a Buddha!

The Courageous One

We all like to help people and even animals. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we find we cannot do so in many situations, nor are we able to go all the way. We are limited by our own fears, and lack the knowledge and methods to truly help. In a way, we are like first aiders at best. You need a lot of courage to help others, especially in difficult conditions where sacrifices are called for or your life is at stake. Our courage (even if we receive a decoration for it) is limited by fears and personal concerns. A Buddha’s courage is unbounded as he has conquered all fears. One cannot really help others to be free from suffering if one is still suffering and does not have the knowledge to overcome it.

The Perfected One

When we seek protection from someone, what is the most important criteria or quality we look out for in that person?

TRUSTWORTHINESS. What makes a person trustworthy? The last thing we want is for our bodyguard to turn against us! From experience, we know betrayal from people whom we have put our trust in is quite common. We cannot trust anyone unless we are sure there is no trace of harmfulness in that person. From a Buddhist’s view, there is only one criteria – the person must be totally compassionate. This means one’s compassion arises spontaneously whenever there is suffering. This extraordinary compassion has no conditions attached and does not distinguish who can receive it.

Compassion is the direct opponent of harmfulness. Only a Buddha possesses such pure compassion. Whenever we experience suffering, the Buddha cannot NOT respond to our needs. His compassion is always on auto-mode, perpetually tuned in to suffering.

In other words, the Buddha will listen to your prayers even if you have talked negatively about him, thrown an image of him in the rubbish bin, have done lots of terrible things, etc. Without this special compassion, we will not be able to forgive everyone and all the wrongs they have done. Without total forgiveness, help cannot be rendered whole-heartedly and we will be selective.

Buddha understood our fear and doubts with regard to finding a reliable source of protection. He therefore gave us his seal of assurance by getting rid of all the harmful seeds in his mindstream by accomplishing pure compassion. There is no one with such a quality of mind other than a Buddha.

What’s the message here? Man, stop looking, he is the real McCoy!

Doctor of All Ills

A Buddha can accomplish all things effortlessly and perfectly. Despite our best intentions, knowledge and technological tools, we can never really help others with complete certainty nor can we be sure of the intended results. We lack a very important diagnostic tool which only a Buddha possesses – the ability to read others’ minds. Even the most accomplished linguists and scientists of our day cannot understand or communicate with gods, animals, spirits and hell beings. Psychiatrists spend years trying to figure out their patients’ thoughts. The most advanced lie detector – the polygraph, a product of science – can be fooled by humans. If we have faith in a Buddha, he will be our favourite doctor by a long shot. It does not mean we do not see our usual doctor to treat our sicknesses but they don’t have anything that can cure you from being unhappy, or make you happy on permanent basis. With Buddha, if we follow his instructions, its bye-bye to misery and having inner peace.

If above is still not convincing enough for us to fall in love with him – Buddha loves us all without exception to the extent he does not need to have a reason to help anyone – ain’t that cool! If we are to check carefully, we will realise that the above qualities are not possessed by ordinary beings or even gods. It is because of these qualities that a Buddha is a perfectly reliable object for our Refuge.

Next Week: The Dharma Jewel

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