Before receiving the precepts, we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. I’d always assumed Taking Refuge to be just as it says: shelter from the storms of dukkha. Being one with the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is like scooting under an umbrella. What I missed in the process of flitting from precept to precept was the connotation of “wholeheartedness.”
Let me tell you about our ghost cat, Desirée. Aptly named. We got her along with litter mate, Slick, about 12 years ago. Unfortunately, we left for vacation right after and, in our absence, she bonded fiercely with Slick. Yet occasionally, she’d come to me while I sat at my desk, put a tentative paw on my leg, and allow herself to be picked up into my lap. She’d crawl up onto the bed and, if I stayed absolutely immobile, she’d snuggle up to my back. But if I made even a breath out of sequence, she’d evaporate. We had a Golden Retriever, Bear, who became her Best Buddy. I’d say they were inseparable but the relationship was totally one-sided, an intense dependency he tolerated like a saint. Bear died and later so did Slick, leaving Desirée bereft. She’s stopped crying now and she’s even tolerating our presence for longer and longer periods. But she still flees to her refuge. These tend to be in the nooks and crannies of the house. The latest is this tunnel she dug out of the blanket that covers the zafus and mats at the altar.
For all the safety in a house filled with ample food, water and friends, Des has never really entered the family wholeheartedly, with faith in its ability to tolerate her needs. The entire house is filled with places she can take refuge. And this she does but with a frantic frequency that cuts her off from comfort and an experience of love.
Roshi Daido Loori described the meaning of refuge as translated from the Japanese. It means “to unreservedly throw oneself into” the experience. Like a child leaping with total faith into a parent’s arms, taking refuge in the Three Treasure is a leap into faith that our practice itself are the arms that will always catch us. I like his insistence that we must put ourselves into the practice, especially into the precepts. They aren’t some dead words recited so that we are magically protected. Nor can we use them to hide out from the world. Roshi Loori points out taking refuge is not a casual thing, cannot be a “dharma fling.”
I like that. Never been one for one-vow stands or afternoon dharma delight.
Thank you for practising,