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Ten Pillars of Buddhism - Tuscany 1984 Unchecked

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked by Sangharakshita, and may contain mistakes and mishearings. Checked and reprinted copies of all seminars will be available as part of the Complete Works Project.

by Sangharakshita

... used that a lot, and not so much talk in terms of 'Going For
Refuge'. Do you think 'Going For Refuge' can be a misleading sort of term, or what?
S:
Well, I think originally I decided to talk in terms of Tcommitment~ instead of 'Going
For Refuge' because the whole idea of 'Going For Refuge' or 'taking Refuge' in something
seemed to spark off, you know, the wrong sort of associations. But more recently I've not
been too happy with the word 'commitment'. Apparently the word 'commitment' comes really
from Existentialism. It's the sort of Anglo-Saxon version of engagement, the state of being
'engaged' with something, and I believe that goes back to a Russian term, but I won't be too
sure of that. But the associations of commitment, one might say, are political rather than
spiritual. I would say that commitment, although we have used it happily all these years, is
quite a provisional, sort of makeshift, you know, 'Going For Refuge'.
I do nowadays
speak quite frequently in terms of Going For Refuge, and those times I've used it I do put a
capital "G" and a capital "R" to make sure it is seen as something quite special.
Aryacitta:
If the term 'Going For Refuge' was originally a sramaneric term does that not
imply a political aspect?
S:
No. Broadly speaking in ancient India there were two main streams of religious
tradition, the Brahmanic going back to the Vedas, and the sramaneric which did not go back
to the Vedas. There was no political implication at all except that the sramaneric tradition did
not accept the 'pretensions', as one may call them, of the Brahmins - did not recognise them
as inherently superior in any way.
Vessantara:
Padmavajra - did you have a related question?
padmavajra: Do you think that the phrase 'Going For Refuge~ itself undervalued the act of
Going for Refuge?
S:
You mean that it was used in a very casual sort of way?
Padmavajra: Yes, I was thinking using a term like 'Refuge' resulted in a certain passivity.
S:
No, I don't think so. I would think what happened rather was that the act of Going for
Refuge came to be thought of in purely ceremonial terms. 'Going For Refuge" meant simply
4reciting certain formulas in pali or in any other language, after a monk, and that was that! You
know. The act of Going for Refuge became evacuated of all significance. This is rather what
happened. It became just a formality as one can see today in most Buddhist countries.
Vajran~atha: Could you say a bit more about the political nature of commitment and say
why it is unsatisfactory?
S:
Well, if the word 'commitment' conveys to a lot of people the idea of political
commitment, to commitment in a political sense, it wouldn't be a very good word or
expression to convey, you know, an act which was essentially spiritual, like the act of Going
for Refuge, which implies a very definite ideal, a transcendental ideal (you know) of a type
which is not recognised within the milieu within which the term originated.
Vajrana~tha: So you think there could be no analogy between spiritual commitment and
political commitment?
S:
Well, there could be an ~~o, but an analogy is quite different from a similarity. So
there is a danger of people confusing an analogy with a similarity. That because there is an
analogy, there is a similarity - but no ~ they are not - they are only analogous.
Padmavajra: Is there any way of seeing how the Going for Refuge came to be related in
those terms? Came to be the distinctive expression of conversion in Buddhism. Why prefer
that to, say, a term like 'surrender'?
S:
Because if we go through the scriptures we find that this Ts what people actually said
over and over again, repeatedly. (You know) when they were impressed by the Buddha's
teaching and wanted to follow, they'd say 'I go for refugeT. That was the expression they
used, constantly. That was their response to the Buddha's teaching. So that became the - I
won't say 'standard' response - it became the sort of paradigm- atic response one might say.
Almost the archetypal response. That when one saw the truth, or intuited the truth, you moved
towards it, you committed yourself to it, you took refuge in it.
Recently I've been
thinking that the concept of 'Going for Refuge' needs to be clarified. I don't mean the meaning
of the word in Pali and Sanskrit, but the actual concept itself. What do you mean by 'Going
For Refuge' to something, or 'Taking Refuge' in something? You can only go for refuge to
something if it is in fact a refuge. This is obvious, but perhaps it isn't so obvious. In other
words you can take refuge in something only if you can depend on it. Just as when you take
refuge in a particular person. For an analogy let's say you take refuge in your doctor, so far as
your health is concerned. (You know) you take refuge in your doctor when you're ill because
you have faith in him. You have that sort of confidence in him, you can rely upon him in the
sense of relying on his medical knowledge and skill, so you take refuge in him in that
particular context, you know, to that particular extent.
5 But when, you know, you take Refuge absolutely in the highest sense you are sort of relying
on something which cannot possibly let you down. Everything else will let you down, but that
will not let you down. So, what is that thing, you know, that will never let you down? Which
cannot possibly let you down? Well, there's only one thing which won't let you down, and
that's Reality itself - anything else will let you down, if for no other reason than it's changing.
So how can something whi~h is impermanent not let you down sooner or later? Because it
won't be there, so of course it will let you down by not being there. So it's only the
Unconditioned which is really totally reliable, upon which you can rely, you know, in which
you can take refuge, to which you can go for refuge. Either the Unconditioned or those
persons whom to some extent are at one with, or reflect, the Unconditioned. Either the
Buddha, and those who have entered the Transcend- ental Path.
So therefore, you have
three Refuges- the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. You see the Transcendental
principle, the Transcendental person, and those upon the Transcendental path. So, only
Reality or those who embody Reality, either fully or to some degree, can be taken as objects
of Refuge, otherwise as objects of your unconditional reliance.
Padmavajra: If you were to get inside those words and examples in the Pali Canon where
people expressed spontaneously the Going for Refuge. That's basically their discovery for the
first time of something they can rely on?
S:
Upon which they can truly rely, because very often we rely upon things which are not
worthy of that reliance, you know, which are not able to sustain that reliance, or support that
reliance. So that's why the Dhammapada says that many people tormented by fear go for
refuge to ~ what is it? - hills and groves... you know.
So perhaps this needs to be clear.
I mean what one means, or what the concept of Going for Refuge actually means. It doesn't
mean sort of burying yourself in something comforting and consoling. I think that is often
how people understand it.
Padmavajra: Do you think the advantage of using the term 'Going for Refuge' as opposed to
commitment is in bringing out the 'other-power' aspect involved, rather than the 'self- power'
brought out by 'commitment'?
S:
I'm not sure about that because, you know, you yourself have to Go For Refuge. It is
an act on your part, even though there is an object to which you Go For Refuge. I think what
is important is that we get out of the habit, actually we haven't got into it, of, you know, using
the Eastern idiom or what has come to be the idiom of Eastern Buddhists and some Western
Buddhists speaking in Western languages, of 'Taking Refuge' which is not correct, which is
not "grahana"(?) wfm7icis what taking is. In Pali one speaks of taking the precepts, yes, but
of Going ~for Refuge. So I think we should never speak of 'Taking' the Refuges, or of 'taking'
Refuge. But of 'Going for Refuge'. This is exactly what the pali is: "gacehami", you know, as
I've explained. Which is why it comes
6 right at the end of the sentence. Which is why we say "To the Buddha for Refuge I go", not "I
take Refuge" - this has quite a different feeling, even connotation. Whereas, you know, the
pious layman in Ceylon or Thailand will turn up at the vihara in the morning and he'll say to
the bikkhu, "Can I please take the Refuges from you?" And, you know, that is just the feeling
of taking the Refuges, just of repeating something after the bikkhu.
But I've also
noticed a rather odd idiom grown up in some English Buddhist circles. I've heard people
saying things like, "Oh, he's taken Refuge with lama so-and-so." You see? It's quite an
un-Buddhistic idiom actually. I suppose you could say that you took the Refuges from lama
so-and -so, but even that wouldn't be really traditional because what you do is to repeat after
him the Going for Refuge formula. You don't take the Refuges from him. That is not a
traditional fluddhist idiom. So, I think we should avoid that "he took Refuge with lama
so-and-so, or bikkhu so-and-so." It sounds quite odd to me at ...

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