Refuge - Nowhere but in us | Daily News

Refuge - Nowhere but in us

Ven. Watagoda Maggavihari Thera
Ven. Watagoda Maggavihari Thera

Atta hi attana natho
ko hi natho paro siya
attana hi sudantena
natham labhati dullabham
(Dhammapada verse 160)

“One is one’s own refuge how can another be a refuge to one?

(one reaches salvation) by purifying one’s own mind getting to the refuge (Nibbāna) is rare.”

"Think about a person who is sick and waiting to get cured from the sickness. For that, a good doctor should be there to prescribe medicines according to his or her disease. Having a doctor is not enough, there should be quality medicines. We also need the support of nurses, attendants. They give medicines at the correct time and instruct us, support us and compassionately guide us what to do and what not to do to get cured. Finally, if there is a good doctor, the best medicines, good nurses and attendants, it's our duty to behave properly and follow the instructions and follow healthy habits. Even though we are in the best hospital under the care of the best medical staff and high quality medicines, the greatest responsibility is upon us.

So the great doctor, Buddha, who understood the suffering of this world, had given best medicine Dhamma to cure the sickness of craving in this Samsara with the support of the nurses and attendants, the Sangha, who encourage us and guide us, but if we do not follow the path, we can never get out of this Samsara."

"In my opinion, this is an aspect that we pay less attention. Because we emphasise more about Seela, Samadhi and Pagna, sometimes we accidentally or unintentionally ignore Chethana, which can also be explained as Kamma." Vice President of the International Institute of Theravada Ven. Watagoda Maggavihari Thera said.

When Visuddhi Magga was first written by Ven. Buddhagosa Thera it explained that the path to liberation can be explained in different ways. It is threefold - Seela, Samadhi and Pagna and sometimes we can explain the path to liberation as five-fold and sevenfold based on Bojjanga and sixfold. Sometimes it is explained as four-fold, Seela, Samadhi, Pagna and Kamma. Kamma means the action that we do. This action is also a refuge in one sense. So rather than focusing on this as a path towards liberation, I like to direct your attention towards the refuge that we go into or go under or take up. Normally we talk about three refuges, Triple Gem, Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. The Buddha is the fully enlightened person who discovered the truth and explained in a way that we could understand. The Dhamma is the attainment that he had. The Sangha are the disciples who follow this path and achieve this liberation under the Buddha's instructions. So these are the three refuges that we normally undergo uttering the Pali terms, Buddhan Saranan Gachchami, Dhamman Saranan Gachchami and Sanghan Saranan Gachchami. But when we extensively study the doctrine with much insight, we get to know about another refuge, which is Kamma. A person who studies Dhamma to a certain extent knows that Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha are the refuge of the disciples and at the same time, there are discourses that Buddha has mentioned, "You are your own refuge -Attahi Attano Natho." We have to have a clear understanding on how to match these two, because both have been uttered by Buddha himself. In a Dhammapada, Buddha has mentioned one who undergo the refuge of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha considered them as their refuge could eventually be liberated from Samsara. In the same Dhammapada, he has mentioned, Attahi Attano Natho - Kohi Natho Paro Sia. It seems like they are contradicting, But when we analyse them deeply, we get to know that all four are applicable in our lives and we have to take different approaches to understand these four types of refuges.

According to the Ven. Thera, the Pali term for refuge is Sarana. Sarana means that which destroys the suffering. There can be various interpretations for Pali terms. One famous and prominent explanation is the things or the persons or whatever that destroys suffering and gives us the protection is the Sarana. Normally Sarana is considered as a refuge. It is a protector.

From what? From whom this Sarana protects us? It is the suffering. Suffering can be explained as the suffering that we encounter in this very life due to various reasons. May be due to our own bad behaviour or own negligence. Sometimes due to past Kammas that we have done in our Samsara and also the suffering that is about to come, unless we destroy the causes of suffering. For instance, we are born again due to eventually facing death. Decaying, ageing, sickness, separations from the beloved ones, ample of suffering, which is an immeasurable amount of suffering waiting for us. We are supposed to encounter such great suffering if we remain in this Samsara. The refuge that we are discussing would destroy this suffering and liberate us from them. We are like a protector. So how these four refuges make us liberated from suffering. First and foremost among them is Buddha. Beings are not aware that we are trapped in such a Samsara filled with suffering. In a Samsara in which as long as you stay, it is inevitable to avoid suffering. Samsara means the continuation of Nama and Rupa, which are non-self, impermanent and we get suffering. So, knowing the nature of Samsara or knowing the real existence of Samsara is a long term task. To accomplish this, ordinary beings like us need guidance or teachings. For that, at least one person has to understand it by himself. There should be a beginning. Time to time, there appears some great humans who understand this true nature by themselves. Of them, some are unable or incapable or don't have the capacity to put their understanding to the words and express them to the listeners. We call them Pacceca Buddhas or Silent Buddhas, the ones who are enlightened by themselves but unable to enlighten others. Among the ones who liberated themselves there are special types of beings whom we call Samma Sambuddhas who are capable of expressing their understanding and path to liberation. If this person does not understand the reality, the ordinary beings would not have a chance to get to know about this truth. Therefore the Samma Sambuddha is a great refuge since all the practice, dispensation and our efforts are based on his investigations. Without this great personality, there would be no Dhamma or the Buddha Sasana where the monks practise and would not be moving towards liberation. Buddha is the ultimate guide, ultimate teacher, ultimate instructor and only based on His teachings, we are capable of getting rid of suffering. Therefore inevitably, Buddha becomes the foremost refuge.

The next refuge is the Dhamma. Even for Buddha, to find the truth there has to be some sought of a truth. So realities are there that really exist. But not all realities would become a refuge. This is a sought after philosophical point that realities do exist but the realities which makes us liberated from suffering just being a reality doesn't make it to be a refuge. Among the realities in existence, Buddha found out that there are few that would be liberated and few realities that have the capacity to end our suffering and to make us liberated. These were the final attainment and the unconditioned Nirvana. Therefore Nirvana and the path to Nirvana are great refuges for beings because they do really exist and make us liberated. The fruition, which gives us lots of bliss after attaining and also calms down our mindstream after defilements are eradicated, we call them Magga Pala. Without mundane practice, no one can attain these highest stages. Mundane practice means and day to day practice that we do as practitioners who are seeking liberation. Normally, we call them Seela, Samadhi and Pagna. That practice is also a refuge to us because without the help of this practice, we would not be able to attain the super status such as Magga Pala and Nirvana. Buddha's instructions, the Dharma, the teachings are great refuge, because without the teaching, the person himself is refuge. Because without him, none of this would be possible and would not even have an idea about this. So, the person himself and his teachings. The teachings of Buddha and the practice that we develop in ourselves and the attainments we attain are also great refuges.

The third refuge is Sangha, the disciples. According to the Theravada, what is the real Sangha? It is open to debate. People may have different opinions on this. But if I strictly adhere to the commentaries, these commentaries say Sangha are the enlighten beings who have gone from household lives from homelessness, which means monks and nuns who have ordained and attained the supreme path and fruitions and become noble beings. According to the Theravada tradition, lay persons or monks who have not attained Magga Pala would not be counted as the Sangha in the ultimate sense.

The Sangha in the ultimate sense is the community of noble persons, those who have reached the supramundane paths and fruits. They all share a penetration through direct experience of the innermost essence of the Dhamma. These persons have followed Buddha’s path to the height of wisdom and seen for themselves the ultimate truth, the truth of the unconditioned.

According to the Theravada Buddhists, the person who becomes a true disciple gains absolute confidence in the Triple Gem — in Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. He has been spiritually reborn, born with a noble birth.

Those who become Sangha have entered the definite path to final liberation. They have stepped beyond the ranks of the multitude caught up in craving and ignorance revolving in birth and death. They can never fall back to the level of worldliness because they have realised the truth by direct experience. They are now bound to reach full enlightenment and final liberation.

The highest of the noble disciples is the arahant. He is the one who has reached enlightenment and cut off all craving and extinguished all defilements. He lives out his day in the bliss of liberation until the breakup of the body. With the breakup of the body, he attains the final goal, the Nibbana element without residue.

Dhamma is preserved by Sangha. Without Sangha, this doctrine would not have survived this long. Monks and nuns are fully dedicated to this practice. Sangha are the mediators of Buddhist teachings. Even when Buddha was alive, He couldn't be present in every place. He also had limitations. But His teachings were spread all over the country by His disciples. For example, after the first Vassa, Buddha sent monks to various directions and asked them not to walk on the same path in order to spread the Dhamma as much as possible. The true disciples of Buddha are the reason for us to gain confidence on the path. Therefore the Sangha has become a great refuge to the followers of the teachings. The support of the monks and nuns who have walked in this noble path is very much essential for a person to follow the path to liberation. But finally without our dedication and intention to follow this path, we can never achieve Magga Pala or Nirvana.

If we do not follow the instructions of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, we would not be able to get out from this samsara. We have to restrain ourselves from immoral deeds. We have to maintain mindfulness all the time. We have to cultivate good qualities, Seela, Samadhi and Pagna. To do that, we have to have the intention (Chethana). It is quite similar to desire (Chanda). Chanda means the desire to do a certain act. Chethana means the force that exists to do this action. It is utterly necessary. If only we have the intention to follow this noble path, we can achieve this supra mundane state of Nirvana. So, how to strengthen this intention? It is true that there are certain factors associated to strengthen the intention. But the final responsibility is upon us. The fourth refuge is the person who has the intention to follow the path and end this suffering. That's why Buddha has mentioned Attā hi attanō nāthō.......

If we really want to end suffering, we have to have the intention to restrain from immoral deeds physically and verbally, we have to maintain mindfulness all the time, we have to cultivate good qualities Seela, Samadhi and Pagna. Wholesome intention to end this suffering is also a vital factor in this path. That is why in the Dasa Dhamma Sutta, Buddha has mentioned that Kamma is a refuge. Intention is the Chethana, Chethana is the Kamma and Karma is the action. So, when Buddha said the Kamma is a refuge, it's not only the past Karma that we have done in our Samsara, but at the same time, our own action is our refuge. So, all four refuges are equally important to liberate from this Samsara.

Add new comment