Dharma Topic: Transforming Through Practice

Dharma Topic: Transforming Through Practice

Discussion date: Thu, Oct 13, 2005 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday, October 13th, we will recite the FiveMindfulness Trainings after our meditation period. Our discussion will focuson Taking Refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, which is partof the ceremony when one receives the five mindfulness trainings. In particular,we will explore the difference between a devotional practice of mindfulness and atruly transformational practice. Thich Nhat Hanh explains the difference in Fora Future to be Possible:

In Buddhism there are two kinds of practice: devotional and transformational. To practice devotion is to rely primarily on the power of another, who may be a buddha or a god. To practice transformation is to rely more on yourself and the path you are following. To be devoted to the Dharma is different from practicing the Dharma. When you say, “I take refuge in the Dharma,” you may be showing your faith in it, but that is not the same as practicing the Dharma. To say “I want to become a doctor” is an expression of the determination to practice medicine. But to become a doctor, you have to spend seven or eight years studying and practicing medicine. When you say, “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha,” this may be only the willingness to practice. It is not because you make this statement that you are already practicing. You enter the path of transformation when you begin to practice the things you pronounce.

But pronouncing words does have an effect. When you say, “I am determined to study medicine,” that already has an impact on your life, even before you apply to medical school. You want to do it, and because of your willingness and desire, you will find a way to go to school. When you say, “I take refuge in the Dharma,” you are expressing confidence in the Dharma. You see the Dharma as something wholesome, and you want to orient yourself toward it. That is devotion. When you study and apply the Dharma in your daily life, that is transformational practice. In every religion, there is the distinction between devotional practice and transformational practice.

Another excerpt on Going for Refuge as a practice, from a1998 Dharma Talk is below.

You are invited to join us this Thursday. The best times tojoin us are:

  • Just before the first sitting at 7 pm;

  • At 7:25, at the beginning of walking meditation; or,

  • At 7:35, at the beginning of the second sitting. (To allow others to maintain concentration and continuity, we ask that practitioners not enter during the walking meditation.)

Hope to see you,

Mitchell Ratner 
Senior Teacher

From a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on February 19, 1998 in Plum Village, France:

The Buddha is mindfulness, shining light near and far. TheDharma is the breathing, guarding body and mind. Sangha is the five skandhasworking together harmoniously. We have to take refuge in the Three Jewels, andthen we are protected. If we allow ourselves to drift around on the surface ofour thinking and our feeling, then we will die. We have to come back down intoour body and take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

I take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way inthis life. I take refuge in the Dharma, the way of understanding and love. Itake refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in mindfulness. Every day,we practice taking refuge in these three so that whenever we feel suffering,isolation or loneliness we can return to that. I, in my life, have been throughmany storms, and I have always used this method. Because of that, no harm hascome to me. These very strong emotions from our mind, from our feelings, likedespair, cannot touch us because they are impermanent. They have their root,whether physiological, psychological or sociological. But in our body, we havethe point below our navel. In our society, we have the Sangha. And in our mind,we have the practice. Therefore, there is nothing for us to fear.

Discussion Date: Thu, Oct 13, 2005