Thursday Evening Online Program
July 21, 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern time
Dear Still Water Friends,
Time in nature often brings me insight and awareness. For example, on a recent walk in the woods I noticed what appeared to be an uprooted tree. It was a small tree, pulled partly out of the ground with some roots dangling. It had probably been knocked over by a strong wind or a rush of water. As I looked more closely I realized that the tree was, in fact, still very much rooted. It was lying and leaning to one side and partly on the ground, but a very large, substantial root was still attached and I could see it going down into the earth. The image of the tree stayed with me.
This started me thinking about what keeps me rooted. I have experienced some big changes over the past several months. I am in a new relationship, traveling more and spending a lot of time at my “other home” in Texas with my new love and partner. There are times when I feel the effects of change in my body. I feel restless and find it takes effort to take a deep breath. Anxious thoughts escalate. I feel unstable sometimes even though I am delighted with the direction my life has taken. Change is still change.
In a Plum Village Dharma talk from March 20, 2014, Thay writes about taking refuge in ourselves.
The sound of the bell is the voice of the Buddha inside calling us to come home to ourselves…When we come home to ourselves, we can discover the island of self. The Buddha recommended, don’t rely on anyone or anything, rely on the island within. Every time we hear the bell, we can practice going home to the island within. We are protected. This is the practice of taking refuge.
In the “Discourse on Taking Refuge in Oneself,” the Buddha is speaking to his community after the passing of two beloved and venerated teachers, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana.
Practice taking refuge in the island of the Dharma. Know how to take refuge in the Dharma, and do not take refuge in any other island or person. This means to practice dwelling in the contemplation of the body in the body. Using the exercises diligently to nourish Right Understanding and Right Mindfulness to master and transform craving and anxiety that belong to the world. Contemplate the body outside the body, Using the exercises diligently to nourish Right Understanding and Right Mindfulness to master and transform craving and anxiety that belong to the world. That is what is meant by returning to the island of oneself in order to take refuge in the island of oneself. Returning to the island of the Right Dharma in order to take refuge in the island of the Right Dharma and not taking refuge in any other island or any other thing.
One of the first things I did at my new home was to create my own space — a room where I can meditate, practice yoga, and Zoom with my sanghas. There I have things that encourage my practice and bring me peace: my bell, a small altar, and my books. These are concrete actions and items that support me in my practice and keep me rooted. I have been able to bring “the island of self” with me into this new “other home.” Just because my surroundings, my state, and the people around me are different, does not mean that I am different. I still take refuge in the Dharma, the Sangha, the Buddha, and ultimately, in myself.
Change is part of my life, and all lives, and my practice teaches me how to care for myself and maintain stability. I can come back to myself with the sound of the bell, with a breath, and with my mindfulness throughout the day.
You are invited to join our Thursday evening practice. We will begin our Dharma sharing with these questions:
- What changes are you experiencing in your life?
- How does instability manifest in your body?
- What practices bring you back to “the island”?
An excerpt by Thich Nhat Hanh on taking refuge is below.
I look forward to being with you,
by Thich Nhat Hanh, from The Mindfulness Bell, August 1990
To practice Buddhism, we have to take refuge. This means that we have to base our practice on some ground that helps us be stable. It is like building a house—you have to build it on solid ground. If we look around and inside ourselves, we can find out what is stable for us, and we can take refuge in it. We should be careful not to take refuge in what is unstable.
This morning I was touching the ground, and I felt that there is some stability in the Earth. Why don’t we take refuge in the Earth? There is also some stability in the air, the sunshine, and the trees. We can count on the sun because we know it will rise tomorrow. We have to look around to see things that we can count on. In order to practice, we need to take refuge in stable things.
Our bodies have a healing power. Every time we cut our finger, our body has the capacity to heal itself. We take care of it by washing it carefully, and then we can leave the work of healing to our body. In a few hours or a day, the cut will be healed. Our bodies have that kind of healing power. We have to take refuge in our bodies.
The same is true with our consciousness. Our consciousness has a healing power, and we have to trust it. When we have some anger, distress, or despair, we don’t need to panic. We can trust our consciousness to know how to heal these kinds of wounds. When we have a feeling of instability, we only need to breathe in and out consciously and recognize the feeling of instability, knowing that our consciousness is much more than that feeling. We know from our experience that there have been times in the past when we were not very solid. We know that we can take refuge in our consciousness We can let it do its work without interfering too much. After cleaning out the wound in our finger, we just let it heal. If we have a wound in our mind or heart, we just clean our wound and then we trust our consciousness to heal it.
If we have a teacher and dharma brothers and sisters who are stable, they look very much the same today as yesterday and yesterday they looked very much the same as the day before. We have to take refuge in a sangha that is stable, that we can count on. We can contribute to the quality of our sangha by our smile, and by our own stability. A sangha can be improved by our practice. We can never find a perfect sangha. An imperfect sangha is good enough. We have to do our best in order to transform ourselves into a good element of the sangha. It is not helpful to complain too much about our sangha: “This sangha is not good; this sangha is not worth my refuge,” and so on. We have to accept our sangha and build it. It is like a family. And our family is also a kind of sangha. We have to accept the members of our family as they are and begin from there. We should be a good member of our family sangha in order to help others.
Taking refuge means also taking refuge in ourselves. When we take refuge in the earth, it is because the earth is stable. When we have a friend who is stable we can take refuge in him or her. We use our insight and our experience to see his or her stability. We don’t just go on blind faith. Taking refuge is not blind faith. It must be based on our own experience. There are many stable things around. We should refrain from taking refuge in things that are not stable, that have made us shaky in the past. Sometimes we don’t know much about something. We hope that it can be a refuge for us simply because we want it. It is not based on any direct experience or observation. We should refrain from taking refuge in things like that.