Silver Spring, Maryland Community Online on Thursday Evening, June 25, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to All Online on Friday Evening, June 26, 7:00 to 8:45pm
Still Water Friends,
As a mindfulness practitioner, a spiritual seeker, and perhaps a person of faith, to what have you committed? Have you committed to being mindful? To the Five and/or Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings? To Jesus, YHWH, or The Prophet?
In the Plum Village tradition, we speak of taking refuge in the Three Jewels, namely the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, which can be thought of as being open to the teachers, teachings, and practice communities of the tradition. For some of us, we are more than open to these: we commit to living by the Mindfulness Trainings. If we have formally taken the Trainings, then we have publicly taken refuge in the Three Jewels.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching:
Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is not blind faith; it is the fruit of our practice. At first, our Buddha may be a book we’ve read, our Dharma a few encouraging words we’ve heard, and our Sangha a community we’ve visited once or twice. But as we continue to practice, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha reveal themselves to us more fully.
In other spiritual traditions, we may be baptized, accept a prophet as our savior or guiding light, or we may recognize nature or Mother Earth as our spiritual guide.
No matter the form of the spirituality, there’s a moment when the question arises whether you will fully commit and surrender yourself to this path. Will you take refuge in a set of teachings, teachers, and community, or will you borrow tools from the mindfulness toolkit? Neither is a wrong choice, but one sees mindfulness as a potentially transformational path, while the other sees it as more of a self-help tool. And in fact, the line between these is not nearly as distinct as I am painting it. There is a continuum between giving oneself over to a path and finding help from a tradition to fine tune our own path.
I have taken the Five and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, but for many years I held back. Ever since I figured out how to graduate from high school early, I developed a conceit that I could usually figure out a work-around using any system’s rules to achieve what I wanted. I wouldn’t break the rules: I would figure out how best to use them. That may explain why I chose to become a lawyer!
But this conceit has served me poorly on the spiritual path. The framing of the Trainings as guidance, not rules, gave me the perfect wiggle room to “kind of” abide by them while also trying to figure out shortcuts; I also rationalized gross transgressions of the Trainings as me figuring out my path. In particular, I tried to hold onto my notion of self while using the rest of the trainings to practice. I later found out that only by completely surrendering to the practice, an ongoing process for me, can the transformation called for in the spiritual path start to occur. It’s similar to the Third Step in Alcoholics Anonymous in which addicts make a decision “to turn our will and our lives over to the care of our Higher Power as we understood our Higher Power.” In the Plum Village tradition, the Higher Power may be the Three Jewels, meditation, wonder, gratitude, karma, our own awakened Buddha Nature, or perhaps all or none of the above.
This Thursday and Friday I’d be curious to hear how you have thought about taking refuge. Do you take refuge in anything or anyone? Do you have or experience a Higher Power? Would you consider turning, or have you turned, your “will and life” over to some other practice or power? Below are two readings: a snippet by Thich Nhat Hanh and Saint Francis’ prayer.
We hope you can join us,
From Thich Nhat Hanh’s end of year letter, December 5, 2008
There is sunshine in Upper Hamlet today. I went for walking meditation down to the Lower Mountain Temple, along the pathway of pines. From the Still Sitting Hut to the pathway of pines, I passed by fields of grass that were covered with oak leaves, especially around Thầy Giác Thanh’s Floating Cloud hut. The carpet of oak leaves was very thick. There were leaves that are still fresh, the color of the robes of the Theravada monks. The trees shed their leaves, making the earth richer; the earth and the tree nurture each other – I saw this very clearly. I walked very slowly, so that I could be in touch with the ultimate dimension with every step, which means to be in touch with time outside of time and space outside of space.
I was walking for myself, but I was also walking for my father and mother, for my teacher, my ancestors, the Buddha, and for you. I see no separation between myself and my parents, my ancestors, the Buddha, and you. Everything is present in each mindful step. The gatha “Let the Buddha breathe, let the Buddha walk” is very good. The more I practice, the more effective it is; that’s why I practice it very regularly. This gatha can also be practiced in other positions, like “let the Buddha breathe, let the Buddha sit;” “let the Buddha breathe, let the Buddha work;” or “let the Buddha breathe, let the Buddha brush these teeth.” This practice is just like the practice of recollecting the Buddha’s name. “Buddha” here is not a title; Buddha is a real human being that is breathing, walking, washing dishes, mopping the floor…..
The Prayer of Saint Francis
Author unknown, first published in 1912 in France
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.