Unswerving, Unshakeable, Rocksteady Faith

Phra Buddha Dhammacakra (thumb)

 

Faith is an important aspect of the Buddhist Path to liberation. I am not talking about blind faith in personalities or fickle attachment to dogmas, I am talking about a discerning yet unwavering trust or confidence that one deliberately cultivates in order to dispel doubt and all other obstacles to spiritual progress…

 

 


INTRODUCTION

Faith is an important aspect of the Buddhist Path to liberation. I am not talking about blind faith in personalities or fickle attachment to dogmas, I am talking about a discerning yet unwavering trust or confidence that one deliberately cultivates in order to dispel doubt and all other obstacles to spiritual progress.  In this post I will endeavour to explain exactly what is worthy of our faith and why.

REFUGE IN THE TRIPLE GEM

Practitioners of the Noble Eightfold Path or Middle Way have traditionally sought refuge in the ‘Triple Gem’ or ‘Three Treasures’ of Buddha (The Enlightened One), Dhamma (His Teachings) and Sangha (His Disciples or Followers). One normally takes refuge by chanting the following lines or similar –

The Three Refuges

I go to the Buddha as a refuge.
I go to the Dhamma as a refuge.
I go to the Sangha as a refuge.

For the second time, I go to the Buddha as a refuge.
For the second time, I go to the Dhamma as a refuge.
For the second time, I go to the Sangha as a refuge.

For the third time, I go to the Buddha as a refuge.
For the third time, I go to the Dhamma as a refuge.
For the third time, I go to the Sangha as a refuge. [1] 

Going for refuge can be a public ceremony or a preliminary to one’s daily meditation practice.  There is a reason for repeating the chant three times. If the words are chanted when the mind is distracted (and very often the mind is distracted) they have no value, but repeating them helps to focus the mind and the chant then becomes meaningful and beneficial. [2]

 

Phra Buddha Dhammacakra (01-04-13)

Phra Buddha Dhammacakra

 

WHY GO FOR REFUGE?

At this point one may be wondering, what need is there for taking refuge? But while life may indeed appear fine and dandy on the surface, an objective closer look soon reveals the harsh reality and the following chant is a good reminder should we need one –

The Five Subjects For Daily Recollection

I am of the nature to decay. I have not got beyond decay.
I am of the nature to be diseased. I have not got beyond disease.
I am of the nature to die. I have not got beyond death.
All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will change and vanish.
I am the owner of my kamma, heir to my kamma, born of my kamma, related to my kamma, abide supported by my kamma.
Whatever kamma I shall do, whether good or evil, of that I shall be the heir. [3]

Liberation from this unsatisfactory mode of existence was the Buddha’s ultimate goal; crossing the turbulent ocean of samsara to find safe dwelling on the shores of nibbana was his supreme achievement.  His motivation for teaching the Dhamma was compassion for all sentient beings still suffering through ignorance. The way to enlightenment was made clear by him and has been preserved to this day by descendants of the Noble Sangha he founded around 2600 years ago.

However, it is important one realises that taking refuge in the Triple Gem is not a request for divine intervention or the Buddha’s blessing. It is an expression of one’s faith in the reality of kamma as taught by him, and an expression of one’s faith in the practice of morality, compassion and wisdom that he recommended as the mind’s ultimate protection against the ‘Three Poisons’ of ignorance, craving and aversion. [4]

RECOLLECTING THE TRIPLE GEM

So what exactly are the refuges? In Theravada circles it is customary to chant this aide memoire –

Recollection Of The Buddha

Indeed the Exalted One is thus: The accomplished destroyer of defilements, a Buddha perfected by himself, complete in clear knowledge and compassionate conduct, supremely good in presence and in destiny, the Knower of the worlds, incomparable Master of men to be tamed, the Teacher of celestials and men, the Awakened and Awakener, and the Lord by skill-in-means apportioning Dhamma.

Recollection Of The Dhamma

The Dhamma of the Exalted One is well-expounded, to be seen here and now, not delayed in time, inviting one to come and see, leading inwards, and to be known each wise man for himself.

Recollection Of The Sangha

The Sangha of the Exalted One’s disciples who have practised well, the Sangha of the Exalted One’s disciples who have practised straightly, the Sangha of the Exalted One’s disciples who have practised rightly, the Sangha of the Exalted One’s disciples who have practised properly—that is to say, the four pairs of men, the eight types of persons—that is the Sangha of the Exalted One’s disciples, worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, who should be respected, the incomparable field of merit for the world. [5]

Chanting even these brief recollections on a daily basis has the advantage of gradually increasing our appreciation of the Triple Gem and motivating our spiritual practice.

THE FIVE HINDRANCES

The Buddha taught enlightenment through developing morality, concentration and wisdom.  But there are many obstacles blocking the mind’s progress, and the scriptures emphasise five hindrances or defilements in particular: sensuality (kamacchanda), ill-will (vyapada), obduracy of mind and mental factors (thinamiddha), restlessness and flurry (uddhacca-kukkucca), and doubt (vicikiccha). [6]

These hindrances are like mental poison and the Buddha’s recommendations for cleansing the mind are: firm conviction in the Triple Gem, practicing concentration (samatha) and insight (vipassana) meditation, upholding the five basic training rules of refraining from killing, stealing, immorality, harmful speech and intoxication. Unfortunately our ordinary minds are ignorant, easily distracted, prone to taking refuge in unstable worldly phenomena while ignoring the supreme Triple Gem refuge.  An effective antidote against the mind’s fickleness is to affirm one’s faith daily with the following chant –

Affirmation Of Refuge In The Triple Gem

For me there is no other refuge,
the Buddha truly is my Refuge —
by speaking of this truth
may I grow in the Master’s Way.

For me there is no other refuge,
the Dhamma truly is my Refuge —
by speaking of this truth
may I grow in the Master’s Way.

For me there is no other refuge.
the Sangha truly is my Refuge —
by speaking of this truth
may I grow in the Master’s Way. [7]

Again, this attitude of reverence should not be mistaken for blind attachment but recognised as discerning mental preparation – it is a deliberate strengthening of one’s resolve to keep on practicing, and to let go the cravings that are a barrier to the Middle Way Buddha himself walked.

CONCLUSION

I am aware that some meditators regard ritual chanting as naive hero worship; they baulk at the idea of Buddha as ‘Knower of the worlds’ (lokavidu), ‘Incomparable Master of men to be tamed’ (anuttaro purisa-dhamma-sarathi) and ‘Teacher of celestials and men’ (sattha-deva-manussanam), for example, and they propose all kinds of reasons to justify their aversion.  An argument I frequently encounter on the internet goes something like this: The Buddha most likely was a clever man with some great insights, however the teachings attributed to him were written down in a different language long after his death and messed about with by a variety of self-serving monks. The Kalama Sutta says we should know the truth for ourselves.  To have faith in The Triple Gem is mere attachment to dogma and ritual, unskilful and not what the Buddha would have wanted. But such an argument begs the question: how can we ourselves hope to replicate the Buddha’s enlightenment experience if we are averse to practicing the advice he gave? 

As Richard Gombrich says, ‘We can know far more about the Buddha than it is fashionable among scholars to think.’ [8] So far as Gombrich is concerned, the Buddha’s ‘Skill in Means’ was the use of metaphor to infuse ancient Brahmin concepts like kamma with new meaning in order to transmit his heterodox insights to an audience steeped in Brahmin ideology. [9] Moreover, ‘It makes no sense to assume that Buddhism could have arisen without a historical person who founded it, and provided it with ideas and institutions… One remarkable brain must have been responsible for the basic ideology. The owner of that brain happens to be known, appropriately, as the Buddha, the “Awakened”. [10]

Myself, I am inclined to agree with Gombrich’s assessment of the Pali Canon as by far the best evidence we have for what the Buddha actually thought and taught.  Moreover, without the Noble Sangha who compiled and preserved the Canon there would be no Dhamma today. People are of course free to discard or re-imagine the scriptures as they see fit. But to deny the Buddha’s emphasis on faith in the Triple Gem, to dismiss the more contentious or awkward bits of canonical evidence as mere interpolation or propaganda because it doesn’t quite fit the modern notion of a libertarian and scientifically-minded Buddha, is to seriously miss the point.

Unshakeable deliverance from the mental poisons of delusion, hatred and greed was the Buddha’s  ultimate goal and supreme achievement. Revering the Triple Gem in the light of this understanding moves us closer to the liberating pathway he kindly revealed to us. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu says, ‘the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha are the skillful qualities we develop in our own minds in imitation of our external models.’ [11]

_________________

References

[1] ‘Lay Buddhist Practice: The Shrine Room, Uposatha Day, Rains Residence’, by Bhikkhu Khantipalo (1995). Access to Insight.
<http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/khantipalo/wheel206.html>

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] ‘Refuge: An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha’, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2001). Access to Insight.<http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/refuge.html

[5] Ibid 1. ‘Lay Buddhist Practice…’

[6] ‘The Five Mental Hindrances and Their Conquest: Selected Texts from the Pali Canon and the Commentaries’, compiled and translated by Nyanaponika Thera (1994). Access to Insight. <http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel026.html>

[7] Ibid 1. ‘Lay Buddhist Practice…’

[8] What The Buddha Thought, by Richard Gombrich (2009). Equinox, p. vii.

[9] Ibid pp. 6-7.

[10] Ibid p. 17.

[11] Ibid 4. ‘Refuge: An Introduction…’

 

Additional Reading

Buddha, My Refuge: Contemplation Of The Buddha Based On The Pali Suttas by Bhikkhu Kantipalo (1990), Buddhist Publication Society.

‘Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts’, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (1994). Access to Insight.
<http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel282.html>

‘A Look at the Kalama Sutta’, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Access to Insight <http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_09.html>

‘Kalama Sutta: To the Kalamas’ (AN 3.65), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1994). Access to Insight. 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.than.html.

‘Dhammika Sutta: Dhammika’ (AN 6.54), translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki (2005). Access to Insight.<http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an06/an06.054.olen.html>

‘Loka Sutta: The World’ (SN 12.44), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1998). Access to Insight. <http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.044.than.html>

‘The Scientific Buddha: Why do we ask that Buddhism be compatible with science?’  by Donald S. Lopez (2012), Tricycle.
<http://www.tricycle.com/special-section/scientific-buddha>

 



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