Sangharakshita’s book is one you should read for yourself if you wish to get an overview of Buddhism and an understanding of the religion for yourself.
In the last blog i looked at Sangharakshita’s explanation of some of the imagery encountered in Buddhism and its importance in understanding Buddhist concepts. Since then i attended the Irish Dharma Celebration 2014 at the Tara Kadampa Centre here in Dublin which was dedicated to Medicine Buddha Empowerment. It was the first such event i have attended and, therefore, my first experience of the rituals and chanting associated with such Buddhist events. I enjoyed it tremendously but i’m not sure what i feel about the rituals – more about that in the future.
Of course, Buddhism can be, and often is, treated just as a philosophy and, as such, you couldn’t ask for a better way of living your life. Buddhism is all about taking responsibility for yourself and your actions, because they believe your future happiness is dependent to a considerable amount on your present actions. More importantly, Buddhism is all about kindness, generosity and honesty – they refer to the main problems, evils even, in life as the Three Poisons; ignorance, attachment and aversion.
Ignorance we know all about and can understand how it causes problems – just think about all the things you used to be ignorant about and then learned about and how this almost always included a change in your attitude as well.
Attachment refers to our want, want, want attitude – perhaps most exemplified at this time of year – Christmas. At its coarsest, attachment refers to greed and the excessive desire to own things.
But for Buddhists’, attachment is more than that. It is about the way we live our lives, dealing with the everyday things without thinking about the big picture. We have talked about this before in these blogs; for example in 1430 TUESDAY’S CHILD which was about Mitch Albom’s book “Tuesdays with Morrie”.
Morrie was dying and told Mitch, “Mitch”, he says, “the culture doesn’t encourage you to think about such things until you’re about to die. We’re so wrapped up with egoistical things, career, family, having enough money, meeting the mortgage, getting a new car, fixing the radiator when it breaks – we’re involved in trillions of little acts just to keep going. So we don’t get into the habit of standing back and looking at our lives and saying, Is this all? Is this all I want? Is something missing?” He paused. “You need someone to probe you in that direction. It won’t just happen automatically”.
Buddhism will push in that direction, in the right direction.
Aversion refers to hatred and all its minor forms of dislike as well as snobbery, racism, sexism, ageism, and all the other ways we fail ourselves in our human interactions and beliefs.
But Buddhism is more than just a philosophy, it is a religion, although one without a god. It is, to quote the internet, “a particular form of faith”. Here is where we go back to “The Buddhist Path”. Sangharakshita asks the questions, “How does one know who is committed to Buddhism? How does one know who is spiritually motivated? What is the criterion? What is a Buddhist?” He acknowledges that not everyone would agree with him but in his opinion a Buddhist is someone who goes for refuge, who “… commits himself to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha with body, speech and mind – in other words, totally”. No half-hearted measures for Sangharakshita – but we live in a half-hearted world and that is one of our major challenges – to live whole-heartedly.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in his book, “Modern Buddhism, The Path of Compassion and Wisdom”, which we shall look at in detail in later blogs, also discusses going for refuge.
The purpose, he tells us is because, “We need permanent liberation from the sufferings of this life and countless future lives. This depends upon entering, making progress on and completing the Buddhist path to liberation, which in turn depends on entering Buddhism”. Another example of us being required to make a whole-hearted commitment. There is much to think about in this one sentence alone from “Modern Buddhism”; do we accept reincarnation – the idea of us having ‘countless’ lives – do we believe that we can gain liberation from countless lives by obtaining enlightenment and, if we do, do we have enough faith in Buddhism that this path will lead us to the summit of the mountain, to Enlightenment.
Our first reaction is, “No need to make our mind up just now. I’ll think about it for a while – maybe a better offer will come along”. That was my first, and second, reaction too.
What if we don’t have a lot of time. What if our progress is likely to be so slow that we will need every minute of every day that we live for to become Enlightened or, at least, to make such progress that our next reincarnation may have an easier path.
My favourite Gospel is Mark’s Gospel – i think i mentioned this before and we will certainly look at it soon in detail. I love it because in it Jesus is a man in a hurry. Why wouldn’t he be if he knew what was coming down the tracks and if he had such compassion for us all that he wanted to teach us as much as he possibly could when he had the chance? “Pay attention”, he’d say, “listen now, this is important”.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains in more detail what going for refuge is. “Going for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha means that we apply effort to receiving Buddha’s blessings, to putting Dharma into practice and to receiving help from Sangha. These are the three principal commitments of the refuge vow”.
Sangharakshita tells us that if we want to approach Buddhism in a spiritual way then we need to go for refuge. “It is the simplest thing in Buddhism and the most important”. He emphasizes too, though, that to become a Buddhist it is not necessary to become a monk or a nun, although some may believe that it is and he expresses his concerns that, in some cases, monasticism is overvalued at the expense of the practicality of going for refuge.
Now is the time to make your commitment to a whole-hearted life, to a spiritual life. If Buddhism is for you, go for refuge. If not, follow your path with dedication and determination.