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In this time of fear, when so many people are literally refugees and when any one of us might join them. How do we find refuge, and how do we offer refuge?
Refuge means shelter from danger. It comes from “to flee,” “back,” and “a place for.” The danger is unspecified, just fleeing back to a place.
We will start by recognizing that we are all refugees in some way.
There are people who have been burned out of their homes, flooded out of their communities, or who are running from war, starvation, gang violence, and the rest and are turned away at borders of all kinds, or imprisoned, raped, separated from their children… the things done in the name of “protecting our own people” are cruel beyond imagining. The average American, in the richest large country in the world, is one paycheck or one medical disaster away from financial catastrophe, which I mean homelessness and hunger.
But we also seek refuge from trouble in our minds; fear and anger, confusion, not knowing what to do next, looking for someone to trust. Dealing with external danger goes better when we address our internal troubles.
You can’t take refuge in denial, but that’s what people try to do. Buddhism has been mistaken for a means of escape, and is often misunderstood as: “Calm down and you will be all right.” Or “Nothing is real, it’s all created by your mind.” Neither of those is Buddhism, even though calming down is always a good idea and thought has a powerful influence. Refuge is not escape.
Traditionally Buddhists take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
“Buddha” is shorthand for “being awake.” People think we take refuge in a person who is awake, but that’s just symbolism for being awake ourselves. That’s more than the politically-correct “woke” but they have a connection. “Dharma” has three meanings: the teaching, truth, and phenomena. It’s translated into Japanese as Ho, meaning law – the natural law of how things work. You can take refuge in things being as they are: simple enough, difficult enough. And “Sangha” means group, means community, generally referring to the community of beings who are on this path of awakening. Not the people we like, but the ones who will support each other when the need comes. Just as in a blizzard people all go and shovel out stuck cars, in a flood those with boats go rescue those without, in a power outage we gather in places that still have heat – sangha every day means commitment to help each other take refuge from our own mental illusions, from selfishness and anger and everything that ruins life. Like pebbles in a rock tumbler, we
are not necessarily comfortable in sangha, but it’s what we need.
I was sitting zazen this morning, and thoughts were wandering. Then I noticed, and looked at the thought of the moment. Looked at it with kindness. I didn’t try to fix it, I admitted it was there, a self-criticism, and I just sat with it for a while.
You can take refuge in the way things are. Take refuge in kindness. Take refuge in knowing you’re not alone.
That’s a start.
Next weekend I’m offering a one-day retreat on Refuge on Saturday, and a talk on Refuge Sunday morning. You can find both here: https://redclaysangha.org/. “Sunday morning service” takes you to the link for the talk. register for the retreat ($20) lower on the page “Retreat with Shodo Spring.”
The campground picture was a physical place of refuge during the Compassionate Earth Walk in 2013 – refuge from heat and thirst. We now have some photos and blog posts from that walk, here. The large picture is Eagle Springs Lodge, northern Nebraska, which offered walkers a much-needed refuge later.
The Unist’ot’en Camp picture shows the first building that hosted indigenous people defending the land to which they belong. http://unistoten.camp/
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