Vows, commitments and modern life:  Our actual refuge

To go for refuge to Dharma

It is not enough to wish to become an enlightened being, we must know how to do it.  Dharma usually has two different non-contradictory meanings.  The first is the Dharma is the set of instructions given by Buddha explaining to us, step by step, how we transform our mind from its current deluded state into that of a Buddha.  It teaches us how to identify within ourselves the states of mind we need to abandon and explains how to do so.  It also reveals to us the inner qualities we need to cultivate and provides methods for doing so.  It is a complete path that connects each and every mind to the final destination of enlightenment without any gaps or obstructions.  Just as all roads lead to Rome, so too all Dharma paths eventually lead to enlightenment.

The second meaning of Dharma is the realizations of the truth of Dharma within our own minds.  In other words, Dharma is not just the instructions for how to gain realizations, but it is also the realizations itself.  Because all of our suffering comes from our delusions and negativity, Dharma is our real refuge because it protects us from these things.  If we have a realization of patience, it protects us from the harms of anger.  If we have a realization of love, it protects us from the dangers of self-cherishing.  If we have a realization of our precious human life, it protects us from wasting it on meaningless things.  Tantric realizations protect us from ordinary appearance and ordinary conceptions.  This is our actual refuge, and all other forms of refuge are ultimately aimed at building within our own mind the definitive refuge of our Dharma realizations.

The root of refuge is understanding the nature of our inner problem.  Doctors say 85% of good medicine is correct diagnosis of the problem.  When the problem is correctly diagnosed, then the treatment becomes obvious.  Our fundamental problem is we are confused about the nature of our problem.  We are convinced our problem is what is happening externally, with some things being good and other things being bad.  So we put all of our effort into changing our external circumstance and it seems to us that the Dharma is useless at best since it does nothing to solve what we perceive to be our problem.  Due to not understanding the nature of our problem, we gradually have less time and energy for Dharma because we are absorbed with other things.  But when we are very clear about the nature of our problem, the need to go for refuge to the Dharma becomes obvious.  If our problem is an internal one, it is clear that external things won’t help us solve our problem.  We will then look at different internal solutions, and investigate their different qualities, and eventually we come to see that the Dharma is the solution.  In particular, when we come to understand our problem is our mind is plagued by the wisdom grasping at inherent existence, we realize that only the Dharma can provide us with a solution because only it teaches emptiness.

Since Dharma itself has two meanings, to go for refuge to Dharma, therefore also has two meanings.  The first is to make effort to seek out Dharma instructions and to improve our understanding of what we need to do to actually train our mind.  Fortunately, Geshe-la makes this very easy for us.  He has given us a complete set of books that meticulously go over every stage of the path from our first steps all the way to the final goal.  He has struck the perfect balance of giving us everything we need and nothing we don’t need.  Likewise, he has established for us Dharma centers throughout the world so that we can receive teachings directly.  Having books is great, but having somebody we can go to and receive individually tailored instructions is invaluable.

The second way of going for refuge is to make the pursuit of the inner wealth of Dharma realizations our life purpose.  We see that our problem is our mind, and we make effort to actually change our mind in the direction the Dharma teaches.  If what we want out of life is to increase our realizations, then we suddenly develop a genuine equanimity with respect to life’s ups and downs.  It really doesn’t matter what happens because we know how to use everything to train our mind.  Since every situation is equally empty, we realize every circumstance is equally good in terms of the opportunity it affords us to train our mind.  The driving force of business people is making money, and motivated by this wish they work incredibly long hours and devote tremendous energy.  With the same vigor, we pursue the inner wealth of Dharma realizations.  They are our bottom line.  If the pursuit of inner wealth is our life’s purpose, it doesn’t matter if we are young or old, rich or poor, powerful or not, sick or healthy, in every circumstance we can practice.  Nothing can interfere with us doing what we wish.  Because we know we are building for a better future we get something more fulfilling than temporary pleasure, we get inner contentment and confidence knowing we are on the right track.

But we should not fool ourselves.  Training in Dharma is not easy, in fact sometimes it can be very hard.  We have literally eons worth of bad habits built up, and these do not change over night – they scarcely change even after decades of practice.  But they do change, and because we have correct methods, if we never give up, it is guaranteed we will get there in the end.  In sports, we say “no pain, no gain,” meaning if it isn’t hurting, you are probably not making any progress.  It is the same with our Dharma practice.  When we actually try go against the grain of our delusions, in particular our attachment, it can be really difficult, even sometimes painful.  But like a rebel soldier fighting for a good cause, we gladly assume the difficulty because we know our cause is just and it is worth it in the end.

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