The Two Causes of Refuge

Oct 10, 2020

Think about the worldly refuges first. The worldly things that we take as our refuge, as our sources of comfort, our sources of guidance. 

The iPhone... food... the doctor... Netflix... friends and family... fishing... leisure activities...

How well a source are they for the ultimate or existential issue of life? You can go through the list of all the things that you surround yourself with as the kind of mundane refuges and you can render them basically ineffective. Useless, when it comes to going into the tragedy that dispels the misconception of things. When you realign with the reality of things, how well do your refuges measure up? What brings you into true refuge?

In order to take refuge you need two things. The first one is fear and the second one is faith. Fear and faith. I don't like faith as a translation. I like confidence because faith is too close to blind faith and because we're in the Tibetan Buddhist world it looks too much like Catholicism and you guys are all recovering Catholics. When I say 'faith' an implicit memory goes off and you have a traumatic reaction and you don't come back to next class.

Fear and confidence. The fear is necessary. The fear that you felt in the room, hopefully for a second while we were embracing the inevitability of death, greases the wheels for you to seek refuge. When you're flying and you have turbulence and one of the engines goes down, you look for the closest airport. If you're out at sea and it's tossing and turning you look for the harbor. If you're out in the wilderness and it starts snowing, you look for shelter. If you're in samsara, what do you look for?

If you recognize that you are in samsara, you are part of samsara, you are samsara. Since beginingless time, you have been afflicted and driven by stress instincts from evolution, childhood hangups, blindness, impulse, affliction. That's a dharma practice prerequisite. Dharma practitioners recognize that as your current predicament.

Beginingless time. Ordinary practitioners don't have that concept. They're doing the best they can when they go to grandma, to the television or they go for solace to this or that. Dharma practitioners recognize the large scope, infinite life, infinite, causality, inevitability of death, ineffective, worldly refuges and have tremendous fear for the potentialities of your mind to digress into really sub par states of mind. All the things that we in this current life are privileged to have, are not guarantees.

If you have beginingless time, it's possible that you could lose this and you could adopt a much less accommodating and much less hospitable environment, one in which there is no dharma practice, one in which your innate wish to to practice would be suppressed. You could be reborn in Syria. You could be reborn in North Korea. You could be born in a refugee camp. You could be born into an orphanage. You could be born in worse states of torment.

You could be born in a state where the driving force is addiction. If you've been around someone who's fully in their addiction, nothing matters. They will go through friends and family like underwear as sad as it is, until they end up either in prison, in the hospital or dead. They burn every bridge. They will sell their children. You read these cases. You have to start thinking this is a possibility.

I don't want to convince you of infinite life anymore. I'm just going to move forward as if it's a liberal arts assumption because I don't want to twist anybody's arm but I'm not continually going to give you the thought experiment about infinite life. I'm now going to cross that Rubicon and just assume infinite life is a given. I don't want you to feel indoctrinated. It's useless to believe. I just encourage you to take a whole year or two to refresh the analysis of the infinite life, to do the thought experiment on infinite life. The regression down to the first cause experiment. Over and over and over and over again. Don't believe it. I'm going to continue with the lam rim just assuming that you're in. That doesn't require me constantly trying to help you reflect on it.

The lam rim practitioner understands infinite life. The lam rim practitioner doesn't take for granted their current favorable circumstance. They know the continuity of life. The continuity of consciousness could mean that they would inevitably find themselves in a less favorable circumstance or condition.

If you haven't done your reading, there's a noxious portion of the book where the details are very descriptive of the hell realms. I'm going to gloss over that because I I'd rather not turn you off. I just want you to think about the realities of torment that people, whom you know, and you, yourself have already survived, as enough for now. The very traditional Tibetan approach in the lam rim, that you go through this big segment where you go through all the the icy hell realms and the various kinds of misfortunes, what they're designed to do, in the same way that the Kobe Bryant tragedy is designed to do, is to get you in the gut and make you feel scared shitless about the possibilities.

The same way that you might scare a child who's acting truant and you take them to the prison or the jailhouse and you say this is a possibility for you if you continue going down this road, skipping classes and stealing petty things and not respecting other people. This is a reality for you. You can wind up in a situation like this, where your privileges and fortunes are taken from you. You give someone like that a wakeup call. That's the equivalent of what those things are.

There's a lot of us come from Catholic or Jewish backgrounds, monotheistic backgrounds. We've had shoved down hell-fire and brimstone talks that were basically designed only to coerce us into fear, submission and that's only half of it. The other half is confidence. Just enough fear for you not to get lax but enough confidence for you to know that it's within your reach to put yourself in a better predicament or circumstance. It's within our reach.

Why do we assemble together? Why do we keep doing this? Why do we keep going through the same reflections together? Something is deepening and something is awakening, very gradually in us, and one of these things is our own confidence. Our own confidence, that the methodology has value. It's not enough to rely on faith and Geshe Tenzin Zopa to wave his magic wand. It's not part of this tradition. Your mumbo jumbo prayers at the beginning, when you pray refuge, when you do the vandana together. As beautiful as it is and as beautiful it is for my body to feel it and as beautiful an imprint that we created in Sri Lanka, Nepal and India together, as beautiful as that is, if it's just words without understanding and without confidence that what you're doing breath bears fruit, it's it's not going to help. 

Excerpt from the course Find True Refuge


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