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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
SUMMER 2 0 1 4 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 49 life of a seeker, taking refuge in forests and caves, and with teachers who had mastered the prac- tices of asceticism. But just as he had rejected his father’s path, after six years he rejected the austerities, as well as the rituals of the ruling Brahman priesthood. When Siddhartha sat down under the bodhi tree, he took refuge in himself. Relying on instinct as well as years of training and experience, he abandoned every orthodoxy, determined to liberate his mind from the very roots of suffering. It’s important to use this model of self-reli- ance—and it’s important not to misuse it. We cannot dismiss the Buddha’s teachings in the name of creative autonomy, and we cannot just follow the Buddha like a baby duckling follows its mother. We neither discard genuine faith nor indulge in blind faith. But we draw on the ordi- nary human habit of placing trust in exceptional sources and use the Buddha—his teachings and example—to inspire us. When someone that we identify as special speaks, we listen with heightened attention and trust. These natural tendencies initially direct our refuge practice. We use the images, words, and activities of enlightened beings to intensify our devotion and receptivity. With the enlightened beings before us, we bow and chant with more enthusiasm than if we imagine regular beings. We take refuge in the guidance and words of the Buddha, who embodies all enlightened beings. We use the outer Buddha to take refuge in our inner buddha. The Three Boundless Qualities The enlightened qualities that a buddha mani- fests are boundless wisdom, boundless love and compassion, and boundless enlightened activity. When we venerate the buddhas, we acknowl- edge and value their manifestation of enlighten- ment. The seeds of these qualities exist within us, but we cultivate them through veneration and devotion. Boundless Wisdom Boundless wisdom has two aspects: relative and absolute. Absolute wisdom means the direct realization of the empty, illusory nature of all phenomena. Relative wisdom reminds us that the Buddha is not just “spacing out” in nirvana and thinking, “Everything is wonderful, no one is suffering, there is no work for me to do.” Rela- tive wisdom means that the Buddha knows our relative reality; he knows our suffering, our neu- roses and delusions, our confusions, concepts, and impure perceptions. The word boundless here means there is nothing beyond a buddha’s perception. Boundless Love and Compassion This is like the immeasurable love that a mother has for her only child. She loves the child more than she loves herself. It is limitless love. We are like the Buddha’s child. Love and compas- sion can be limited by concepts; immeasurable, boundless love exists beyond concepts. Boundless Enlightened Activity This describes the limitless ways that the Buddha helps us. Still, every day, millions of people suffer from natural disasters, financial crises, roman- tic problems, monkey-mind problems, and it seems that the Buddha refuses to help. The Bud- dha himself said that a buddha could provide the perfect conditions for extinguishing dukkha by illuminating the path of dharma. But it’s our responsibility to provide the causes for that to happen. That’s why we practice. The buddhas are always available, but we are not always open to what they offer. They can open the door and shine the light, but if we don’t walk through that door, we remain in darkness. Taking Refuge in the Dharma When I was a child, I heard my father talk often about the amazing qualities of the Buddha. One day I asked, “If the Buddha’s so great, so won- derful and perfect, why can’t he make sick people Emotions can also become refuges, a habitual place to hide. If anger reassures your identity, you may return to that state for shelter, the same way someone else returns to their home.