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When they say that the practice of the Buddha’s teaching begins with going for refuge, this immediately raises a question: «What do I want refuge for?» And the answer does not answer that question. Moreover, the approach is not correct either.
It is true that in the texts every time someone was convinced by the Buddha, they ended up saying something like this:
I take refuge in the Buddha, in the Teaching and in the Saṅgha of the bhikkhus. From this day on, may the Buddha remember me as a lay follower who has taken refuge for life.
Furthermore, in MN 56, a Jain follower, the Upāli householder of Nāḷandā takes refuge up to three times, while comparing the Buddha, his Teaching and his Sangha to their corrupted Jain counterparts.
This formula is used indistinctly by kings, princes, warriors, village heads, elephant warrior chiefs or cavalry soldiers… but why?
The answer is that the taking of refuge finds clear antecedents in the Brahmanical religion. An example of this is provided by the Rig Veda itself, a text ten centuries prior to the Buddha himself:
Hymn LI. Indra.
14 The refuge of the good man in his need is Indra, firm as a lintel, praised among the Pajras.
Indra alone is the Lord of wealth, the Giver, lover of wealth, chariots, cows and horses.
Hymn 58 Lamb.
8 Grant us, Son of Strength, you rich in friends, a refuge without blemish this day for us your praisers.
Oh Agni, Son of Strength, with iron fortresses preserve the man who praises you from anguish.
Hymn III. Wild pig
8 Three Goddesses, with inherent power, seated, protect this Holy Grass, our perfect shelter!
Hymn XLVI. Indra.
9 O Indra, grant a happy home, a triple strong shelter.
Hymn LI. Visvedevas
11 May they, Earth, Aditi, Indra, Bhaga, Pusan increase our praise, increase the people fivefold.
Giving good help, good shelter, good guide, may they be our good liberators, good protectors.
Hymn XXXIV. Visvedevas.
22 May those who lavish gifts bestow those treasures: may Rodasi and Varunani listen.
May he, with the Varutris, be our refuge, may the generous Tvastar give us a store of riches. Save them, victorious God, from slander and harm. Give us a famous haven far away.
25 May Indra, Varuna, Mitra and Agni, Waters, Herbs, Trees accept the praises we offer.
May we find refuge in the bosom of the Marut. Protect us always, Gods, with blessings.
Hymn CI. Parjanya.
2 Giver of the growth of plants, the God who rules over the waters and all creatures that move, grant us a triple refuge for our refuge, and a triple light to help us and be our friend.
Hymn XXVII. Visvedevas.
9 You innocent Gods, grant us a strong refuge on all sides, or safe protection, Vasus, impregnable from near or far.
Hymn XCVII. Read Pavamana
47 He, purified with ancient vital vigor, impregnating all the forms and figures of his Daughter, Finding his triple refuge in the waters, he goes singing, like a priest, to the assemblies.
Hymn LXVI. visvedevas.
5 With Holy Thoughts Sarasvan, steadfast Varuna, great Vayu, Pusan, Visnu and the Twain Asvins, lords of all wealth, immortals, promoters of prayer, grant us a triple shelter from distress.
That is, taking refuge is a customary formula at that time and it means what it means, that an individual expresses to the Buddha that he wishes to be accepted as a disciple.
Now we will see what sense it makes.
SN 45.3: SĀRIPUTTA
In Savatthi. Then Sāriputta approached the Buddha, bowed down, sat at one side and said:
—Master, good friends, companions and associates are the totality of the Discipline.
«Well, well, Sariputta! Good friends, companions and associates are the totality of the Discipline. A bhikkhu with good friends, companions and associates can hope to develop and cultivate the noble eightfold path.
«And how does a bhikkhu with good friends develop and cultivate the noble eightfold path?»
—It is when a bhikkhu develops the right belief, the right disposition, the right speech, the right action, the right conduct, the right effort, the right practice, and the right concentration that are based on recollection, dispassion, and cessation. , and mature in abandonment. Thus the noble eightfold path is developed and cultivated by a bhikkhu with good friends.
And here is another way to understand how good friends are all spiritual life. Because, by trusting me as a good friend, beings who are subject to rebirth, old age and death, suffering, lamentation, pain, sadness and anguish are freed from all these things. This is another way of understanding how good
friends are all spiritual life.
Here we see how having good friends can expect the development and cultivation of the noble eightfold path. And those good friends are the Sangha of the Buddha, which includes himself. To take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dhamma and in the Sangha is to enter the circle of friends of the Buddha, which constitutes the entire Discipline.
Now what follows is, does it make sense today to take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dhamma and in the Sangha? Or in other words… can someone become a friend and join the group of friends of the Buddha?
Well no. And although the answer is obvious, we are going to analyze it.
The Buddha became extinct, for that is why he is a buddha. The buddhas after dying are not reborn, they are not in any heaven with devas, they do not return. The buddhas are extinguished, which is the purpose of enlightenment. No one, logically, can become a friend or disciple of someone extinct. Approaches to keep an «invisible friend», in the style of «little god» or «Jesus» who accompanies you is pure infantilism.
The remembrance of the imaginary figure of a Buddha to which to take refuge is no more than a devout idea, but nothing practical in terms of teaching, because that imaginary figure, let alone as an idol, does not have the capacity to help in the nobody’s lighting Wood, granite or jade do not serve as teachers and neither does a feverish imagination.
Regarding a noble Sangha, headed by the Buddha, if there is no Buddha, there is no point in taking refuge there either. But in addition, it refers to the noble Sangha.
SN 55.1: A UNIVERSAL MONARCH
“The Saṅgha of the Buddha’s disciples is practicing in the correct, direct, methodical and proper way. It consists of the four pairs, the eight individuals. This is the Saṅgha of the Buddha’s disciples who is worthy of offerings dedicated to the devas, worthy of hospitality, worthy of alms, worthy of saluting with joined palms, and is the field of supreme merit for the world.»
The four pairs, the eight individuals, are all those who have achieved one of the four levels of enlightenment: sotapanna, sakadagami, anagami or arahant, in two levels each: when they get it and when they realize it.
And how many people do you know who are enlightened?
You can know that if you ask a Buddha, so we refer to the above.
Finally, regarding the Teaching, the Buddha tells us this:
AN 2.47 TWO ASSEMBLIES
—And what is an assembly educated in elegant discourse and not in questioning?
—It is an assembly where, when the profound, eminent, transcendental discourses delivered by the Tathagata, dealing with emptiness, are recited, the bhikkhus do not want to listen. They do not pay attention or apply their mind to understand them, nor do they believe that these teachings are worth learning and memorizing. But when discourses composed by poets, poetry, with fancy words and phrases, composed by outsiders or spoken by disciples, are recited, the bhikkhus want to listen. They pay attention and apply their mind to understand them, and they believe that these teachings are worth learning and memorizing. But when you have learned those teachings, you don’t question and examine each other, saying, “Why do you say this? What does that mean?». So they do not clarify what is not clear, nor reveal what is not clear, nor dispel doubts about the many doubtful matters. This is called an assembly educated in elegant speech and not in questioning.
Those teachings composed by poets, poetry, with fancy words and phrases, composed by outsiders, or spoken by disciples, are what people want to hear, but when they hear the Buddha’s word, they cover their ears and shout not to hear it. Those are the teachings in which people take refuge.
In the end, taking refuge today is nothing more than a ceremony of Hindu origin that opens the door to being a member of a sect that has three sustained pillars: temple worship, scriptures, and the teacher-disciple tradition. Around these spiritual disciplines revolve prayer, meditation and ritual worship at home and in the monastery, scripture study, mantra recitation, pilgrimage to holy places, austerity, selfless service, generous donations, good conduct, and various practices.
Just the definition of Hinduism. A mongrel and bastard Hinduism that denies itself. Don’t call it Buddhism, because it isn’t and never was.