The Dharma represents our actual course of action. What are you doing? The world has undergone a big change and in a lot of areas things have slowed down. This is an opportunity. There has never been a better time to start a daily meditation practice. Become more mindful and aware and you’ll make your little corner of the world a better place. The truth is that when we train in attention and insight, we have a much easier time showing up for the people that need us.

 

By Daniel Scharpenburg

 

As I’m writing this a lot of the world is in a sort of lockdown because of Covid 19.

It has claimed a lot of lives and there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding when the world will open up again. And it’s pretty clear things won’t be the way they were before. There will be some changes. Uncertainty is scary.

The Ratana Sutta(1) is a talk the Buddha gave where he expounded the virtues of what we call the three jewels. The three jewels are traditionally the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. These are described in different ways sometimes, but looking to these things as our refuge is what makes one a Buddhist.

In this teaching in particular the Buddha is “the unequalled, realized one.” He’s our example, our ideal. We’re looking to him as a role model.

The Dharma represents the various Buddhist teachings. In this teaching it’s described as “the unsurpassed concentration that leads to awakening.” The Sangha represents the spiritual community. In this teaching it’s described as “the noble ones who have understood the Four Noble Truths and work toward abandoning the first three fetters(2)”

In some places this Sutta is recited as a sort of good luck or prayer thing. It’s meant to motivate and inspire.

I’m writing about the Ratana Sutta(3) now because I’m wondering what it can teach us in this time and place. I’m wondering that because the Buddha gave this talk to a group of people that were in trouble. They experienced a famine, then evil spirits came, then they were besieged by a plague. He gave this teaching to a group that had seen loved ones get sick and die, a group that faced terrible uncertainty about what would happen next…a group that was trying to engage social distancing.

And here we are.

The Buddha talked about the three jewels in order to help the people get through their challenging situation.

It’s said that he had this incredible ability to see what teachings people needed and to give them those teachings, that was his real genius. So he could see someone with a really scattered mind and say “you need concentration practices” and he could see someone with very little clarity and say, “you need insight practices” and someone that didn’t care about others and say, “you need compassion practices” and someone who gives into temptation all the time and tell them, “you need to focus on morality, have you tried being a monk?”

And so these people in this village were dealing with horror and uncertainty, as we all are. And the Buddha described something they could hold on to.

I’m not here to just recite the text or create my own version, but it just got me thinking about the raft. The world is like a turbulent ocean and Buddhism is the raft I’m on. That’s how it’s sometimes traditionally described. Buddhism is what’s getting me through the struggles of life. It’s my raft. And when the ocean isn’t turbulent anymore, if such a day comes, maybe I won’t need a raft anymore.

But right now I really really do.

There might be other rafts other people are using. I can’t speak to that because other rafts didn’t work for me. I can only say this raft I’m on is really, really good. And that’s what the Buddha presented in the text. It’s essentially, “I see you’re drowning, you can have this raft. It’s has three layers. Maybe that’s better than a raft with one layer.”

Is this metaphor really holding together? Who knows.

When we say, “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha” we aren’t using that word “refuge” for no reason. The point is that life is hard and this is designed to help us. Life is a dumpster fire sometimes.

Learning how to see things clearly, learning how to focus, learning how to be in harmony with the world around us and have compassion for others… these are the things that bring us a sense of calm in the storm. Equanimity is something we talk about a lot in Buddhism. It’s a calm and even mind when things are hard. It’s not falling apart when things go bad.

I look at social media and I see people are falling apart right now. I heard about someone getting assaulted for not wearing a mask in public. I heard about someone else getting turned away from a store because the store owner said, “People can’t wear masks here.”

Part of the problem, of course, is that I’m looking at social media. I’m reminded of what Fred Rogers said.

Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”

There are people coming together that help those in need. I really recommend Dharma Relief as a charity to support. https://dharmarelief.org/

But there are plenty of other charities too.

The Buddha represents our highest aspiration. What do you want to be? I’d like to humbly suggest that the least we can do is avoid causing trouble for anyone right now.

The Dharma represents our actual course of action. What are you doing? The world has undergone a big change and in a lot of areas things have slowed down. This is an opportunity. There has never been a better time to start a daily meditation practice. Become more mindful and aware and you’ll make your little corner of the world a better place. The truth is that when we train in attention and insight, we have a much easier time showing up for the people that need us.

The Sangha represents the community.

We aren’t in this alone. We are coming together, we have to come together. Who is your community? Who are the people helping you be your best self? We want to learn how to be a good influence and bring harmony to the people around us. That’s the most important thing. It’s so easy to get divided and to be divisive. Be a helper instead.

The world feels like it’s on fire right now. But the truth is this isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time. How can we keep it together?

How can I help you?

 

  1. it’s called “sutta” and not “sutra” because it’s a teaching from the Theravada tradition, from Pali instead of Sanskrit. Pali is a language that is almost the same as Sanskrit, so it’s got words that are a little different. At times it is confusing. I went ahead and used ‘dharma’ instead of the Pali ‘dhamma’ but I wouldn’t use ‘sutra’ for something that isn’t a Mahayana text.
  2. The first three fetters are: belief in a self, doubt, and attachment to rituals. A lot could be said about those, but the Buddha is essentially saying that if we can drop those things, we’re going to be happier.
  3. Go text if you’re interested. It’s not super easy to read, but it is short: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.2.01.than.html

 

Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall

 


 

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