Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Taking refuge

At the end of April I wrote in this post about how helpful the phraseology of other faith paths than our own can be. In that case the word was "karma", which comes from Hinduism and Indian Buddhism.

Not so much from India, but from later developments of Buddhism comes the illuminating and helpful phrase "taking refuge", which touches upon one of the skills of nourishing and nurturing spiritual development.

In Buddhism, the commitment is to "taking refuge in the buddha, the dharma and the sangha".

The Buddha is the state of enlightenment — the aware, present and awakened self. It should not be mistaken for an external being; it's not quite the same as if a Christian spoke of taking refuge in Jesus, there isn't the same level of otherness implied. Taking refuge in the buddha is fundamentally to do with living from your true self, from your innate wisdom and connection to the spiritual root — in Christian terminology it's like the Holy Spirit that wells up within you as a fountain of living water. That's the place of refuge implied in taking refuge in the buddha.

The Dharma is the wisdom body of writing and practice — the tradition, both in what you learn and what you do. What you might describe as "the way" trodden by the feet of the wise, faithful, kind and good, and left for you in the legacy of their writing and teaching. That too is a place of refuge.

The Sangha is the faith community, the spiritual kindred, the people travelling with you. They encourage you by their words and deeds for sure, but also there is an effulgence of being, an aura, something like a fragrance that emanates from the being of your sangha members, in which you can take refuge and find rest, be comforted and restored. Of course the faith community can also be intensely irritating and challenge you deeply by their habits and personality and temperament, but that also strengthens your practice as you learn to synthesise who you are with who they are and so shape the living temple from the unwieldy building blocks to hand.

The series of nine books I wrote that comes under the general heading of "The Hawk & the Dove" is the unfolding story of the men living in a fictional fourteenth century monastery. These novels explore the practise of goodness and kindness, and explore faith development and practice. They are about the Christian version of the buddha, the dharma and the sangha in which we may take refuge to be supported and grow strong. The purpose of the series is to nurture the reader's aspiration to choose gentleness and humility, and foster peace. 

Each of the books in the series feels down into a different aspect of the way of love, but the fourth book (The Hardest Thing To Do) and the ninth book (A Day And A Life) can be used as a form of retreat. The links I've given you are to UK Amazon, but you can also find them on US Amazon or in many online Christian bookshops (like Eden).

I feel sure there must be many people who (like me) would dearly love to make a residential retreat at somewhere like St Beuno's, but do not have sufficient means to realistically prioritise this over the commitments of day to day life. How, then, to benefit from the retreat experience of going down deep to be refreshed and restored, if you can't afford to go and stay in a retreat house?

St Alcuin's monastery in my fictional series is designed to create a place of spiritual refuge, because it is what takes place in our imagination that sustains and heals us, even more than what belongs to our physical surroundings and circumstances. 

The stories create a virtual sangha, which can come to life in our imagination and offer friendly companionship for our journey. They explore the dharma of the Gospel — the concepts as they are outlived of the way of Jesus. They support the finding of the buddha, both the interior well of life and the experience of touching the risen Jesus.

There are lots of ways we can discover into taking refuge, to rest and strength our inner self, but the power of story has been from time immemorial a really good one. 


greta said...

thank you, pen, for creating this beautiful on-line sangha. it has and is truly a place in which i take refuge - nourishing, strengthening, encouraging and supportive. i feel blessed by your presence in my life as well as by all those who comment here. we are pilgrims on a journey . . . .

Pen Wilcock said...

"We are sisters on the road,
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load."


greta said...

exactly . . . you picked that up very nicely : )

Jen Liminal Luminous said...

I love the Buddhist idea of Sangha, it is something I would love in my life more. And as Greta says above, I feel that here.

I also see your books as part of my Sangha, they have taken on life for me and I probably read all of them at least one a year.

Anonymous said...

Mairin. I don't respond a lot, but I am so in sinc with your postings. M.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Jen — I'm glad the stories work in that way for you — when they do, I think they can bring peace and stability. And yes, finding your tribe is one of life's endeavours I suspect.

Hi Mairin — Waving! xx

Anonymous said...

Hi, Pen!

This is exactly what the Hawk and Dove novels are, and why they breathe out such a beautiful peace and a fragrance ... while at the same time you portray the community of St Alcuin's wholly realistically, as fallible, three-dimensional human beings. Those books are truly anointed!

- Philippa xxx

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello Philippa! I was just thinking about you today, and wondering how things are going with you. x