White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Every Breath You Take 20: Taking Refuge in the Buddha

Dharma Talk presented by Ven. Shikai Zuiko O-sensei

Dainen-ji, April 24th, 2008


...is the only opportunity
to practise your understanding with the whole bodymind. 

The verse today is the first of three looking at the Three Jewels, the root precepts.
The root precepts, the Precepts of the Three Jewels,
are the most essential, the most vital, the heart,
of the other thirteen Bodhisattva precepts.

At the heart of the first precept is the recognition that you are Buddha,
you are awake, (not all the time because you're learning)
and that "Awareness is the only condition". 

The verse: 

Taking refuge in the Buddha,

"May all beings

Continue the Lineage of the Buddhas,
Raising the unsurpassable aspiration." 

A person "taking refuge in the Buddha"
is declaring in the verse the recognition
that all beings have the capacity to practise, wake up,
to continue the Lineage,
and is encouraging, wishing that all may do so. 

When receiving the Three Jewels,
the intention,
the aspiration to continue the Lineage of the Buddhas
and liberate all beings is vowed,
out loud,
in a formal ceremony between the teacher and a formal student. 

The Three Jewels are also chanted at the beginning of formal sittings and general sittings.
It's always good to know what you are chanting
and it is essential to establishing and nurturing practice. 

Right now,
feel the breath,
sit up straight,
open the eye gaze.

What is taking "refuge"? 

"Taking refuge" in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha,
as the Roshi says in, "Cutting the Cat Into One: Zen Teachings on the Practice of the Bodhisattva Precepts"
really means that

all refuges have been taken away and one vows to stand exposed to experience as it is. In 'taking refuge' we find our stability, our resting place, in the fact that there is no point in consoling and indulging ourselves with hope and fear. 

What are precepts?

Precepts, as the Roshi says in "Cutting the Cat" are
"the basis and ground of healthy practice... they are also the Path itself". 

He goes on to say,

Dogen zenji translated the precepts, literally and culturally, he did so with the attention to the root of the precepts, to Buddhanature itself.

The verse refers to one who is receiving the Precepts of the Three Jewels. 

Chanting the Three Jewels does not mean one has formally received the transmission of the precepts.
It means chanting the Three Jewels with the Sangha,
the harmonious community. 

Those interested in their life, as it really is,
use the form of chanting and the words they are chanting
to look further into what they are actually doing.
There are thousands of texts and teisho and Dharma Talks addressing the basic questions of practice.
There are the opportunities of Daisan
and practice interviews
and informal interaction
to ask questions and have them answered. 

You will receive answers
and be pointed in the direction of more answers
covering continents over a couple of thousand years
through the experience of other human beings,
people just like you. 

But just as only you can feel your breath,
only you can practise,
and only you can ask your questions.
It really is all up to you. 

With questioning and answering and increasing understanding,
students may make the decision to practise as general students,
then probationary formal students,
and formal students.

As a formal student they may ask to receive or
"take refuge" in,
the Precepts of the Three Jewels. 

At the time when a formal student does receive the Precepts from a representative of the Lineage,
a Teacher, the student receives a Dharma name.
The Dharma name reflects one's basic nature
and is a reminder of the aspiration, the intention, of what you are doing,
and also of the basic tendency or habitual pattern that can "trip you up".

A two-sided coin if ever there was one. 

Let me remind you that we're talking about what the Precepts mean here and now in this Lineage.
They may have meant and may mean different things to different people
depending on place and time and the understanding of individuals.
There is no one answer or description that will cover all places, all times, all people. 

There are ample opportunities to ask questions
during Daisan
or practice interviews
or by email
or even a letter (remember those?). 

Again, we're talking about what taking refuge in the Three Jewels means here and now at Dainen-ji.
You may come across "taking refuge" in other material but,
although it perhaps sounds similar,
it is not specific to this Lineage. 

Anzan Hoshin roshi has set in place a very clear approach to practice. 

Anyone who attends a general or formal sitting where there are opening chants has chanted,
or at least listened to, and resonated with The Three Jewels: 

Awareness is the only condition.

All that is arises as the display of Awareness.
This is the seamless expanse of all that is.

If you have attended on a Wednesday when Fusatsu,
the renewal of vows has been celebrated,
you have chanted the Three Jewels in Pali, in Japanese, and in English. 

The Pali: 

Buddham saranam gacchami.
Dharmam saranam gacchami.
Sangham saranam gacchami. 

The Japanese: 

Namu kie Butsu.
Namu kie Ho.
Namu kie So.

and the English, in this Lineage: 

Awareness is the Only Condition.

All that is arises as the Display of Awareness.
This is the Seamless Expanse of all that is. 

You may have heard or in the course of your study come across another English version: 

This is Buddha.
This is Dharma.
This is Sangha. 

This translation has been expanded upon and made clearer by the Roshi. 

The Roshi's statement that,

when Dogen zenji translated the precepts, literally and culturally, he did so with attention to the root of the precepts, to Buddhanature itself

helps us see more deeply into why he translated the Three Jewels as he did
and why we chant the first as "Awareness is the Only Condition." 

Awareness is the word chosen to translate "Daiku" or "Great space".
Awareness, Buddhanature itself,
is always Great Space.
Most of the time we don't see or know it as such
because it seems to be clogged,
conditioned by the convincing contractions of an image of self, self-image.
Although it may seem that the great space of open experiencing has been lost,
it has not,
it is not.

Awareness, that Great Space only seems to have disappeared
as it is obscured by the density of the filters of contraction. 

The moment you notice any dharma,
any moment of experiencing,
the instruction is to practise mindfulness.

The moment you notice mindfulness was covered over,
you are mindful.
You are practising that moment of mindfulness.
When we practise anything,
dancing, singing, cooking, carpentry, playing the guitar, we get better at it.
The same is true for the practice of mindfulness.
Practice is called practice because as you do it over and over again
you become more skilled,
more adept,
you get better at it. 

Our Lineage gives the Three Jewels only to formal students.
When a student is accepted as a formal student
their understanding is that of a formal student.
Although that understanding is still fledgling and will deepen and mature,
a formal student is practising moment-to-moment with an understanding
that Awareness, Great Space,
is the only condition and is always available.
They are practising rooted in that understanding. 

Practice is a process of understanding with the whole bodymind.

Understanding is demonstrated, moment-to-moment, by each student.

From "Cutting the Cat", 

Precepts are basically ways to simplify our interaction with thoughts, emotions, and situations, in order to evoke a mind which can respond cleanly, and clearly, free from indulgences and obsessive self-service. 

To realize that which we already are,
Awareness itself,
to wake up completely,
to complete the Path,
to continue the lineage,
and to liberate all beings is "the unsurpassable aspiration". 

You can understand now the wisdom of the process of becoming ready to receive the Three Jewels,
the first of the Bodhisattva precepts. 

When asking to receive the Three Jewels,
a formal student is asking to have their understanding made manifest
and their commitment made formally,
out loud,
between themselves and their teacher as a representative of the Lineage. 

Again from "Cutting the Cat", 

The precepts are not a status symbol or an achievement. They come in a time in a person's practice which is optimal for that person. Just because someone has only received Refuge, or has not even taken that, means nothing. Bow to that person as someone who has given you a chance to see your pride and expose your self-imagery. 

Receiving the Precepts, chanting the Precepts, is profound but it is not "heavy":

things as they are,
reality does lighten your life moment to moment. 

The student receiving the Three Jewels needs to know what they are being entrusted with.
Awareness is the only condition.
As Awareness itself
the student is taking responsibility for this recognition
and vowing that they will do their very best to open whatever comes up. 

The next verse looks at the second of the Precepts of the Three Jewels
and expands on how that will be done.
The third looks at who will provide guidance and support. 

Thank you for listening.