vixian wrote:I have heard of the 3 refuges Buddha Dhamma and Sangha - these terms are used in fairly fluid ways so in the context of the refuges can you explain in lay speak or point to a contemporary explanation. If I was to ask you what does Dhamma mean ... what does Buddha mean ... what does Sangha mean without specific reference to the refuges how would you explain it to me and would the expression / explanation differ if you were talkign with me specifically about these terms in relation to refuge?
A buddha or the Buddha is a teacher who has attained the complete cessation of all suffering while also having realized profound truths concerning the nature of existence and one's place in the cosmos, i.e., he is fully enlightened.
The Dharma is the teaching of the Buddha which leads one towards the end of suffering. The point of Dharma is to actively discern the causes of suffering and successfully eliminate them all.
The Sangha is the community of people who maintain and try to follow those teachings to the best of their abilities. It can also refer to the physical extensions of that community: artwork, stupas, temples, scriptures and so forth.
Refuge means that you commit yourself to these things with the intent of honouring and valuing them. That means you devote yourself the Buddha as the best of teachers, the Dharma as the best of teachings and the Sangha as the community which maintain the teachings and living memory of the Buddha.
There is the idea of a suitable refuge. This is contentious especially with respect to the Sangha as a refuge. In actuality, as a refuge the Sangha refers to liberated beings, i.e., generally speaking, arhats and ārya bodhisattvas (beings no longer subject to involuntary rebirth). What that means is that ordinary beings, be they monastics or laypeople, are not suitable refuges because they are still subject to various afflictions and ignorance which means they can possibly lead people astray. You do not take refuge in common Buddhists for the simple fact that they are not liberated and still subject to much ignorance, which negates the possibility that they could be true refuges.
So, really, refuge in the Sangha means to take refuge in the ideal of liberation and wisdom. There are few arhats and ārya bodhisattvas walking the earth, so most of the time you'll contemplate the ideal rather than living persons.
Some people will say the assembly of monks are the Sangha refuge, but this is problematic for the simple fact they are mostly ordinary beings with the same afflictions and bad habits as everyone else. They might symbolically represent the ideal, but they are not that ideal in the flesh and blood. We should hopefully treat renunciates, but unless they're liberated beings then they are not suitable refuges. The same can be said for lay yogis and so forth.
The sense of self as a separate distinct entity is experienced most strongly through the ego. This is a deception I understand so in practical experience what doe sit look and feel like? The inculcated Western mind in me needs some examples so I can start to see a 360 degree view and give it shape.
"Ego" is a term from western psychology and has no place in traditional Buddhist thought.
The sense of self we experience is illusory. It is an identity projected onto the five aggregates, but that projection in itself lacks any kind of inherent existence and is a product of ignorance and grasping. Whenever you experience a sense "I" and "other", this is actually ignorance at work. The remedy is proper contemplation and practice over the course of many lifetimes.