Concepts I need help with

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Concepts I need help with

Postby vixian » Tue Jul 16, 2013 3:54 am

HI All

I am relatively new to this but everything rings so true ...

However, language and concepts being what they are unless under a teacher (I am not) then there is always the possibility semantic confusion.

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?

Another concept that I trust is true but cannnot quite integrate into my DNA is the self / not self aspect. 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.

My apologies to any if this has already been discussed in another thread ... just tell me the topic heading and I will go find.
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jul 16, 2013 4:36 am

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.
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby KeithBC » Thu Jul 18, 2013 1:56 am

Technically, the Sangha is the community of followers who have taken the Vinaya vows. In other words, monks and nuns. The use of the term "sangha" for a more general community of Buddhist followers that includes lay people (those who have not taken the Vinaya vows) is a modern western-ism.

Taking refuge in the Three Jewels means that one recognizes that there is no refuge from suffering other than those three things. All other alleged refuges are false and will not end suffering; only the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are true refuges from suffering.

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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jul 18, 2013 2:41 am

KeithBC wrote:Technically, the Sangha is the community of followers who have taken the Vinaya vows. In other words, monks and nuns.


One problem I've come to have with the orthodox definition of "Sangha" is that much of the Vinaya literature is fictional. The number of precepts differ from school to school. There is this idea that you magically become a "field of merit" just by virtue of having had a formal ordination. The precepts you take could very well be later additions not sanctioned by the Buddha himself, so you end up with this weird situation where arbitrary and sometimes bizarre man-made rules define who is and isn't part of the Holy Sangha, the traditional third refuge and field of merit. According to the Milinda Panha, you need a formal ordination as well to survive past a day as a lay arhat:

    "If a layman attains arahant-ship, only two destinations await him; either he must enter the Order that very day or else he must attain parinibbàna"


    Milindapanha III.19


    "You say that if a layman attains arahantship he must either enter the Order that very day or die and attain parinibbàna. Yet if he is unable to find a robe and bowl and preceptor then that exalted condition of arahantship is a waste, for destruction of life is involved in it."


    "The fault does not lie with arahantship but with the state of a layman, because it is too weak to support arahantship. Just as, O king, although food protects the life of beings it will take away the life of one whose digestion is weak; so too, if a layman attains arahantship he must, because of the weakness of that condition, enter the Order that very day or die."


    Milindapanha III.62


Technically according to tradition, generally, a non-ordained arhat or ārya bodhisattva (even a female ordained arhat) is NOT part of the Sangha refuge, whereas a 20 year old goofy bhikṣu of a day qualifies as the Sangha refuge.

I take issue with that personally.
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby smcj » Thu Jul 18, 2013 3:22 am

Technically according to tradition, generally, a non-ordained arhat or ārya bodhisattva (even a female ordained arhat) is NOT part of the Sangha refuge, whereas a 20 year old goofy bhikṣu of a day qualifies as the Sangha refuge.

Depending on the school and the context, B, D & S have a gamut of meanings. You could say Buddha is the essence of enlightenment, the Dharma is the communication of enlightenment, and the Sangha is the physical manifestation of enlightenment. They are the body, speech, and mind of enlightenment. That abstraction (my own) will cover all the various applications.

On an esoteric Vajrayana level, the Dharmakaya, which is the formless non-manifest enlightened mind of a Buddha, is the Buddha. The Sambogakaya, which are the meditational deities, are the Dharma, and the Nirmanakaya, which is your lama, is the Sangha.

So don't trip about the ordination thing, although there's reason for it too. I haven't heard that a non-ordained arhat isn't Sangha, but I could see that in the Theavada. I don't see any school that accepts the idea of a bodhisattva discounting them for non-ordination though. Where did you get that idea?
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jul 18, 2013 5:02 am

smcj wrote:Where did you get that idea?


Abhidharma literature defines a legal sangha as five bhikṣus (note: males). This is why it takes minimum ten bhikṣus in order for a schism to occur: five on both sides constituting two separate legally-defined sanghas.
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby smcj » Thu Jul 18, 2013 5:31 am

Indrajala wrote:Abhidharma literature defines a legal sangha as five bhikṣus (note: males). This is why it takes minimum ten bhikṣus in order for a schism to occur: five on both sides constituting two separate legally-defined sanghas.

Huh. I'd heard it was three, but I don't remember it being put in terms of a legal definition. Oh well.

I've also seen Sangha defined as a stupa, the robes of a monk, and your own lama. So it depends.

What I was curious about was the idea a realized arhat would not be considered Sangha if he was not ordained.
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jul 18, 2013 5:54 am

smcj wrote:What I was curious about was the idea a realized arhat would not be considered Sangha if he was not ordained.


The legal (ecclesiastical) definition of "sangha" refers strictly to bhikṣus (fully ordained male monks), which excludes bhikṣuṇīs (fully ordained nuns) and anyone else. Also according to the Milindapanha a non-ordained arhat would die within a day, so you could rule out the existence of non-ordained arhats for the most part.

I personally don't accept any of this, but that's what classical Indian Buddhist literature says.
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby Kim O'Hara » Thu Jul 18, 2013 8:18 am

Sorry, guys, but those last few posts are quite off-topic, IMO. The OP is after a common-sense non-technical explanation, and Indrajala's first try was nearly ideal:
The Sangha is the community of people who maintain and try to follow those teachings to the best of their abilities.

Keith's comment was very relevant, too:
Technically, the Sangha is the community of followers who have taken the Vinaya vows. In other words, monks and nuns. The use of the term "sangha" for a more general community of Buddhist followers that includes lay people (those who have not taken the Vinaya vows) is a modern western-ism.


That's all we really need here, isn't it?

:namaste:
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby Dan74 » Thu Jul 18, 2013 11:11 am

Hi vixian and welcome to Dharma Wheel and to Buddhism :hi:

Regarding your last question, about no self, one way to think about it to reflect that there are times when we function very well without thinking in terms of "I", "me" and "myself". When there is an emergency, like you see your child in danger, when one has a passion, like a sport or an art and one is immersed completely in the doing, when waking up sometimes before the usual mental habits have "loaded" and sometimes after meditation or during a retreat when the sense of "me" and "mine" has receded to a large extent. At such times we actually function very well because when we don't hold back, but give 100%, when there is no distraction of self-consciousness but completely attention is given to the action, we tend to do our best.
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby smcj » Thu Jul 18, 2013 11:43 am

Dan74 wrote:...At such times we actually function very well because when we don't hold back, but give 100%, when there is no distraction of self-consciousness but completely attention is given to the action, we tend to do our best.

:good:
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby Kim O'Hara » Thu Jul 18, 2013 1:30 pm

Dan74 wrote:Hi vixian and welcome to Dharma Wheel and to Buddhism :hi:

Regarding your last question, about no self, one way to think about it to reflect that there are times when we function very well without thinking in terms of "I", "me" and "myself". ...

Agreed - a very sensible, useful approach.
A more analytical approach, No-self or Not-self?
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, is at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/notself2.html (yes, I know it's from the :spy: Theravada tradition but I think it's OK). Its core is ...
If you develop the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment to a state of calm well-being and use that calm state to look at experience in terms of the Noble Truths, the questions that occur to the mind are not "Is there a self? What is my self?" but rather "Am I suffering stress because I'm holding onto this particular phenomenon? Is it really me, myself, or mine? If it's stressful but not really me or mine, why hold on?" These last questions merit straightforward answers, as they then help you to comprehend stress and to chip away at the attachment and clinging — the residual sense of self-identification — that cause it, until ultimately all traces of self-identification are gone and all that's left is limitless freedom.

... but you may need to read the rest of it to understand the context.

:namaste:
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby coldwater » Thu Jul 18, 2013 4:39 pm

More thoughts on that wide spectrum of what the 'three refuges' are...

From my own understanding and mish mash line of teachers Tendai and Gelugpa-

Buddha - is the 'historical' Buddha, the Dharmakaya embodied as Buddha and every person's potential for Buddhahood. The liberated/transformed state. Represented by images, stupas and what not.

Dharma- is the methods and teaching that lead to transformation and liberation. It is also the true nature of self/reality to recognized. It can also be the practices and instructions lived and passed from teacher to student and community to community (which is different than a presentation of information found in books). The Dharma is the realizations that transform. Symbolized by texts, beads, ritual items etc.

Sangha- Can be the bodhisattvas, arhats, practitioners with realizations that we aspire to become like, teachers, co-practitioners, lay and monastic practitioners. The actual 'refuge is the realized Sangha'. The broadest way I've heard (and understand it to be) is that the Sangha is all beings, because they are relied on to practice the path that leads to Buddhahood. On a practical level it is the Bodhisattvas and Arhats. Sangha can also be used in narrower context of 'my Sangha' (who meets once a week or whatever) or mean one's sect, tradition, or group around a teacher. This is represented by the 'four fold assembly' of monastic and lay people. So even a goofy 20 year old bhikshu of one day is 'symbolic' of that- one doesn't take refuge in them as an individual but in what they represent and their aspirations.

I think each term can be defined narrowly and broadly and might be used in different contexts with different people. Refuge is very personal and I don't think it is something static throughout one's practice. We can look back on older commentaries for references but but also need to use some discernment to see their historical and social influences. Better to work with a teacher/community and see how they understand it and learn from there I think...as you can see from the posts there are many ideas and interpretations.

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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby hansen » Thu Jul 18, 2013 8:24 pm

Reading Donald Lopez History of Buddhism cleared up a lot of confusion about these issues and many others. I also attended one of his lectures at Georgetown so it was easy to understand his perspective on Buddhism.

The East has seen many teachers of enlightenment come and go. My preference in the Buddhist path is simple. With a little time and patience, anyone can develop a high degree of proficiency in a specific contemplative practice that actually has the direct effect of liberating the mind, and thus the entire person. It's freely given, or I say beware. And the instructions are intact as well a long line of practitioners who can attest to, and guide one through the practice.

Even thought Thoreau was into the Upanisads, I think his quote is appropriate: "Simplify, simplify, simplify."

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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby smcj » Thu Jul 18, 2013 9:33 pm

Refuge is very personal and I don't think it is something static throughout one's practice.

Very true, at least in my case. With permission I'd like to elaborate a bit.
Warning; The following is my opinion without reference to scripture.
************************************************************************************
Refuge is so obvious to Asians they do not define it well for our purposes. The most basic is the idea that Sakyamuni accomplished the ultimate the life has to offer. He saw things as they really are and left instructions for us to follow in his footsteps. Part of those instructions is letting us know that the way we see things, the way normal, sober, well adjusted people see things, is ignorant and mistaken. Our own actions, passions, and mistaken awareness are the source of the problem, and the sources of our suffering.

So "Refuge" is seeking safety from suffering.

We take Refuge in; giving Him credibility as having the answer (Buddha Refuge), we rely on His Teachings (Dharma Refuge}, and the community and tradition of His followers (Sangha Refuge). We take Refuge from our own bad actions, emotional defects, and erroneous perspectives on life.

Mahayana and Vajrayana are different, but are elaborations on that basic idea. Our own mistaken perspectives are always the problem.
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby vixian » Sun Jul 21, 2013 10:33 pm

Thank you all ... my experience is like that in Corinthians in that I realise that I have been seeing through a glass darkly.
I have had the most enlightening few days and am in awe at how unawake I have been for so long.
Inch by inch I find my awareness growing and unexamined thought of the past is being slowly replaced by the practiceof watching my thoughts.
Last night when out walking I started to engage my thinking about anxiety I have experienced for many years as "normal". Usually I get started but do not concentrate and merely skate over the surface .. I stayed with that examination for some time and achieved more understanding about my state in the hour on the path that for many years past.
As I have become more at peace and more tranquil I have been more aware of my thinking ... I interecepted thoughts that were being positively proud about being so successful with my practice.
I am kinder to myself and kinder to others.
I am reading a lot of Buddhist literature to build and reinforce the basic precepts and understandings from the multiplicity of expressions capable by many people that gives me a view from various perspectives and standpoints.
This morning I meditated in bed .. I felt troubled (Wellington, our capital city, has had some earthquakes overnight with the largest at 6.5) but despite not being totally concentrated I did not lose myself to feelings and just kept coming back to my breathing.
This is teaching me to be level despite any circumstances ....
I want to thank you all for taking the time to reply, encourage, explain and support ...
This is the most exciting adventure in my life and the most alive and real in memory ... there are times when unlabelled emotion comes to me and I weep ... mainly suprised by moments of incredible joy.
I was taking the rubbish bin out in the dark the other day and smashed my shin into a wooden frame someone had left out. I fell forward flat on my face with my hands breaking my fall on the concrete. Normally I would be out for vengeance and blaming, furious ... instead I lay there and knowing nothing was broken I simply laughed and let it go.
I know this is early days and there will be speed bumps and the like but I am happy and heartened ... thanks to all. :namaste:
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby Kim O'Hara » Sun Jul 21, 2013 11:02 pm

vixian wrote:Thank you all ... my experience is like that in Corinthians in that I realise that I have been seeing through a glass darkly.
I have had the most enlightening few days and am in awe at how unawake I have been for so long.
Inch by inch I find my awareness growing and unexamined thought of the past is being slowly replaced by the practiceof watching my thoughts.
....

All good!

If you're in NZ, you have company here on DW. Most of our kiwis have posted on http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=18057 in the last day or so ... maybe you're close enough to some of them to visit their centres?

:namaste:
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby vixian » Mon Jul 22, 2013 12:45 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:
vixian wrote:Thank you all ... my experience is like that in Corinthians in that I realise that I have been seeing through a glass darkly.
I have had the most enlightening few days and am in awe at how unawake I have been for so long.
Inch by inch I find my awareness growing and unexamined thought of the past is being slowly replaced by the practiceof watching my thoughts.
....

All good!

If you're in NZ, you have company here on DW. Most of our kiwis have posted on http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=18057 in the last day or so ... maybe you're close enough to some of them to visit their centres?

:namaste:
Kim



Cheers for that ... impermanence illustrated - as if we needed another example!
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Re: Concepts I need help with

Postby Son of Buddha » Mon Jul 22, 2013 8:12 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Dan74 wrote:Hi vixian and welcome to Dharma Wheel and to Buddhism :hi:

Regarding your last question, about no self, one way to think about it to reflect that there are times when we function very well without thinking in terms of "I", "me" and "myself". ...

Agreed - a very sensible, useful approach.
A more analytical approach, No-self or Not-self?
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, is at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/notself2.html (yes, I know it's from the :spy: Theravada tradition but I think it's OK). Its core is ...

here is an analytical debate on the subject by different monks (yes this is also from the :spy: Theravada tradition but I think it's OK)
Nibbana as self or not self: some contemporary Thai discussions by Potprecha Cholvijarn.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/115896892/Cho ... t-Self-181
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