by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Part XXI
The Inner Refuge

If we do not take refuge in the Buddha within ourselves, there is no other place for us to retreat.

--The Platform Sutra, translated by Wong Mou-Lam

Refuge and Need

If anywhere in the universe there are beings who believe themselves to be perfectly safe and happy, they are not likely to be searching for a refuge. Beings who are conscious of needing help search for a refuge.

Many temporary refuges are available. But finding an enduring refuge is not so easy. When we have found temporary refuges and then experienced the shock of losing them, we long for the refuge that will not one day dissolve away.

The purpose of religion is to reunite us with the Refuge that is not born and does not die.

The Buddha Refuge

The first of the Three Refuges is the refuge of the Buddha. "I take refuge in the Buddha" originally had the meaning "I take refuge in the human being who has realized Buddhahood." This is still part of the meaning of this refuge, but there is more to it than that.

Zen Buddhism emphasizes meditation as the central (though not the only) vehicle of training. In teaching, Zen emphasizes that all beings possess the Buddha Nature, that we can take refuge directly in our Buddha Nature through pure meditation, and that this leads to awakening to our True Nature. With these emphases in training and teaching, it is understandable that from the first days of its flowering in China some fifteen hundred years ago, the Zen (Chinese Ch'an) masters have taught that the Buddha Nature Itself is the deeper meaning of "Buddha" in "I take refuge in the Buddha."

This teaching is clearly evident in the quotation from the Platform Sutra that heads this Part of these Reflections. And here is another striking example of the teaching from over a century earlier: In the course of an exchange, dated to the year 535 A.D.. between the Second Zen Ancestor and Seng-tsan, who became his disciple (and, eventually, the Third Ancestor), Seng-tsan asked the master, "Since I have met you, I know the Sangha, but what are Buddha and Dharma?" The Second Ancestor replied, "Our True Heart is the Buddha; our True Heart is the Dharma; Dharma and Buddha are one, and so is Sangha." (This story is told in A History of Zen by Dr. Y. H. Ku.)

Rev. Master often said that all the Precepts telescope back into "Take Refuge in the Buddha." The Second Ancestor's teaching that our True Heart is Buddha, Dharma and Sangha expresses the same truth.

How to Grow a Lotus Blossom is permeated with the understanding that the deep meaning of the Refuge of the Buddha is to be found by taking refuge in our own True Nature. I recommend studying the discussion of the Buddha Treasure in the Commentary on the Precepts (p. 36; first edition, p. 45), and also Plate LX, "The Buddha Within" (first edition, Plate XXXVIII). In the years following her great kensho, Rev. Master sometimes expressed the First Refuge as "I take refuge in the Eternal." Here again, the ancient Zen emphasis is reaffirmed--and in a new form.

The Golden Age

I am always at a loss how to convey a sense of the excitement, hope and profoundly re-invigorated spiritual purpose that pervaded the early life of Zen Buddhism. Buddhism had been in China for several hundred years and was a well-established religion with Imperial patronage when the Zen movement emerged, triggered by the arrival of a monk from India who strongly emphasized the practice of sitting meditation--Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma and the heirs of his Dharma Transmission taught that we can meditate as the Buddha had done and discover for ourselves what the Buddha discovered. These masters turned their backs on fame and gain and single-mindedly practiced the Way of Ancient Buddhas.

The first Zen masters taught that we do not have to resign ourselves to the view that in our own lifetime we can only hope to make merit that can be added to merit gradually accumulated through many lifetimes so that one day, in a distant future, someone can realize enlightenment. They taught that Enlightenment--the true Life of Buddha--is here and now, and that we can awaken to this Truth in the twinkling of an eye.--And they not only taught it; they did it.

This same excitement, hope and spiritual purpose manifested fully for myself and many other people during, and in the years following, Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett's great kensho and retreat in 1976-77. It is for each generation to rediscover that there is an unborn and undying Refuge, and that we can turn toward It in pure meditation. When one person meditates truly, the door is opened for others to do so also. When one person awakens to his own True Nature, the longing to do this is catalyzed in others. This is how the Way of Ancient Buddhas passes through master to disciple.

Shakyamuni Buddha died 2500 years ago; Bodhidharma died 1500 years ago; Dogen died eight hundred years ago; Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett died 19 years ago. Yet this very day our True Refuge is right within each of us; It has not diminished through the years. It is no less accessible now than it was at any time in the past. This very day is the Golden Age of Ancient Buddhas.

Do not yearn for two thousand years ago.; at the present time, if you practice the TRUTH wholeheartedly, Makakashyo [the disciple of the Buddha looked back to in the Zen tradition as the direct recipient of the Buddha's Transmission] will not enter Mount Kukkutapada; he can come here. Therefore the warm flesh of Shakyamuni [Buddha] is now and always here and the smiling of Makakashyo is now and always new; if you can find this spiritual place, you can accept the Truth directly from Makakashyo and Makakashyo will accept it from you; not only can the VERY TRUTH pass through to you from the Seven Buddhas--you will discover that you were, are and will be the ancestor of the Seven Buddhas. The VERY TRUTH is here, eternally, beyond all ages.

--Great Master Keizan, Denkoroku ("The Transmission of the Light")


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