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What actually is your refuge?

Updated: May 11

Phra Ajahn Baen Dhanākaro(1928 -2020)

Excerpt from talks given on 3rd November, 1998
Translated by Thiracitto Bhikkhu (slightly edited)

Busy is the world, eternally busy. That's how it is. Therefore, the Lord Buddha taught us to let go of the world. To let go of all these futile thoughts regarding the world. But when we are not paying full attention to the cultivation of the meditation word Buddho - when we are not closely sticking with Buddho - then even if we wish to stay with Buddho, the mind will have already gone off somewhere else. Where? We don't know. Internally we recite Buddho, Buddho, Buddho, but the mind doesn't really want to stay with Buddho. If we are going to practice Buddho, but don't stay mindfully determined on Buddho, then in the very next moment, Buddho is lost. We've simply forgotten Buddho. Buddho, Buddho, Buddho. Keep the mind occupied with Buddho. You must be firmly fixed on Buddho, so that you don't forget Buddho. The moment you are really firmly intent on Buddho and do not allow Buddho to slip away and be forgotten, the steadiness and solidity of Buddho in the mind will just increase and increase, more and more. Really stick with it! Be resolute! The very action of mentally staying with the meditation word Buddho is the letting go of all the worlds. Not entertaining any kind of thoughts or preoccupations related to the world, this is exactly what is meant by “letting go of the world”. It means not allowing the mind to hold on to things regarding the world or to hanker after any input from the world. We are not the least interested. Our only interest lies in sticking with Buddho … sticking with Buddho … sticking with Buddho.

When we recite the meditation word in our mind, we must be fully attentive to it. At the same time, we know it mindfully without getting distracted. Like this, the strength of our intentness to stick with it will only increase and increase, to the extent that losing the meditation word is not an option anymore.

But we still miss the world and yearn to think about it. Since the world is ever busy, the moment our mind gets involved with it, the mind then gets busy too. Knowing this, extract your mind from the world! Don't allow it to run away and get involved with thoughts about the world. Transcend things of the world for good. Then, there will be no more confusion and distraction in the heart, or at least it'll be significantly reduced.

Nobody wants confusion. Every single heart yearns for freedom and safety from confusion. It is for this reason that practice is mandatory. Every one of you - no matter if you live in the village or the monastery, or are ordained or not - if you are not practicing the meditation word Buddho, then your hearts are just staggering, stumbling, falling, and crawling around. Your hearts are thus getting ever dragged along by the stream of the world. Being continuously pushed around by that worldly stream never grants you a moment of respite. You never have time to compose yourselves, to get up and stand firmly again. You have no chance of resting or pausing. Your hearts are constantly dragged around by that worldly stream without break. But a mind which has overcome the world is able to stand, able to sit, able to lie down, because it has Buddho as its foundation. It is then that we have the Buddha as our refuge: “Buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi.” Stay with the meditation word and the stream of the world cannot push or pull you around any longer. “Buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi” means our heart is staying with the meditation word Buddho. The more we stick with the meditation word, the more we have the Buddha as a refuge.

Dhammaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi.” Buddho is the Dhamma. If we are with the meditation word Buddho, we have Dhamma as a refuge and we also have the Sangha as our refuge. When we practice Buddho, Buddho, Buddho, then we are with Buddhaṃ, Dhammaṃ, Saṅghaṃ. They are all gathered in this single word Buddho. Therefore we have to make it as solid as possible. Firmly stick with Buddho. Make it steady. Make it continuous. When it's solid and steady, there will be no more issues. When we are not firmly with Buddho however, other issues can still sneak into the mind and disturb it. They pull and shove you around to get involved with them. But if you are firmly with Buddho, with real determination and persistence in keeping the intentness up, then no other issue can sneak in and drag or push your mind around. And that's just because we are with Buddho, i.e. we are having the Buddha as our refuge. If we are solidly with Buddho, then the Buddha is really our refuge. Dhammo,Sangho will be really our refuge. But should we recite Buddho without the willingness to firmly hold on to that Buddho in our minds, then Buddhaṃ, Dhammaṃ, and Saṅghaṃ will not be our refuge. That's because we are not being true towards Buddhaṃ, Dhammaṃ, Saṅghaṃ.

Sometimes you are not really sure exactly what you are focusing on. You think, “Buddho, Buddho, Buddho”, but the mind is already engaged with something else. When you are thinking Buddho, Buddho, Buddho and the mind goes somewhere else, you’ve forgotten Buddho. And in that case, you are not having Buddhaṃ, Dhammaṃ, Saṅghaṃ as your refuge. It doesn't matter how many times you chant “Buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi”, “Dhammaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi”, “Saṅghaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi”. If you are still entangled with the world, you can chant these words until your throat explodes, your mind will still be considered to be “in the world”.

You don't even have to say “Buddhaṃ Dhammaṃ Saṅghaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi”, as long as your mind is with Buddho, Buddho, Buddho, you've overcome the world already. No worldly issue is able to slip in and drag your mind out to get involved with it. But this is only if you are fully committed to Buddho.

Therefore, whatever you do, you should do it for real. If you don't do it for real, you won't get results. Just fooling around doesn't yield the proper results. So do it for real. If you practice the meditation word Buddho, Buddho, Buddho for real, then the results will give rise to further results. But if you don't take up Buddho seriously, then your practice is not serious. If such is the case, then whatever you do, the proper results won't appear. But when you eventually want to see results from our efforts and no longer want to practice in vain, then give it a try and truly commit yourself to it. The more real you get with the meditation word, the more intense you will recite it. Wherever you are the most aware of it, it is exactly there that you should keep it going. If you reach that spot where it's most distinct and clear, there you've found your crucial spot. There you will reap the results from the meditation word Buddho. Ok, let's keep on meditating!

Actually we don't have to study much at all. Just study Buddho, just take up that single meditation word Buddho. Just recite this one gathā, this one mantra: Buddho. Practice like the time when Luang Pu Mun was doing intense walking meditation while he was staying with the hill tribes up in the mountains. They asked him curiously: “Dear Venerable monk, sir, why are you walking back and forth, back and forth like this without break? Are you searching for something?” He answered them: “I'm searching for Buddho! When I walk, I walk with Buddho, when I sit, I sit with Buddho!” That's also how we should be searching for Buddho. If you go to search for Buddho somewhere else, you won’t find it. If you go in search of the Lord Buddha, you’re not going to see him. If you search Buddho in an Arahant, you also won't find it. You have to seek it inside yourself. There you will see the already present internal Buddho. There you will see that Buddho which the Lord Buddha had himself. You will come to see the Buddho of the Noble Arahant disciples.

Seek Buddho! Seek it inside! Seek it within you! When you meet that Buddho, you will also have found the Lord Buddha. And at the same time, you'll have found the Noble Arahant disciples of the Buddha along with it. Search for Buddho in yourself! Keep searching until you find Buddho. But Buddho can only be found in a calm mind; not when you are just playing around. You are only going to meet with Buddho with a peaceful mind.

A mind that just floats along with the current will not be able to find it. Only a mind which has cut off that current stops floating around. Then and there, the mind will meet with Buddho. The seeing of Buddho will occur only within calmness of mind. If the mind has not yet reached calmness, then whatever we think Buddho might be - “Oh, that's Buddho”, or “This is Buddho” - there is still no chance you will ever find and see the real Buddho.

Sometimes you think you’ve got it right, but you’re not sure yet because you just don't know. Buddho is only seen through a calm mind. It is seen through samādhi, through sati, through paññā, through peacefulness of mind. If the mind is not calm, you won't see it. No chance.

We all have a mind, every one of us. Have you seen the mind yet? I ask you. I guess most of you haven’t yet seen it. And it is dissatisfied and agitated exactly because you haven't seen it yet. The moment the mind gets calm, we will see it right there and then. There's nothing special that will wake up in the mind. No thing will arise which is “Buddho”. It’s just the mind itself which awakens. The Buddha is nothing other than the mind itself. An Arahant is nothing other than this very mind itself. Buddho is nothing other than the mind.

Therefore, we must get to know this Buddho. We must see this Buddho. We must reach Buddho. Practice Buddho a lot.

Tonight is a perfect night to practice! It's pleasantly cool and no mosquitos are bothering us. But the kilesas will certainly find something to bother us. These kilesas are really smart. No matter how many beings are out there in the world, the kilesas find a way to trouble every single one of them. Here in Thailand, how many people do we have? 60-70 million? And this is not even including all the other people out there in the world. But no matter how many there may be, the kilesas will find means to trouble every single one of them. They'll find a way to take our mind as their home. They'll find a way to thoroughly put our hearts and minds on fire. They don't miss out on a single person. We could say the kilesas are the rulers of the world. It wouldn’t be wrong here to say that they are the world's most powerful religious prophets. Every being in this world gets properly indoctrinated by them. And not just that, at the same time beings readily and gladly accept practice and behavior instructions from them; they teach and guide us how to do things. It looks like nobody rejects or even opposes the teachings of His Holiness Grandmaster Kilesa. So if we don’t get smarter, every single one of us will keep on being disciples of the kilesas. Thoroughly trained by them. They give the orders and we just follow along. They pull us by the legs, by the hands. They pull us by the nose and we just follow them along.

So, if a person is not clever enough, that person goes to the kilesas for refuge “Kilesam saraṇaṃ gacchāmi”. The mouth may utter, “Buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi”, but the heart actually means “Kilesam saraṇaṃ gacchāmi”. The Buddha taught us to keep the precepts, but more often than not, we are not interested. The kilesas teach us to violate the precepts and we very happily follow their instructions.

What do you think? Let me tell you, if you aren’t smart, it won't do. A disciple of the Buddha must be smart. If you're not smart, you lose out. Our body is just going to kilesa as refuge, “Kilesam saraṇaṃ gacchāmi”. Nobody consciously wants it like this, but that’s what we do. “Buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi”: the “I go the Buddha as my refuge.” We might want that. But that’s not how it is.

We practice Buddho, Buddho, Buddho, but a few moments later, we are already gone, called somewhere else. Who called us and to where? We actually don't have a clue. We just follow the pull of the kilesas. They are not showing up and politely introducing themselves as: “Dear Sir or Madame, excuse me, I'm a kilesa and came to kindly drag your attention away!” They will not tell you that. In stealth mode, they pull you. And when they leave, you haven't seen them at all: you can’t identify any face or eyes. They pull you until you go with them. Buddho, Buddho, Buddho, and in the next moment, you're gone again. If you are not smart, that's all you manage to recite until you get dragged away by the kilesas. Dragged to where? You don't know. Dragged towards things you like; dragged towards things you don't like. Liking, disliking. Whatever you like, right there you get dragged. And whatever you don't like, whatever you strongly hate, despise or are angry about - let's say, whatever is really suffering - there, they really like to pull you. Wherever it's red-hot burning, they pull you right there. You might think that you have the Buddha as your refuge, but actually you go straight to where you get massacred, right to where you get beaten up, trampled and destroyed. And that's not what the Buddha as a refuge really is. If you have the Buddha as your refuge you will feel as if you are living under a cool shade: truly happy, safe and secure.

Therefore, with all the bravery you can muster, strive! Make an effort! Try as much as you can, until you make yourself into a true disciple of the Lord Buddha. This human birth of ours is of the absolute highest value. …


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