Seeking Refuge

Ng Cheng Yong  

The endless darkness is randomly and partially illuminated by the peeking of the moon through dark clouds. The division of heaven and earth is not visible and the heavy overhanging clouds mask my vision while I stand alone on the deck of the vessel. The endless and continuous cool damp air rushes pass my body leaving the numbness on the exposed skin of my face and hands. A sense of insecurity and helplessness suddenly grips me. Does this vessel know where it is heading? Is the captain aware of the surrounding dangers? How can they know the way without any sign to indicate the path? What will happen, if I am left to proceed home on my own? I am wholly at the mercy of the external factors, namely the vessel, the crew, the equipment and master’s experiences.

An aching feeling of loneliness without refuge arises. Where and who can I rely on in this uncharted sea of life? Although I know that I need to steer the path on my own, I am without guidance and trusted crew to depend on. Who has the knowledge and experience to help and guide me on? Miserably, many people are unaware and few really know the starting point of life. Irrespective of whether one is aware or not, there will be an end to life. Does one’s life journey end when one passes away? Basically, we are being taught by our parents, teachers and others to live a life conforming to the norms of our society the acquiring of a good education, a good job and starting a family before one expires from this world. Is this the life? Is there life after death? Are we prepared to face another type of journey? Is the preparation adequate? Where will I go? What type of preparation is necessary? These questions pop up in my mind.

The scenario of my past flows and surfaces in my memories while I stare blindly into the everlasting and overwhelming darkness. “At home, we rely on our parents; when outside we rely on friends” as the Chinese saying goes. We rely on our loved and trusted one in our mundane life. Who are we to rely on in our spiritual path? Some go by blind faith, others by logic, ritual and etc. People seek refuge in many places and religions. As Buddhists where should we seek refuge and with whom? We should seek refuge in the safest place and with the best teacher/ religion which are embodied in the Three Treasures (i.e. the Buddha, Dharma & Sangha.) We are reminded to take refuge with sincerity. Imagine that we are put in a situation of life and death as one who has fallen into the billowing waves of an ocean and unable to see the shore. The sight of a clump of seaweed or a patch of foam will prompt us to reach out and grasp it; upon hearing the sound of wind or birds, one will scream for help. The very sincere wish to live on is very deep. Our refuge taking should be as deep as the wish of a drowning man seeking refuge.

Many people do not know nor understand or realize the essence for seeking refuge. Many believe in false teachers. Some do not see the urgency of taking refuge and await for better time. We firmly and stubbornly attach ourselves to the mundane matters above our spiritual refuge and cultivation. Those who are not awakened to seek refuge are misled by their attachment to circumstances and having wrong views. The Three Treasures represent the basic bond between the Buddha and us. The taking of refuge in them is the deepest trust and faith that one can accord to Buddha. It is the first step towards our spiritual journey on our Buddhist path. The merits are countless, limitless and inconceivable.

But without taking refuge in them, one cannot enjoy it! It is like one who cannot appreciate the full beauty and fragrance of flowers while staying outside a park. A Buddhist should resolve to take refuge with the Three Jewels or Three Treasures. There is not only the necessity in taking refuge but also the urgency. Before the parinirvana of the Buddha, He gave his final teaching to his disciples: “Rely on yourself, rely on the Dharma, but do not rely on others.” Similarly, in the Surangama Sutra, Ananda said, “Ever since I left home and followed the Buddha, I have thought that by relying on the Buddha’s spiritual power I would not need to practice, and that the Tathagata would endow me with enlightenment. I did not realize that one’s body and mind cannot be replaced by others”. One has to learn and practice by oneself.

Looking up, beams of light twinkle in the far horizon, signalling the proximity of home shore. How beautifuland warm is this familiar scene that has just appeared before the dark sky! This journey is coming to an end but the next chapter is slowly opening up. My initial thought that I was alone on the deck is as illusive as all the companions, the scenery and my senses. They slowly fade away from one moment to the next. The  illusive Saha world, the kind compassionate Buddha, the wisdom of the Dharma with all its expedient teaching, the harsh and cold reality of life, the expectation, the fear, the pure and the defile thoughts all accompany me back to the shore called “home”. As I turn back to look at this great vastness, all the discarded baggage are slowly being consumed by the darkness. My mind has temporarily become blank. Has it also been consumed by the darkness or sunk in to great depth of illusion?

I believe everything has its abiding … it’s all a matter of time. Taking refuge may appear symbolic but it acts as an anchor in life.

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