Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Three Refuges in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism

download in pdf from 1) my google drive, 2) my page on Academia.edu

The Three Refuges[1] are:

Buddham saranam gacchami[2] (Namo kye Bu[3])
Dhammam saranam gacchami (Namo kye Ho)
Sangham saranam gacchami (Namo kye So)

     1) The meaning of taking refuge in the Buddha 
       This means to take refuge in Amida Buddha who is the central Buddha in Jodo Shinshu. Only through Him can we attain Buddhahood in the Pure Land as He is the only Buddha among all Buddhas who made the Vow of saving everybody, no matter their spiritual capacities.  

By taking refuge in Amida, we automatically honor and take refuge in Shakyamuni Buddha as the Teacher who showed us the path of Amida Dharma (His main reason for coming into this world) and in all Buddhas in the ten directions, as all encourage us, teach us and guide us to entrust to Amida Buddha.

Rennyo Shonin said:

„When we take refuge in one Buddha, Amida, we take refuge in all the Buddhas.”[4] 

Shinran Shonin said:

„The Buddhas of the ten quarters, countless as the sands of the Ganges,
Teach this Dharma (Amida Dharma/the Primal Vow) that is most difficult to accept;
For the sake of the evil world of the five defilements,
They bear witness to the teaching and protect beings who take refuge in it.”[5]

2) The meaning of taking refuge in the Dharma
This means to take refuge in the Dharma about Amida that was taught by Shakyamuni Buddha and further explained by the Masters of our tradition, especially Shinran Shonin and Rennyo Shonin. It is the Dharma contained in the sacred texts of our tradition, the Three Pure Land sutras (especially the Larger Sutra) and commentaries. Other books can be included in this category only if they do not go against the sutras and commentaries of the Masters.

By taking refuge in the true Dharma, we indirectly reject wrong views or opinions that contradict these sacred texts. We reject such views held today by many, like the denial of rebirth, of cause and effect, or those regarding Amida as being a symbol, metaphor, fictional character, those who misinterpret the Pure Land as being a state of mind to be attained here and now, etc[6].  

Taking refuge in the Dharma means that we make the vow of putting the Dharma higher than our own unenlightened opinions and ideas. We receive and transmit to others only the teaching left to us by Shakyamuni and the Masters of our tradition.

All genuine Buddhist teachings and practices come from Shakyamuni and various Buddhas, so they are part of our enlarged family (sangha) heritage, deserving our respect and appreciation. However, we follow only the teaching about Amida Buddha and only in it we take refuge.

Also we do not mix the Buddha Dharma with various religious systems from the past or present. Buddhism is the medicine prescribed to us by the Buddha, who is supreme among all the teachers in the three worlds and it is a grave mistake to mix His teaching with those of other paths.

So, we abandon all non-Buddhist teachings and select the Buddha Dharma. Next, among all Buddha’s teachings we choose only the nembutsu of faith in Amida (Amida Dharma/the Primal Vow).

3) The meaning of taking refuge in the Sangha
This means that we take refuge in those who have received faith (shinjin) in Amida Buddha in the present life and whose future birth in the Pure Land is thus assured. By taking refuge in them we wish to be like them, we consider them to be our teachers and fellow travelers on the path, our brothers and sisters in Amida Dharma.

Those who haven’t received shinjin yet, should look for the company of those who are firm in shinjin, listen to their explanations, and wish to become persons of settled faith themselves.

We do not take refuge in those who share false views or views that are not in accordance with the words and instructions of the sutras and commentaries of the Masters.

The Jodo Shinshu sangha (community) is composed only of those who fully accept the teaching found in the Three Pure Land sutras and commentaries of the Masters and who have received shinjin or sincerely aspire to shinjin. Those who do not have shinjin yet can also become members of the sangha, if they sincerely aspire to shinjin and accept as true the teaching of the three sutras and comentaries of the Masters. However, the object of our refuge is the sangha in its aspect of shinjin (arya sangha), that is, practitioners who already have a settled faith. When those who are not yet established in shinjin wish to enter the Jodo Shinshu sangha, they take refuge in this shinjin aspect of the sangha.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the term Arya[7] Sangha represents the sangha at the ideal level, that is, all of the Buddha’s followers, lay or ordained, who have at least attained the first level of
the ten bodhisattva stages (ten bhumis)[8]. This is to separate it from the sangha in its conventional level, which means all Buddhist monks and nuns. However, if we read the first of the ten bhumis, we see it is none other than the Stage of Joy (Very Joyous) or the stage of non-retrogression about which Bodhisattva Nagarjuna stated in his Discourse on the Ten Stages (Dasabhumikavibhasa) that it can be attained either by the path of difficult practice or by the path of easy practice - faith in Amida Buddha. The difference is that on the path of difficult practice one attains it by personal power while on the path of easy practice it is attained through the Power of Amida Buddha (Other Power). This has always been the teaching of Jodo Shinshu, and Shinran Shonin especially stressed the importance of entering the stage of non-retrogression (also called the stage of those assured of Nirvana, the definitelly assured state, etc) through faith in Amida Buddha.

Those who enter this stage by personal power earned the merits by their own effort, while those who enter it through the Power of Amida, avail themselves of His infinite merits which are transferred to them in the first moment of the awakening of faith (shinjin). Both categories are worthy of respect because both will never retrogress from the path to final Liberation or Nirvana. However, as Jodo Shinshu followers and Amida devotees, when we take refuge in the Sangha as part of the Three Treasures we do this only in the Arya Sangha of those who have faith in Amida's Primal Vow which is, for us, the highest principle and the true reason for Shakyamuni's coming to this world. Thus, for us, Arya Sangha means the Sangha in its aspect of shinjin (faith). 

Also in our case, Sangha in its conventional level represents all members, lay or ordained, who may not yet be established in faith, but took refuge in the Three Treasures and are determined to listen deeply to Amida Dharma in order to receive faith. 

Amida Dharma is the teaching we chose from the various Dharma gates that Shakyamuni Buddha taught during His lifetime, so it is normal to take refuge in those who follow this method. Other Buddhists are also our brothers and sisters in the general sangha, because we are all Shakyamuni's disciples, but we take refuge only in those who walk the same Path as us. We do not take refuge in self-power practitioners, no matter how advanced they are, but only in those who rely completely on the Power of Amida Buddha, no matter how low and ordinary they are. Of course, not only ordinary people may have faith in Amida Buddha, but even superior beings very close to Enlightenment. Thus, if we carefully read the Larger Sutra, we see that many higly advanced bodhisattvas are part of the Arya Sangha of those who entrust to Amida, and so they come to be born in the Pure Land from various worlds and universes. However, personal achievements are not important on the Dharma Gate of the Primal Vow, so the element of faith (shinjin) is all that matter to us.

The sangha is the place where the true Dharma is shared and transmitted so that we can receive shinjin and become Buddhas in the Pure Land. Only in sharing and transmitting the true Dharma does the sangha have meaning. Without taking refuge in the living Amida Buddha and accepting the Dharma about Him as it was taught by Shakyamuni and the Masters, there is no sangha.

How should we look to other Buddhists that are not Jodo Shinshu followers?

As I said before, they are disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha too, just they follow other Buddhist methods than us. In accordance with Master Rennyo’s instruction found in his letters, we should not despise those who practice other Buddhist teachings than the nembutsu of faith. “Respect but not follow”, is the rule for treating other Buddhist schools and their disciples. Buddhists of all schools are brothers and sisters in the Buddha Dharma as sons and daughters of Shakyamuni and all Buddhas.  They are part of our larger Buddhist family and sangha, which contains all Buddhists, but we specifically take refuge in the sangha of those who have faith in Amida Buddha.

Admonition against breaking the Refuge Vows

            The Three Refuges are, as the term implies, a „refuge” but also an engagement, a vow and comitment, that from now on we will forever take refuge in Amida Buddha (and automatically in all Buddhas) , we will listen and accept the Dharma about Him, and we’ll become persons who entrust to Him.

When we say „I take refuge in the Buddha” it means ONLY in the Buddha, when we say, „I take refuge in the Dharma” it means ONLY in the Dharma, and when we say, „I take refuge in the Sangha” it means ONLY in the Sangha. The three refuges are exclusive vows. One should stop any non-Buddhist religious activities after taking refuge in the Three Jewels. If one prays to other non-buddhist divine figures, engages in non-buddhist practices and has non-buddhist religious teachers from whom he receives teachings and instructions, that person breaks the Refuge vows and from then on he or she can no longer be considered a Buddhist. This is extremely important.

Shinran Shonin never put on the same level the teaching of the Buddha with nonbuddhist teachings. He was very clear when it came to differentiate between them:

"The emancipation of non Buddhist ways is called impermanent; the emancipation of Buddhist ways is called eternal".[9]

"The ninety-five nonbuddhist teachings[10] defile the world;
The Buddha's path alone is pure.
Only by going forth and reaching Enlightenment can we benefit others
in this burning house; this is the natural working of the Vow".[11]

Quoting, The Awakening of Faith, Shinran said:

„Maras and spirits may cause you to attain states that in small part resemble the various samadhis. These are all nonbuddhist attainments and not true samadhis.”[12]

He also said:

„Know that none of the samadhis of nonbuddhist teachers is free from wrong views, attachment, and self-conceit”".[13]

Thus, no matter how impressive the so called „attainments” or concentrated states of mind (samadhis) of nonbuddhist ways may seem, we should not be fooled by them, as none are genuine attainments based on the true reality, but on various levels of delusion. Because they rely on unenlightened gods or spirits, or on their own limited mental capacities, none of the nonbuddhist teachers can escape wrong views. A true disciple of Amida, Shakyamuni and all Buddhas, should accept religious instructions only from Buddhist teachers, and never follow nonbuddhist teachings.

Many people during Shinran’s time, even monks, did not understand the meaning of the Three Refuges, and so he criticized them a lot in his hymns. Unfortunately, we can see such a behavior in our days, too, as we also live in the age of the five defilements[14]. After Buddhism came to non-asiatic countries, many false teachers who broke their refuge vows tolerate or even promote various nonbuddhist elements and beliefs into their communities. How true Shinran’s critics sound nowadays:

"As a mark of increase in the five defilements,
All monks and laypeople of this age
Behave outwardly like followers of the Buddhist teaching,
But in their inner thoughts, believe in nonbuddhist paths.

How lamentable it is that monks and laypeople
Select ‚fortunate times’ and ‚auspicious days’,
And paying homage to gods of the heavens and earth,
Engage in divination and rituals of worship.
Monks are no different, in their hearts, from nonbuddhists,
Brahmans, or followers of Nirgrantha;
Always wearing the Dharma-robes of the Tathagata,
They pay homage to all gods and spirits.

How lamentable it is that at present
All the monks and laypeople of Japan,
While following the Buddhist rules of conduct,
Venerate gods and spirits of the heavens and earth".[15]

Shinran Shonin insisted very much in the last chapter from his Kyogyoshinsho, by quoting many sutras, on the fact that the disciples of the Buddha should NOT take refuge in non-Buddhist teachings, venerate any divinities outside Buddhism, and not rely on superstitions, lucky days, propitious or unpropitious times, etc. Here are a few revealing passages:

"Here, based on the sutras, the true and the false are determined and people are cautioned against the wrong, false, and misleading opinions of nonbuddhist teachings:
The Nirvana Sutra states:
'If one has taken refuge in the Buddha, one must not further take refuge in various gods.'

The Sutra of the Samadhi of All Buddhas' Presence states:
'Take refuge in the Buddha yourself, take refuge in the Dharma, take refuge in the Sangha. Do not serve other teachings, do not worship devas, do not enshrine spirits, do not heed days considered lucky.'
Further, it states:
'must not worship devas or enshrine spirits.'"[16]

"Chapter Eight, 'Evil Spirits' Attainment of Reverent Trust', part one, of the Great Collection 'Moon-Matrix' Sutra, fascicle five, states:

The Buddha said, 'venerating the Three Treasures, you will not trust in gods. Adopting right views, you will not decide propitious or unpropitious times according to the season, day or month. [...] parting from views of annihilation and eternality, you will believe in the law of causation".[17]

Among the wrong views counteracted by Buddhism are the two extremes of nihilism (annihilation) and eternalism (eternality). The first maintains that only the material world exists, that there is no rebirth or life after death, while the second contains elements like belief in an eternal creator god who rules and judges all beings[18]. Both views deny the law of karma (causation) and should not be accepted by Buddhist disciples. 

“Those who take refuge truly and wholeheartedly, freeing themselves from all delusional attachments and all concern with the propitious or unpropitious, must never take refuge in false spirits or non-Buddhist teachings.”[19]

“Good sons and good daughters of pure trust must never serve gods to the very end of their lives.”[20]

Hearing the above golden instructions from the sutras and our Founding Master, we should take them to heart and never deviate from them. I repeat what I said previously, the Three Refuges are exclusive vows. We take refuge only in the Buddha, only in the Dharma and only in the Sangha. Nothing is above these Three Treasures. 

A person who has genuine faith in Amida Buddha will automatically accept and be in accord with the Three Refuges. Even without reading the above explanations, a Nembutsu devotee will naturaly follow them.
Namo Amida Bu

[1] When someone becomes a Jodo Shinshu follower in the Romanian sangha, he/she says these refuges together with Ryogemon (Jodo Shinshu Creed) in front of the altar and, if possible, in the presence of the sangha.
[2] Recitation in Pali language.
[3] Recitation in sino-Japanese.
[4] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi: The Letters of Rennyo, translated from the Japanese (Taisho, Volume 74, Number 2668) by Ann T. Rogers and Minor L. Rogers, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Berkeley, California, 1996,p.65
[5] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Pure Land (Jodo Wasan), The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.347 
[6] See chapters “Those who deny the existence of Amida don’t have shinjin”, “Honen Shonin on Amida Buddha”, “Pure Land is not here and now”, “The Pure Land in the teaching of Jodo Shinshu”, from the book Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Teachings, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2012, pages 186, 189, 193,198 and the second part of  The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2015, p.13-58.
[7] Arya (Sanskrit, also ārya; Pāli: ariya) is a term frequently used in Buddhism that can be translated as "noble", "not ordinary", "valuable", "precious", etc. I decided to use it here, so that people can better understand the meaning of Sangha as object of refuge in a Jodo Shinshu context. In our school we also recite the Three Refuges when we receice kikyoshiki (confirmation ceremony) or kieshiki (refuge ceremony), so it is important to have a good understanding of what we are doing.
[8] The ten bhumis are the ten stages on the Mahayana bodhisattva's path to Buddhahood. The Avatamsaka Sutra refers to the following ten bhūmis: 1) the Very Joyous (Skt. pramuditā), 2) the Stainless (Skt. vimalā), 3) the Light-Maker (Skt. prabhākarī), 4) the Radiant Intellect (Skt. arciṣmatī), 5) the Difficult to Master (Skt. sudurjayā), 6)  the Manifest (Skt. abhimukhī), 7) the Gone Afar (Skt. dūraṃgamā), 8) the Immovable (Skt. acalā), 9) the Good Intelligence (Skt. sādhumatī), 10) the Cloud of Doctrine (Skt. dharmameghā). The Seeker's Glossary of Buddhism, Sutra Translation Committee of the United States and Canada. The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation/Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., Taipei, 2nd ed. pp.759-760 
[9] Nirvana Sutra quoted by Shinran, Kyogyoshinsho, chapter V, Kyogyoshinsho - The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.182
[10] Shinran explained that by „ninety-five nonbuddhist teachings” he meant not a fixed number but that the nonbuddhist paths are divided into numerous kinds.
[11] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Dharma Ages, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.401
[12] Shinran Shonin, Kyogyoshinsho, chapter VI, Kyogyoshinsho - The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.275
[13]Shinran Shonin, Kyogyoshinsho, chapter VI, Kyogyoshinsho - The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.275
[14] The five defilements are the five marks of decay of the world we live in: 1) the defilement of views, when incorrect, perverse thoughts and ideas are predominant, 2) the defilement of passions, when all kinds of transgressions are exalted, 3) the defilement of human condition, when people are usually dissatisfied and unhappy, 4) the defilement of life-span, when the human life-span as a whole decreases – according to the sutras, when it is less or close to one hundred years, 5) the defilement of the world-age, when war and natural disasters are rife. 
[15] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Dharma Ages, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.422-423
[16] Shinran Shonin, Kyogyoshinsho, chapter VI, Kyogyoshinsho - The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.255
[17] Shinran Shonin, Kyogyoshinsho, chapter VI, Kyogyoshinsho - The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.259-260
[18] See the first chapter  „The True Teaching on Samsara” from my book, The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2015, p.13-58 
[19] Sutra of the Ten Wheels of Ksitigarbha, quoted by Shinran in Kyogyoshinsho, chapter VI
Kyogyoshinsho - The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.273
[20] Sutra of the Vows of Medicine Master Buddha, quoted by Shinran in his Kyogyoshinsho, chapter VI, Kyogyoshinsho - The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.273

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