Poetic and Mythic Expression

From: A Trackless Path 12
Full transcript: (available soon)

Now the buddha, dharma and sangha, the three jewels, can be interpreted on many, many levels. Robert can I borrow your copy of Wake Up To Your Life please. I keep telling you everything's in here. I've become more and more convinced that whoever wrote this should be shot. In Wake Up To Your Life,  you'll find a discussion of the three jewels and refuge.

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To take refuge in the buddha is to rest in the emptiness of original mind, free from any reference or defining characteristic. To take refuge in the dharma is to experience the clarity of original mind, the natural awareness that knows what experience is and how experience arises. To take refuge in the sangha is to be one with the unrestricted arising and subsiding of experience, free from the three poisons of attraction, aversion and indifference.
Thanks. And that's what really what refuge is about. And as I said it's about setting a direction. And so the way one prepared for a period of formal practice is you set a direction. Or you set "this" direction.

In the Tibetan tradition and probably in the middle and later Indian traditions there's some formulas for refuge which included the teacher, the guru. One is Tilopa's famous statement to his main student Naropa, "Without a guru the thousand buddhas of the kalpa don't appear."

And one can view this in a number of ways. Either as a degeneration, or as I prefer, to the beginning of a movement into a less mythical approach to practice; in most of us our practice becomes substantial and takes on substance only when we find a person who can actually guide us. And not always, but in many cases one forms a quite intimate emotional connection with that person. They become a very important part of one's life. And when you have the phrase, I take refuge in my teacher treasured buddha, it's not because this person is a buddha, it's because this person holds the possibility of awakening, or that door for you.

And a slight digression here. We've lost to a very great extent the ability to express and understand things in poetic and mythic terms. I was having a discussion on this topic with a psychologist probably seven or eight years ago. And he said, "What are you talking about Ken?" I said, "Well in Tibetan Buddhism you regard your teacher as a buddha." And he immediately said, "Oh, so he's infallible?" I said, "Well that's exactly the point."

That's exactly what we do as Westerners. That's an instance of how we've lost the ability to express and understand things in mythic terms. Because when we say, "My teacher is buddha," we're not saying he's an infallible human being, or he's perfect, or she's this or whatever. We're really describing our relationship with that person. And that's a very different thing. And we use this kind of symbolic language to express that very special quality. Not a friend in the ordinary sense. If they're opposite sexes, not a lover even though the connection can be very close emotionally and of extraordinary intimacy. But it's where we experience what being awake means. 
So that's a natural way we can help set, or something in our lives helps set direction. So that's why, I take refuge in my teacher, treasured buddha. For some reason this person is able to meet and respond to my deepest spiritual questions.