Refuge in the Buddha – Faith in limitless possibility within us.

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“When a bhikkhu has known that covetousness and unrighteous greed is an imperfection that defiles the mind and has abandoned it; when a bhikkhu has known that ill will…negligence is an imperfection that defiles the mind and has abandoned it, he acquires unwavering confidence in the Buddha thus: ‘The Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed.”

“When one person, owing to another, has come to possess unwavering confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, and to possess the virtues loved by noble ones, I say that it is not easy for the former to repay the latter by paying homage to him…and medicinal requisites.”   M7

First, by listening to the above passage from the Dhamma, may all people in this room obtain the perfection of wisdom. 

Years ago, I took a class in college that compared two distinctive religions, Islam and Buddhism. One day, a Muslim girl asked the professor how one can be sure that the Buddha was enlightened as he so claimed? She didn’t explicitly say, but her question seems to imply that God is perfect whereas humans are imperfect. 

Nonetheless, the question was very valid. For many people who do not have faith in Buddhism, the Buddha might have hallucinated and thus mistakenly claimed enlightenment. Then, we as Buddhists should be able to answer to the question:

What can justify the Buddha’s enlightenment?

What can prove or justify that the Buddha is the Buddha, who is the fully enlightened one?

Likewise, I used to asked myself for awhile, what if the Buddha was not the one who achieved the perfection of wisdom? What if did he just saw a portion of truth, but not whole one? Furthermore, I thought, “if these were the case, I must be wasting my time with futile practice.”  Fortunately, I got rid of the doubt through reading, thinking, reflecting, and thinking again. And I said to myself that he was indeed right. Yet, this is my conviction and confidence that no one or nothing could verifies it. 

In the passage that I read at the beginning, the Buddha says that as a mind get purified, a person obtains unwavering confidence in the Buddha who as the Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed.”

A religion by a human

All these epithets show the qualities and characteristics of who is the Buddha. As many people have already point out, Buddhism is a religion born from  humans. This means that there is nothing above humans when she or he actualizes the highest possibility in oneself. The Buddha as a human being actualized all the qualities of what the epithets describe. 

Among the many epithets, the Buddha is renowned as the fully enlightened one. What represents Buddhism often is enlightenment. All the doctrine revolve around the concept that a person can complete wisdom.

Then, what is the enlightenment?  What does it mean that a human achieves enlightenment?

Simply, it is believed that the fully enlightened one has the perfection of wisdom and virtue. On one hand, he is the omniscient of all-knowing and all-seeing in terms of knowledge. On the other hand, he is impeccably virtuous in terms of action. There is no discrepancy between what he knows and he does. The Buddha claimed that he was perfect in both knowledge and action. Perfect means that what he obtained was not partial, but complete. These two aspects accord him the other epithets describing all the supreme qualities of him. By the perfection of wisdom and virtue, he can the leader and teacher of gods, humans, and all sentient beings. Therefore, the Buddha is above all the others. 

The Perfection of wisdom and virtue

Buddhist scripture says that Gotama Siddhartha became the Buddha by discovering and knowing the cosmic truth that is one of many meanings of Dharma/Dhamma. After his enlightenment, he did not monopolize the truth that he discovered. By traveling around the vast Indian subcontinent, he made it open to the whole world to come and see it. He made the Dhamma/Dharma of cosmic truth open not only to all human beings, but to the all sentient beings. In this way, enlightenment is not exclusive, but inclusive.

The Dhamma/Dharma of cosmic truth is invisible, but not inaccessible for ordinary people. The hidden truth of cosmic law can be seen and found by the mind that is clear, tranquil, and equanimous. So the Buddha encouraged his disciples to go, find, and see the truth through purification of their minds. For the path to enlightenment and out of compassion for humans, he taught the noble eightfold paths by which anyone can achieve what he achieved. 

In Buddhism, all human beings have potential and limitless possibility to be perfect in terms of both knowledge and virtue. He made himself as an example and inspired others to go on the same path that he treaded.

As Buddhists, we believe that the Buddha as the Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed. This is the first faith in Buddhism by which one takes refuge in the Buddha. 

Meanings of taking refuge in the Buddha

Taking the Buddha as one’s refuge means that the person pays homage to the Buddha and relies on the Buddha in one’s life. The Buddha is not other than a human so that taking refuge in the Buddha also can mean that one can believe in oneself, and we can believe in ourselves. It is because, present within all people, is the limitless possibility to become a Buddha. Thus, the faith in the Buddha means faith in oneself and others as well because all of whom as humans beings have the inner capacity for perfection in terms of knowledge and virtue. 

It is often said that imperfection is a condition of being human. That is to say, we are not perfect because we are human. As to this notion of human conditions, Buddhism takes a different position that perfection and imperfection reside in us simultaneously. Perfection is dormant and hidden by the defilements of mind such as greed, hatred, and ignorance. Once you get rid of these defilements, you can be perfect.

Buddhism is a religion among many. What the Buddha talks about, the human capacity to be perfect, can make complete sense only when someone has faith in it. Believing whether humans can be perfect or not totally depends on your faith-based decision. It is because enlightenment is something mysterious and transcendental that nothing can verify it objectively or empirically.  

Without exception all religions seem to have something mysterious and transcendental such as God or a god. Nobody can, either objectively or empirically, verify the existence of God or gods like enlightenment. Nonetheless, the only thing that people, who have faith in God, can do in order to prove the existence of God is that they just confer all the concepts of perfection and virtue to the name of God. Yet, it still remains as a name and concept, which is similar with an imagined thing such as the rabbit horn. 

Then, we should come back to the first question? What can prove or justify that the Buddha is the Buddha, who is the fully enlightened one?

A passage from Buddhist scripture shows that one day the Buddha visited a village and a young Brahmin asks how he can distinguish truth from untruth when there are so many religious leaders, of whom each claims that he or she is the one who tells truth, but not others. And the Buddha gives an answer: 

“when, Kālāmas, you know for yourselves: ‘These things are unwholesome; these things are blameworthy; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if accepted and undertaken, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them.”

AN 3:65, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Ethicial justification of enlightenment

Surprisingly, the answer of the Buddha is neither dogmatic, philosophical or ontological, but it is ethical. If someone takes a religious doctrine and if it brings about suffering to oneself and others when one follows it, it is not true and must be abandoned. That was the Buddha’s answer. 

I am not sure whether his answer can fully address the question:  What can prove or justify enlightenment? Yet, I am confident is that what the Buddha taught has not brought about any harm or suffering to anyone. also, I am confident that all of his teachings can bring about happiness to all including oneself and others. This is my faith as a Buddhist. 

The faith that brings about happiness, but not suffering

In this way, taking refuge in the Buddha is inseparably intertwined with his teaching, which is one of the various meanings of Dhamm/Dharma. The Buddha becomes the shelter and the bringer of safety because his teaching gives benefits and welfare to the people who live by Dhamma/Dharma based on the faith in him.  

Therefore, the more you have faith in the Buddha, the better you live by his teaching.

And then the happier your life becomes, therefore the deeper your faith become as Buddhists. 

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