(A talk given at Dharmawijaya-Vihara on 24th May 1986)
Ven. Valangoda Ananda Maitreya
People of a certain village were suffering from various kinds of chronic diseases. Though they sought treatments from some so-called physicians they could not get perfectly cured. Some of them got only a temporary relief. Meanwhile they saw a stranger come into the village. Very few of them understood from this physique that he was perfect in health. Of course, he was one of perfect health, a physician and a specialist of rare type. Some underwent his course of treatment and were perfectly cured. They, too, learned from him his medical system and assisted him in his treating the sick. After some years’ service the teacher-physician turned over his service to his pupils and left the village his pupil-physicians who had got perfectly cured had carried on the service of treating the sick very successfully for some time.
Some of their patients, while undergoing the course of their treatment, were secretly following another system which made their cases worse. The pupil-physicians discovered the secret and promulgated a plan to keep them from falling into wrong ways. They said to the patients at the beginning to remember that they were following the course of treatment established by their foremost physician, the specialist. They made them repeat the formula, “I take refuge in the foremost physician, the specialist, his system of treatment and the example and admonition given by his pupil-physicians”. This method, for some periods of time, worked very successfully. Meanwhile these patients and their physicians were named and labelled as ‘The followers of the Specialist’ to make themselves distinctive from those who followed other systems of treatment, who too were bearing labels after the system each followed.
On later days the majority of the followers of the Specialist, only repeated their refuge formula but did not follow the treatment. Only in name were they the followers of the Specialist or ‘takers of the three refuges, only in name but not in practice.
To make the point still clearer I should give another illustration. There was a village in the midst of a vast jungle. This village was infested with harmful insects, interspersed with snakes and haunted by carnivorous animals. Villagers happened to live their lives in much caution and horror. One of the villagers, a very clever person, carefully surveyed throughout the whole jungle and reached its boundary, and going further on discovered a place, a city of perfect safety, which was beyond all kinds of dangers. Then he returned to the jungle village, marking through the jungle and far out as far as the city of safety, the way to be trodden. Thereupon, he went to the villagers and promulgated the glad tidings of the discovery of the city of safety and path thereto. Some followed the way marked out by him till they reached the said destination and enjoyed the bliss of security. They too returned to the village and witnessed the genuineness of the discovery of the safety-city, and encouraged them to leave the village and to go to the city of safety. Many went and experienced the same security as the previous ones.
There were some others who, wandering about in the jungle found out some areas near its boundary, which they conceived as safety spots. Actually, they were less dangerous though not entirely free of dangers of the jungle. These latter discoverers also guided the villagers, each to the spot he had conceived as safety. Thus there were many paths through the jungle leading to different destinations, marked in different ways and made known separately after the name of their founders.
Many, as they were in a hurry to get out of this dangerous jungle habitat, chose each a path according to his inclination and set out on the journey. They did so because they were satisfied with the descriptions of those destinations as they had heard that the same or similar things they were accustomed to use at their jungle habitation were available in those new destinations as well.
But those who were more critical and possessing much more wit than the others preferred to go along the path marked out by the discoverer of the safety city. After some years of showing the path the discoverer gave his service in charge of his followers who had returned from the safety city, and left the village and took rest in the remote area of the safety-city. Thereafter, his followers carried on with service turned over to them by their first guide, the discoverer of the safety-city.
A time passed. Some travellers bound for the safety-city mistook the proper way due to forgetfulness and fell into some other way and got lost in the jungle. So the path-showers asked them to repeat the formula: “We are taking refuge in the path marked out by the discoverer of the safety-city”, and to remember its meaning all the way as they trod. The repetition of this refuge formula helped them a great deal keeping them from falling into wrong ways. Now after some time, those who were getting ready to go to the city of safety grew in number. But, actually, very few of them set out. The majority; only got ready repeating the path-goer’s formula every day, turning their heads towards the path but looking back at their huts and small plantations round the, they put off their journey until another day. Every now and then they would do the same thing. They meanwhile criticized the trekkers of other paths saying that they were going in a wrong direction. Let alone their departure, some of them that came forward as their teachers of the way were so degraded in their standing even to quarrel among them – selves about the ownership of the huts. But they remained there claiming “It is we who know the path; it is we who properly take refuge in the discoverer of the city of safety”.
Suppose a man wants to go to a distant place. He goes to the bus office and buys a ticket and loiters about with his friends talking of the value of the ticket, the value of the bus-service and of the skill of the bus driver and also composing songs in praise of them and singing them together with his companions. But he does not get into the bus. Towards evening he goes home. He repeats the same thing every day and does not get into the bus. For such a person neither the ticket, nor the bus or its driver can be reckoned to have been his refuge. He too cannot be reckoned as one who actually takes refuge in them.
The Lord Buddha was the One who discovered the way to full Freedom. Hence, we respect Him as our foremost teacher of the Path, the guide and the refuge. If there were no way to tread, even he couldn’t do any thing for us. If there is no goal we would be hopeless and a path or path-shower would not be possible. So both the way and the goal are our refuge. Those who followed after the foremost path-shower, the Lord Buddha, and attained Freedom, witnessed the genuineness of this path and thus became our helpers setting an example and giving out their experience. By learning of these refuges we have to follow the way and the repeating of the refuge formula just reminds us not to get off the path. The path and the goal are represented by the term Dhamma. The travellers who have gone forth and entered the Stream (Sotapatti) and attained the further stages and finally the Arahantship are represented by the term Sangha.
Mere repeating the refuge formula is just repeating the reminder. Unless we go along the path we cannot be reckoned as those who put the taking of refuge into practice.
The eight-factored Path is the best of ways.
The four-worded truth is the best of truths.
Passionlessness is the best of states.
The One with the opened eye is the best of bipeds
Go along this way, for this bewilders Mara the temptor.
Treading this path, ye shall put an end to all suffering.
I have discovered and pointed out this to you,
the way leading to the removal of the arrows of passions.
You yourselves should make an effort, the Buddhas but expound the way.