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Taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha is a very powerful and profound act of dedication and faith. This is to be done only on the basis of one’s own desire. Faith or confidence is the first step to any project or ambition.
Taking the three refugees helps to acquire courage, understanding and determination. Taking them directly in front of the saṅgha is particularly meaningful. But this is entirely left to each meditator’s discretion. One who takes refuge is then called a “lay practitioner.” One who has entered the Buddha’s dispensation. This can be done at any time of the retreat, whenever one feels like this might be appropriate or not, one can approach saṅgha and request.
For the retreat, a meditator is wise to leave beside other teachings and traditions and practices to fully experience and try the Buddha’s Teaching. In this way, meditators would be wise to practice taking refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha in their heart, for the time of the retreat and place some faith in the Teaching and to give it a genuine try.
Participants are also welcome to take refuge silently, with folded hands, and to repeat mentally the following from a mindset of openness and humility:
The Morning Refuges
I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dhamma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.
For the second time, I take refuge in the Buddha.
For the second time, I take refuge in the Dhamma.
For the second time, I take refuge in the Sangha.
For the third time, I take refuge in the Buddha.
For the third time, I take refuge in the Dhamma.
For the third time, I take refuge in the Sangha.
Taking the virtues, on the other hand, is essential. It is a very minimum requirement of engagement that the meditator should commit to on retreat. A retreat cannot be conducted to people who do not value the virtues.
Any kind of attempt to meditate without undertaking certain guidelines of good conduct is like trying to extinguish a fire while continuing to throw fuel on it.
There is a mental component to taking and maintaining the Five Virtues in relation to one’s meditation practice. As you will become more acquainted with the practice you will be made aware of the reasons why one keeps these Virtues in your own mind. Making a commitment to follow these Virtues provides stability in one’s mind both in daily living and in meditation practice.
The Five Virtues
1. I undertake the practice to refrain from intentionally harming other beings.
2. I undertake the practice to refrain from intentionally taking what is not given.
3. I undertake the practice to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the practice to refrain from false speech.
5. I undertake the practice to refrain from taking drinks or substances that cause negligence.
Optional to take the following virtues
6. I undertake the practice to refrain from eating at improper times.
7. I undertake the practice to refrain from dancing, singing, listening to music, seeing entertainment shows, wearing necklaces, perfumes and beautifying the body with cosmetics.
8. I undertake the practice to refrain from high and luxurious beds and seats.
The Five Virtues and the Five Hindrances
There is an invariable connection between following or not following the Five Virtues and the arising or non-arising of the Five Hindrances, which are the common categories of distractions in one’s mind during meditation. In short, the origin of the Five Hindrances is not following the Five Virtues and the cessation of the Five Hindrances is keeping the Five Virtues.
When one intentionally harms (with speech, action or thought) or kills another living being, one cultivates the hindrance of Ill Will. This is because one acts from Ill Will whenever there is an intention to harm.
When one intentionally takes what is not given, one cultivates the hindrance of Restlessness. This is because one has developed a view through such action that causes the mind to always be in a state of paranoia – as one takes from others in a way that is unwholesome by essentially having the intention to take away what is not given freely (time, resources, credit, etc.), which only deepens the hold of conceit. Through this conceit, there is the subtlest fear and worry that one’s own “possessions” or on a broader level what one may consider being a need from the sense of conceit (both tangible and intangible, physical, mental and emotional) will be taken away in the same way.
When one indulges in sensual (and particularly sexual) pleasures to the point of heedlessness and misconduct, one cultivates the hindrance of Sensual Desire. This is because one has indulged the senses to the point that one identifies in their pleasure and becomes prone to misconduct, to acting in a way that causes harm to another being and to oneself.
When one uses false speech, one cultivates the hindrance of Doubt. This is because if one develops an attitude of tricking others with false speech, one continues to create a view to doubt others of their trustworthiness. This translates to doubt in one’s own capabilities and capacities, both in daily living and in meditation.
When one uses intoxicants, one cultivates the hindrance of Sloth and Torpor. This is because if one indulges in alcohol, drugs, or overindulges even in the use of social media, phones, the Internet, and even coffee or tea in general, which create surges of various neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin, one loses one’s ability to stay balanced. This makes one seek happiness outside of themselves and become dependent on these things to make them happy. Even if there is indulgence in a stimulant, which may produce energy in the short-term and in fact cause restlessness immediately after its use, the long-term effect is the dullness of the mind. The overuse and dependence on anything that creates imbalances in one’s thoughts thus dull the mind and dampens its abilities to cultivate wholesome qualities.
Sayings from the Dhammapada
1] Mind is the forerunner of all evil states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with an unwholesome mind, because of that, suffering follows one, even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draft-ox.
2] Mind is the forerunner of all good states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, because of that, happiness follows one, even as one’s shadow that never leaves.
3] “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me”, in those who harbour such thoughts hatred is not appeased.
4] “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me”, in those who do not harbour such thoughts hatred is appeased.
5] Hatred is never overcome by hatred in this world. Hatred is only overcome by love. This is an eternal law.
11] In the unessential we imagine the essential, in the essential we see the unessential, anyone who entertains such wrong thoughts never will realize the truth.
12] What is essential we regard as essential, what is unessential we regard as unessential, anyone who entertains such right thoughts will realize the truth.
16] Here one develops a mind that rejoices now, and in the future one rejoices. In both states, the welldoer rejoices. One who rejoices a lot will be able to see the purity of their own deeds, speech and thoughts.
18] When one is happy now, they will be happy in the future. In both states the well-doer is happy. Thinking “I have done good in the past” one becomes happy and will easily experience a blissful state of mind.
19] Though a person recites sacred texts, but doesn’t act accordingly, that heedless person is like a
cowherd who counts others’ cows. They have no share in the fruits of the holy life.
20] Though a person recites the sacred texts very little, but acts in accordance with the teaching, they give up lust, hatred and delusion. They truly know what is good and this leads to a mind that is free from suffering. They cling to nothing here and in the future. In this way, one shares the fruits of the holy life.