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You're not your own; yet you're your own refuge?
March 8th, 2018 (March 9th, 2018)
illustration

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

You're not your own; yet you're your own refuge?

"I have sons, I have wealth"; with this (feeling of attachment) the fool is afflicted. Indeed, he himself is not his own, how can sons and wealth be his?
— Dhp 62

The lack of ownership over oneself ( atta hi attano natthi ) can be understood in the same way as one doesn't truly own wealth: you might delude yourself about ownership, but your wealth might all disappear overnight (by a wide variety of circumstances, from theft or betrayal to natural disaster…). Sons may die before their parents (contrarily to the supposed 'natural order of things'), or rebel against their education, cut ties, even betray and kill their parents! In the same way, you might delude yourself about controlling your body or your mind or your perceptions, but any of these might be unexpectedly affected by a wide variety of circumstances (and first and foremost: you don't know when you'll die) beyond your choosing.
Clinging to your body creates suffering e.g. as you age (i.e. as you get lost in measuring your loss by comparison to what you could do at a younger age, or how attractive you could be at a younger age), just like those clinging to wealth spend an inordinate amount of time lamenting after any substantial loss of wealth. Appreciating what you have requires letting go of whatever you thought you had under control (this is particularly obvious since such a thought has been proven wrong by subsequent events!).

This seems clear enough… until one continues reading the Dhammapada and reaches verse 160:
One indeed is one's own refuge; how can others be a refuge to one? With oneself thoroughly tamed, one can attain a refuge [the fruit of arahatship], which is so difficult to attain.
— Dhp 160

Hmmm…
So, one cannot rely on oneself, because whatever one calls 'me' (be it body, experience, 'values'/views, or consciousness) is not really under one's control… and yet one should rely only on oneself?
The plot thickens.

It's not just an issue of translations; even if the verb 'to be' (atthi) is implied (which is extremely common in pāḷi, so nothing special to be noted here), atta hi attano natho [atthi] in verse 160 clearly is the same sentence structure as in verse 62.


Fortunately, Kappa asked for clarifications ( Kappa māṇava pucchā, the questions of Kappa (Sn 5.11)) on the same topic: For those standing in the midst of the stream, when a perilous flood has arisen, for those oppressed by old age and death, declare an island, dear sir. Explain to me the island…

So the Buddha explained:
Owning nothing, taking nothing: this is the island with nothing further. I call this 'nibbāna', the extinction of old age and death. Having understood this, those mindful ones are quenched in this very life. They do not come under Māra's control, nor are they Māra's footmen.
— Sn 5.11

One indeed is one's own refuge, then, but this is not via ownership of some refuge or another, ownership which allows for some control; it is not via controlling and forcing specific mental states… The refuge is found in releasing the grasp, in letting go of delusions of control, of power to make reality comply with one's wishes: "nibbāna is peace" and humility, the end of an attempt to be God, the end of fighting to impose onto reality to do whatever I like and avoid whatever I dislike. As the Buddha states in the puppha sutta (SN 22.94): "I do not dispute with the world."
Nibbāna is found in understanding that some form of 'ownership' might be conventionally true at a given moment, but it is hardly inherent or unconditional; on the contrary, it is circumstantial, contingent upon an undecipherable web of interdependent conditions, and any attempt to make it permanent is a losing battle, a cause of stress, a fear vis-à-vis the inevitable and certain loss which is to come in due time.
Once you realise causality (e.g. in the form of "dependent origination", but there are many other causal chains), you stop fretting over the inevitable… which doesn't imply that you become indifferent, that you stop caring — you finally engage with whatever situation you're in with clarity over what's possible, what can be done, what can be brought about… and what amounts to mere delusional fantasies. You see how "wishful thinking" never was true 'care'.
A 'refuge' is what one can rely on, to avoid dangers: you will rely on letting go of 'ignorance', not on reaching a particular place/time. You're your own refuge precisely because there's nothing else and nowhere else you need to 'get', to 'own', to 'control'… yet you're not your own refuge by clinging to yourself, or to who you think you are, either; you're your own refuge because you are the one who can let go, no one else can let go in your stead.


#Buddhism #Dharma
Background stories of the Dhammapada verses:
http://www.tipitaka.net/tipitaka/dhp/verseload.php?verse=062
http://www.tipitaka.net/tipitaka/dhp/verseload.php?verse=160
Mentioned suttas:
https://suttacentral.net/sn22.94/en/bodhi
https://suttacentral.net/snp5.11/en/anandajoti (although I use bhikkhu Bodhi's translation above —the difference is worth studying!)
Buddhism has no specific guideline on supporting teachers, it simply asks for you to consider causality: if you want this living tradition to survive, how are you participating, in practical terms, to make this happen? Nice words, exposure or social media ‘+1’ might feel good, but they do not actually help with the basic necessities: http://koan.mu/donate.htm