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Taking refuge in the "Sangha", Happy Deepavali / Diwali!
October 22nd, 2014

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

Taking refuge in the "Sangha", Happy Deepavali / Diwali!
Indian diary (5) & 'Advanced' Buddhist teaching

   Oh wait! Deepavali… That's not Buddhist, is it?

   In this time when some Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka and Myanmar are happily calling for violence against Muslims, it's time for many Buddhists to see that "taking refuge in the Saṅgha" is not  taking refuge in violent, ignorant people just because they put on the 'right' robes, or in people who just share a 'Buddhist' label.
   In this time when some Hindus and some Buddhists form alliances against Muslims, and when the Indian government of Narendra Modi stays silent about this, it is unwholesome to give even the appearance of tolerating such Islamophobic groups. The region has seen enough religious violence!
   India has seen enough "love jihad" narratives recently which, in the name of protecting religion, treats Hindu women as mere possessions while justifying violence against Muslims. It's obviously a copout: stop favouring boys, stop seeing the birth of a girl as bad news, stop the practice of dowries, and maybe young women will want to remain Hindu rather than convert to Islam. Blaming Muslims for the consequences of Hindu prejudices against women is a bit too easy!

   Are Islamophobic Theravādin monks the "Sangha", or at least prominent members of the (four-fold) Saṅgha?

   Sometimes, what we learn by looking at ignorant people is not  "what to do", but it is "what not to do".  Still we can learn from them, and we can be thankful that they showed us what should be avoided! We can see their mistakes as a (karmic) sacrifice on their part to educate us, and we can cultivate gratitude.

   As a result, the Saṅgha might be everyone we interact with and learn something from (lessons on what to do, lessons on what not to do)!

   The Dharma might then be every piece of conventional truth we come in contact with.
   Even the "truth in ultimate terms" (i.e. truth expressed in terms of conditioned dhammas in Theravāda, or expressed in terms of emptiness in Mahāyāna) is still 'conventionally' expressed, since it uses language and notions and concepts… Mathematics and honest science aren't in opposition with Buddhist truths… Any philosophy talking of ethics is worth enquiring into…

   Monastics are not automatically enlightened and some of them make very  unwise mistakes, even senior monastics! e.g. they reject others, call for violence, and cling to views they call 'truths'…
   Monastics might fail; there's no magic warranty on the tin just by passing the doors of the monastery or nunnery…

   Meanwhile, a non-buddhist might well be able to lead by example, and show us how to embody compassion in a particular setting… One doesn't have to be buddhist to be compassionate, one doesn't have to be buddhist to be wise (

   Imagine you have an accident and you need assistance. Do you start by asking people whether they're buddhist before you let them help you? They might be embodying compassion and loving-kindness and concentration right here right now, but you'd dare tell them it's not the 'right' sort if it's not 'buddhist'?

   Remember the "poisoned arrow simile" in the Canon?
   It's usually interpreted as saying "Life is so short. It must not be spent in endless metaphysical speculation that does not bring us any closer to the truth."
   It's not just 'metaphysical' speculation though; it's any  speculation that does not bring us any closer to the truth… and speculating over who's "in" and who's "out" of the 'Sangha' is among the pointless speculations!

   The Saṅgha is everyone who helps, who is constructive, who presently acts wholesomely… and everyone who inspires you to help (because they lead by example, or because they call for your help!), everyone who inspires you to be constructive, everyone who inspires you to act wholesomely!

   As you can see, you may still 'discern' different people (based on the situation at hand, not on permanent projections), you may still discern e.g. between "those who inspire" vs. "those who don't", right here, right now… but the discernment based on "who inspires to do good" is a lot wiser than the discernment based on a mere "buddhist" badge.

   When you take refuge in the "Sangha", don't think of 'Buddhists'!
   Think of sources of wholesome inspiration! Whether they are from a religion or another, or non-religious, is irrelevant!

   Happy Deepavali!

#Buddhism   #sangha   #interfaith  
photo © Denis Wallez, with gratitude to the giver of the light ;-)