New Moon Day: Finding Your Inner Refuge

September 29, 2008

Yes, I have temporarily abandoned writing about the Five Hindrances…. (Surprise, surprise.)



Finding Your Inner Refuge


This practice really is very simple in many respects. At first it may seem complicated and at times we may become very confused and full of doubt and wonder if we really get it at all. But as we go on we come to see how there isn’t much to it; we see how it is based on just a few key principles.

At this moment in time, for me, two principles of the practice of Dhamma stand out. Time and again I keep coming back to the first one, and I’m beginning to appreciate the importance of the second. The first is patience; patient-endurance. The second is the development of ‘Buddho’ – ‘that which simply knows’, i.e. mindfulness; awareness. These two components of the Path are closely linked, and in many respects actually the same thing.

It is this second element that I would like to focus on for now. Why is that? Because our practice homes in on this one point: developing this mindfulness, this knowing, at all times. It is by gradually waking up the pure knowing element of our experience of life that we can begin to know peace, irrespective of our circumstances.

The other day I had a young Thai person contact me because they were suffering. Due to this they felt they were not worthy of being a Buddhist: Buddhists being unfailingly peaceful, happy and calm, of course!!! But, in fact, there may be times when Buddhist people who are actually doing the practice will be unhappy and aware of their suffering, and, consequently, not the most joyful of creatures on the planet at that time. This is because their defilements will be being shaken up, as they are meant to be when we practise well. So it isn’t our duty to just stick on the Buddhist mask and permanently float around pouring smiles on people and playing peaceful; it is our duty to develop ‘Buddho’ – ‘that which knows’. When this is established the smiles will flow by themselves.

Just think of a homeless man. He wanders about through the streets, alleys and parks, without a reliable shelter, and each time it rains or is windy or is cold he suffers. He is vulnerable; he has no refuge. But say he later gets some work and earns enough money to build a house, then he becomes able to take refuge in a shelter. Whenever the winds and rains blow he remains unaffected. He remains comfortable and warm as he watches the bad weather through his window.

When we have not yet found and developed ‘Buddho’ then we are like this homeless person. We wander through life from experience to experience; from happiness to sadness, from joy to fear, from comfort to worry, from praise to criticism. As we are without a true shelter then we get affected by these experiences. We cling to them, we get caught up in them, we become them. When our awareness is not strong then we get swept away and lost in every situation, in every mood, in every emotion. It’s true, we are sometimes happy, but this is merely a refined form of suffering because it doesn’t last.

Life without the inner refuge of ‘Buddho’ entails a lot of suffering. The reason for our suffering here is because we attach to all these things we experience. We attach to moods. We attach to feelings. We attach to thoughts. We attach to happiness. We attach to suffering. We really attach to suffering! Our awareness – ‘Buddho’ – is not strong enough and so it gets carried away with the suffering, just as the homeless man gets carried away by a flash flood. We attach to happiness, or a good mood, just as the homeless man gets swept off his feet by a gust of wind. When we experience these various mental objects – for that is all they are – then if our awareness is not developed we are unable to let them go; we become them. We become happy; we become the sufferer.

We must learn to let go: to not attach to any of this mental garbage that courses through our minds. To reach the peace of letting go we must follow the Eightfold-Path of morality, meditation and wisdom, and gradually begin to build our inner refuge – the refuge of awareness, the refuge of knowing, the refuge of ‘Buddho’. When we experience anything there is always ‘that which knows’ present. At first, though, we do not recognise this feature of the mind and it is too weak to enable us to stop attaching to our experiences. Our knowing gets swept away and we suffer. But as we patiently, diligently and persistently develop ‘that which knows’ then we gradually discover this wonderful refuge; the refuge of awareness. Then no matter what we experience, even if it is something that used to cause us so much suffering – for instance a difficult situation we consistently find ourselves in – then we do not suffer! We are simply the observer of the experience. We are like the man in the house sitting in the comfort of his home watching the raging weather outside. We step back and watch it all flow by.

It is important to point out that this knowing is not a self, a soul, or an entity. As Ajahn Chah said: it isn’t anything so don’t call it anything!

So this ability to simply ‘know’ is obviously worth having, but it doesn’t arise just like that. It takes committed practice. But what else is there to do? And what else comes anywhere near the satisfaction that will be gained by having a developed mind that can be peaceful and unshakable in any situation?

Waking Up the Mind

We wake up this ‘knowing’ during both formal meditation practice and during our daily activity.

When we practise meditation then we are making an effort to focus on one thing. When we focus on one thing then the mind ‘wakes up’. We don’t meditate to become hazy and whirly-minded, we meditate in order to wake the mind up. What does it mean to wake the mind up? It means we awaken ‘Buddho’, ‘that which simply knows’.

My first meditation was very memorable. I arrived back at home from the local library with a book called How to Meditate. I read the relevant paragraph (I knew nothing, so to speak, of Buddhism at this point). I then assumed that most traditional posture of lying on my back on the sofa, and I began to focus on my abdomen rising and falling with the breath. After a little while, for the first time in my life, I experienced, to a certain degree, ‘that which knows’. There it was. I recognised a part of the mind that had always been present but had never been noticed, that had been hiding in the background all along. It was that faculty of mind that simply knows. Needless to say from that point on I was hooked.

And so this faculty of knowing is always present. It is our duty as Buddhist practitioners to strengthen and develop it; to wake it up. When we meditate and when we are mindful in all activity then we wake the mind up, and by using this ‘knowing mind’ we contemplate everything that we experience. We try simply to know our moods. We try to step back and observe them, without getting caught up in them. One good way to help you establish the ‘one who knows’ is to simply mentally say ‘knowing’ when you experience something. Saying ‘knowing’ helps you to step back from whatever it is you are aware of.

This training in awareness is a very gradual one. As the Buddha said: just as the shore gradually inclines to the sea, with no sudden drop, so too in this practice we gradually incline towards peace and freedom, without any sudden drop.

It is very important to recognise that, at first, for the most part, we will continue to suffer when we are trying to be mindful of our moods and experiences. We cannot let go of them yet. But just to know that they are not to be clung to, without being able to let them go, is a colossal part of the practice. How many people don’t know that moods should not be clung to, or even that they are clinging in the first place? Most. “What’s clinging? What do you mean – ‘attaching to happiness and suffering’?”, they might say. And so we must be continually teaching ourselves that things are not to be attached to, for to attach is to cause suffering. When you are experiencing something and there is clinging know that you are clinging to it. This is a crucial foundation: you are creating conditions for the more profound aspects of the ‘knowing’ to arise later on; the knowing that will enable you to let go.

So we mustn’t despair if we still tightly cling to things we wish we didn’t cling to. When you are suffering, don’t run for the fridge. Now is the time to practise! Sit down. You don’t need to necessarily sit bolt upright on a meditation cushion when you’re going through it; just sit and know the mind of suffering. Don’t run away from it. Get to really know it. Is it really that bad?

And so we develop this faculty of knowing, this presence of mind as we practise. Eventually it becomes strong enough to enable us to step back and observe even strong suffering and difficulties without attaching to them. When we can simply know the suffering, then we don’t become the suffering. In other words, suffering arises, does its business and passes away, without the knowing getting attached to it.

Ajahn Chah said that all we need to do is sustain this unshakable and firm awareness of ‘Buddho’ all day long. We simply know everything that arises in our minds and we don’t attach. How can anything affect the mind when ‘Buddho’ is guarding it? Sooner or later we see that all we need to do is keep patiently watching our mind, knowing our mind, guarding our mind. Our entire experience of the world arises right here. Where else can it arise? This is all we need to do. Whatever we experience: suffering, happiness, doubt, confidence, self, profound thoughts on the Dhamma, whatever – we simply know it. We quietly watch it all flow by. We see it all as anicca, dukkha and anatta – impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self. We remain ‘the one who knows’ and nothing more.



If you scroll down you’ll see that all posts that have been written so far in Dhamma Diary are in excerpt form in case you want to search for a previous post more easily.


The next teaching will be on:

The Full Moon Day, Tuesday the 14th of October


One Response to “New Moon Day: Finding Your Inner Refuge”

  1. Mark Arthur said

    Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

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