Refuge

Daniel Scharpenburg
3 min readNov 5, 2021

“Bound, themselves, in the prison of samsara,

Whom are the worldly gods able to protect?

Therefore, it is the practice of the bodhisattvas

To go for refuge in the three unfailing jewels.”

-the 37 practices of a bodhisattva, verse 7*

Samsara means suffering. Actually, samsara doesn’t mean suffering. But that is how this word usually gets translated. Samsara means that things are a little off. In life, things are a little off. When people say, “the Buddha taught that life is full of suffering” that’s not really a clear picture of the message. I don’t know about you but to me the word ‘suffering’ brings all sorts of connotations. When I hear that word I think of my dad on his deathbed or someone being tortured or something. Life is not full of the kind of things I picture when I hear the word suffering.

People repeat that line, “All of life is suffering” and that makes Buddhism sound very negative.

Samsara doesn’t mean suffering. Samsara was originally described as like a cart with a messed up wheel. I think we can think of it that way too. I like to use shopping carts as a metaphor. We’ve all had this experience where we go to the grocery store and we get a cart where just one of the wheels is a little messed up. It sticks, or makes some sort of bump, or just doesn’t move right. But it’s also not bad enough that we put the cart back and get another one. It’s just bad enough to be annoying.

Life is like that. Sometimes we feel like we’ve grabbed a cart where the wheel sticks really rarely. Other times we feel like we’ve grabbed a cart where all the wheels are sticking all the time and we can’t even get through shopping.

That’s samsara.

So we’re all in this situation where things are a little off. The world does not line up with our desires. Or if it does it’s for a short time and there are minor annoyances throughout, in addition to more serious problems that are inevitable. We are all going through this. You would think that would bring us together, but it doesn’t.

And someone’s not going to come save you. You have to save yourself.

How do we help ourselves in this situation?

In Buddhism we talk about ‘taking refuge’. We lean on what is called “the three jewels”

The three jewels are ‘the Buddha’, ‘the Dharma’, and ‘the Sangha’.

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