There are times when all we can hold onto are symbols that go beyond words.
|In some parts of Asia, Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha still shine brightly in people's minds, but in the West the Triple Gem is barely established as a meaningful archetype. Although people may hold the values of wisdom, truth and skilful practice dear, they can feel ill at ease with the images of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha; this may be the case, despite being committed to the values that they represent. It may be a collective mistrust derived from the use of religious symbols to establish conformity at the expense of intelligence; as a result, Buddhism here attracts inquiring minds rather than devoted hearts. Unfortunately, inquiry alone doesn't have the quality to link people together.|
However, sometimes it is when you are on your own that such images can be personally contacted and enriched by the practice. For a Buddhist this is the way it should be; after all, the ground of the practice is that 'aloneness' of the mind that the Buddha praised as viveka. This aloneness is often established in physical solitude (kayaviveka), but more meaningfully becomes the withdrawal of the mind from defilement (cittaviveka), and may reach the realisation of freedom from the mind's self-forming tendencies (upadhiviveka). In this sequence, we see the way of correct cultivation - first to dispel the hindrances and then to understand and relinquish the self-forming tendencies. For both of these cultivations, religious images that represent the practice can be supportive. The details of techniques and skilful means vary between individuals, and, if attached to as 'the only way', can become sources of egotism and contention. There are times when all we can hold onto are symbols that go beyond words. And this can be the case in our daily lives, especially in relationship to others.
Harmony - internal as well as in the social sense - only arises with a valid myth, and it seems that for Western Buddhists at least, that comes about most readily through the 'aloneness' of meditation. Here we encounter Buddha - the peaceful knowing that is based on wholesomeness; Dhamma - the law of change and ownerlessness which all moods and events follow; and Sangha - the human endeavour that establishes its own resolve, because it brings results.
Perhaps the easiest image to relate to externally for people wary of larger-than-life images of a supreme (male) being and reticent about any kind of spiritual law other than 'find out for yourself' is that of the Sangha. Here is the myth of community, of mutual acceptance and welcome that the monastics try to live up to. Even if they offered no other teaching or practice, monasteries and Sangha occasions are worth attending just to re-establish that image in the heart. When those values can be established internally - the myth comes alive. If people can relate to Sangha in the way of living myth, our scattered Buddhist community - twos and threes here and there in places as 'un-Buddhist' as Prestatyn or Palermo - can gather around these images wherever. In terms of outward appearance, Sangha gatherings are few and far between in an average year; however, if we lift up the Triple Gem in our own lives, the occasion for inner harmony and purpose is right here.