Discussion questions for refuge

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  • 1. What circumstances do you strongly wish to avoid in your life, i.e., what are your greatest fears? Select one to discuss. Be specific and honest, try to address the underlying issues, e.g., if you are thinking you strongly wish to avoid the breakup of a relationship you are in, consider the underlying issue may be a fear of being alone. Or, if you strongly wish to avoid the loss of your source of livelihood, consider that the underlying fear may be loss of physical comforts like shelter, food, etc.

    • What actions do you engage in to avert such a circumstance from occurring? What have you done when it has occurred?

    • What do you believe has caused or would cause such a circumstance to occur?

    • Are your actions consistent with what you believe are the causes, i.e., do your actions specifically address what you believe are the causes?

      • If you have identified causes that are in any way external to yourself, who or what creates those causes? E.g., if you believe that a relationship could break up because of the actions of the other person, or that you could lose your job because of the economy, who or what would be the cause of that?

      • If you believe that the cause of what you experience in your life is somehow external to yourself, is that different from believing in a creator God, i.e., someone other than yourself creating your world/experiences?

  • 2. With regard to this, and more generally in life, do you use your energy mostly to control the circumstances of your life, e.g., trying to get or keep a job or a relationship, or do you use your energy mostly to control your reactions to the circumstances that come your way?

    • What types of things are you actually taking refuge in when you are spending your energy trying to control the circumstances, i.e., make things go the way you want them to?

    • What types of things would you take refuge in if you want to spend your energy controlling your reactions to the circumstances you find yourself facing?

Discussion Topics (Precepts specifically)

Changing your conduct to change your life

  1. Think of something in your life that is a problem or really bothers you. It can be a situation or something that is physical, mental, or emotional.

  2. Given that anything problematic in your life is similar to some harm you caused others previously, what actions might have caused this problem?

  3. How can you avoid doing those actions in the future?

  4. How can you most effectively determine to stop doing those actions and what can you do if you find you’ve done them again?

The relationship of the disturbing attitude of anger to killing

  1. What types of intentional killing do you consider acceptable to the degree that you do them or would do them? Bugs? Euthanasia of humans? Euthanasia of pets? Animal population control? Abortion?
  2. If the definition of the disturbing attitude of anger includes merely the feeling of “I don’t want” or “I don’t like” something, how does the disturbing attitude of anger motivate these types of killing?
  3. Can you think of alternatives to these types of killing?

Discussion Topics (Precepts specifically)

A group of people in discussion

Changing your conduct to change your life. (Photo by Sravasti Abbey)

In a sense, the precepts to avoid killing, sexual misconduct, and the use of intoxicants are, when taken in their narrowest sense, quite clear as to how to practice them. The practice of the precepts to avoid stealing and lying may have more subtleties.

Stealing includes any form of taking what is not given. Conceivably it could include stealing someone’s time by not being punctual or stealing someone’s confidence in some manner.

Lying includes any form or deceiving another, giving the wrong impression.

Identify some of the subtler versions of stealing and lying, focusing primarily on your own actions, i.e., some of the subtle ways you steal and lie or might consider doing so.

Discussion Topics (Precepts specifically)

Discuss the two precepts sexual misconduct and use of intoxicants.

  • 1. Consider the third precept: to refrain from unwise sexual activity.

    • Consider the ways you might interpret the precept, from a narrower interpretation of refraining from adulterous sexual activity, to a broader interpretation of refraining from sexual activity outside a stable, committed, and long-term relationship.

      • Forget about your past. Remember that when you take a precept you are committing to a genuine attempt to act a certain way in the present. What interpretation of this precept is most consistent with your reasons for taking refuge?

      • Why might you take a broader interpretation of this precept as a means to progress on the path toward enlightenment?

    • Could you consider taking this precept?

  • 2. Consider the fifth precept: to refrain from intoxicants such as alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.

    • Consider narrower and broader ways to interpret this precept and consider how and in what form (although no narrower than refraining from alcohol, tobacco, and drugs) this precept would support your taking refuge in the Buddhas, Dharma, and Sangha.

      • Think of a situation you are likely to find yourself in that would be challenging to keeping this precept if you have taken it.

        • What would be challenging about it?

      • Visualize that situation.

        • First visualize partaking in the intoxicant (however you’ve defined it) and your thoughts, words, and deeds after having done so.

          • What are the implications of your participation?

          • How are they consistent or inconsistent with your reasons for taking refuge?

        • Then visualize not partaking in the intoxicant in that situation.

          • If in the situation you are alone, what are the implications of refraining?

          • If the situation is a social one, what are the implications of refraining?

    • Could you consider taking this precept?

    Discussion questions

    • 1. What does keeping precepts have to do with taking refuge in (relying upon the guidance of) the Three Jewels?

      • Review each of the Jewels, whatever descriptions most resonate with you, and discuss how any or all of them are a support for keeping precepts.

      • Discuss how keeping the precepts supports living in a way that clearly is guided by the Three Jewels, any or all of them.

    • 2. In working with the precepts, you will inevitably consider actual or hypothetical situations in which it is difficult, impractical, or impossible to keep the precepts.

    • Review the four factors required to be present for a precept to be broken completely.

      • Thought: includes three elements:

        • Recognition: harming the object one intended to harm

        • Intention: the action was intentional and not accidental

        • Motivation: the action was motivated by a disturbing attitude

      • Basis: the object harmed is someone other than oneself

      • Action: the action actually breaking the precept

      • Conclusion: the object is actually harmed (rejoicing strengthens the negativity)

      Consider one or more real life situations where breaking a precept seems to be/have been inevitable. Apply the four factors to your action (thoughts/words/deeds). How might you use the situation to develop compassion?

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